CLEVELAND — There was no need for the white flags at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
At least for the Browns fans.
Despite the Browns canceling a promotion to hand out inflatable white flags with the Browns helmet on it for fear of looking as if the fans had surrendered, it was the Steelers fans who could’ve put them to use.
In recent years, many times only the Steelers fans were left in Cleveland Browns Stadium waving their yellow ‘Terrible Towels’. This time, many of the Steelers fans headed to the exits when Chris Rainey turned the ball over on a fumble with 2:25 to play. Prior to today, the Steelers had won 22 of the previous 24 games played between the two teams.
It looked more like the Steelers were the inexperienced team as they fumbled the ball eight times, losing five and 37-year old quarterback Charlie Batch threw three interceptions.
The Browns finished with a plus seven in turnover ratio. All In all, the Steelers turned the ball over eight times to the Browns one. The Browns won their second AFC North game to improve to 2-3 in the division and 3-8 overall. The Steelers dropped to 6-5 and the loss put serious damage to their playoff chances.
“We didn’t finish the last two games, and that’s important,” Pat Shurmur said. “We finished today.”
T.J. Ward said the Browns are a team that will not quit, despite being out of playoff contention.
“We’ll never give in,” Ward said. “We will battle till the clock hits zero.”
Sheldon Brown, Joe Haden and Billy Winn had interceptions, while Craig Robertson, D’Qwell Jackson, Buster Skrine, Phil Taylor and Usama Young had fumble recoveries.
“We were so much hungry for the ball,” Haden said. “Everyone was making plays.”
The Browns forced fumbles to all four of the Steelers running backs and limited the Steelers to just 49 yards in total for a 2.5 average.
“We just wanted to have a physical presence,” T.J. Ward said. “Everybody was just ball hawking. We wanted to give the offense opportunities.
“We feel we’re a physical defense,” Ward said. “We pride ourselves in playing physical.”
Shurmur said there were different circumstances for each turnover, but they were all important.
“Each play will show up a little different,” Shurmur said. “Ball security is important and we make it a priority.”
Shurmur credits the guys up front for the good performance of the defensive line in stopping the Steelers running game.
“When you have a healthy defensive line, you can rotate eight healthy players,” Shurmur said. “That’s important.”
Batch, starting his first game of the season in place of injured Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich was 20-of-34 for 199 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. He was sacked once.
The Steelers had their one and only productive drive on the last possession of the first half as Batch drove the Steelers 84 yards in nine plays in just 1:50 for their only offensive touchdown. Batch threw for 52 yards on the drive, but the biggest play was when Brown interfered with Plaxico Burress in the end zone on third-and-10 from the 26 to give the Steelers a chance for the touchdown with seven seconds left. Chris Rainey appeared to be stopped in the backfield, but the Browns let him out of their grasp and he ran to the corner of the end zone.
The Steelers other touchdown was when Lawrence Timmons intercepted a deflected pass from Brandon Weeden and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown on the fourth play of the game.
Other than the drive just before the half, the defense had an outstanding game. Haden returned to the lineup after missing the Cowboys game with an oblique strain. He intercepted Batch, forced a fumble and broke up two other passes to go along with three tackles. He also held Mike Wallace to just one catch on the final play of the game for just nine yards.
“Just me being out there allowed everyone to be in their normal place,” Haden said.
Haden, who was holding the ball he intercepted, described his interception on a deep ball intended for Wallace.
“We were in man-to-man coverage,” Haden said. “(Wallace) is so fast and (Batch) threw it up there and I was able to go get it.”
Shurmur said Haden’s interception came at a critical juncture at the Browns’ 19 as the Browns were clinging to a 20-14 lead with three minutes left in the game.
“That interception was an important turnover and it got us off the field,” Shurmur said. “Joe being on the field is a big boost for us.”
The players said they understand how important a win is over the Steelers.
“I think we understand the rivalry looking back at the history,” Ward said. “The Steelers have dominated in recent years.”
“Even after losing to Dallas, we knew we needed to beat the Steelers,” Haden said. “To see the fans standing and all hyped up at the end of the game was great.”
Holmgren Gone: Browns spokesman Neal Gulkis announced in the press box after the game that this was Mike Holmgren’s last game with the Browns. He said that Kevin Harlan announced that during the television broadcast and more information will be given on Monday.
TRich: RB Trent Richardson rushed 29 times for 85 yards (2.9 avg.) and one touchdown. He also caught four passes for 27 yards to tie WR Josh Gordon with four receptions for 60 yards.
“Well, it was a counter play for us and Alex Smith pulled around and when he hit the dud dead in his mouth I knew it was going to be a touchdown. I saw the safety drop and I was going to run him over but I saw him and took it to the left a bit so I just ran straight past him.”
Richardson said the Steelers defense was impressive.
“That’s the best defense I played against since I’ve been in the NFL, hands down,” he said. “And hard hitting,I took a few shots, but you know that was probably the hardest hitting team I’ve played against so far.”
Richardson has 755 yards on 209 carries (3.6 avg.) with six touchdowns. He also leads the team with 41 receptions for 316 yards and one touchdown.
Weeden Record/Injury: QB Brandon Weeden surpassed QB Tim Couch for the most passing yards by a rookie in Browns history. He needed 150 yards and finished with 158 and has 2,456 for the season. Couch had 2,448 in 1999.
Overall, Weeden was 17-of-26 for 158 yards with one touchdown and one interception before leaving the game with a head injury. Shurmur said he was being checked for concussion symptoms but gave no indication of his status for next week’s game. QB Colt McCoy made his first appearance of the season in the final two series, but did not throw a pass.
Weeden’s rating was 78.7. Weeden is 222-of-397 for 2,456 yards (55.9 pct.) with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and a 70.9 rating.
Gordon Flashes: WR Josh Gordon caught four passes for 60 yards, with a long of 26 yards on the first play of the game. He has 28 catches for 530 yards (18.9 avg.) with four touchdowns.