At least it wasn't a lossThe Browns served notice to the rest of the National Football League Sunday that the good old days of coming into Cleveland and leaving with an easy victory are over.
Displaying a tenacity and a never-ever-say-it’s-over demeanor, the 2018 version of this franchise epitomized the kind of grit and determination John Dorsey sought when he took over as general manager midway through last season.
Fighting all afternoon to rescue an offense that clearly needs a lot of work to get even close to being competitive, the Cleveland defense stepped up with one of its signature performances in a long time.
Were it not for that side of the football, the 21-21 overtime tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers would have ended quite differently. In the end, though, the deadlock seemed almost like a victory. Almost.
The Factory of Sadness (not sad for at least one day?) rocked most of the steady-rain afternoon in the entertaining season opener, especially when the Browns overcame a 21-7 deficit with less than eight minutes left in regulation, due mainly to the opportunistic defense.
That defense made life miserable for Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who normally demonizes the Browns. He looked almost human as the secondary picked off three first-half passes, sacked him four times and caused him to twice cough up fumbles en route to a five-turnover afternoon.
The Steelers’ defense conversely made life even more miserable for Cleveland quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who completed only 15 of 40 passes and was sacked seven times behind a crumbling offensive line.
More often than not, he looked confused and was forced to use his legs to bail himself out of further trouble in his Cleveland debut. He had trouble locating open receivers most of the afternoon.
He also led the club in rushing yards with 77, a misleading statistic because they were all scramble yards when dropping back to pass. You don’t want your quarterback to lead the team in rushing.
The big comeback began when Myles Garrett knocked the ball loose from running back James Conner (turnover No. 6) deep in Steelers territory. Safety Jabrill Peppers scooped up the loose ball and ran it to the Pittsburgh 1. Carlos Hyde ran the yard on the next play to pull the Browns within seven.
Two possessions later after a short punt, Taylor found some magic. After throwing eight straight incompletions, he moved his offense 55 yards in two plays, connecting with Rashard Higgins on a 38-yard pass and Josh Gordon with a 17-yard scoring throw with 1:58 left in regulation to pull even.
The overtime was an exercise in futility for both teams. In four possessions, each lasting three plays, the Cleveland offense moved the football just 15 yards. In their four series, the Steelers totaled 54 yards.
Each had an opportunity to win with a field goal. The normally reliable Chris Boswell’s 42-yard effort drifted wide left with 1:47 left for the Steelers. Zane Gonzalez’s 43-yard attempt after rookie Genard Avery strip-sacked Roethlisberger was blocked by T. J. Watt with mere seconds left.
Were it not for the defense’s inability to shut down Conner, this one might have wound up in the column on the left. The second-year man scored twice and was brilliant all afternoon.
He racked up 192 yards from scrimmage, 135 of them on the ground while filling in as the Steelers wait for All-Star Le’Veon Bell to report in the midst of a contract dispute.
The afternoon looked bleak when the Steelers scored on their first two possessions of the second half, breaking a 7-7 tie. . On the first, penalties negated two touchdowns, but Roethlisberger recovered and connected with Antonio Brown on a 22-yard scoring strike on the third try.
On the next possession, Conner needed two carries to travel the 39 yards to his second touchdown after a nice punt return shortened the field.
The good news is the deadlock, the Browns’ first since a 10-10 tie with Kansas City in 1989, ended the club’s 17-game losing streak dating back to the end of the 2016 season. It also marked the first time these bitter rivals have ended up in a tie in the 133-game series that began in 1950.
Small consolation? Not necessarily. It wasn’t a loss and there’s something to be said for that. It was not earned through luck. It was earned through hard work, although the offense needs to work that much harder to catch up with the defense
It was clearly a huge step toward the new front office’s goal of changing the losing culture that has gripped this franchise for nearly two decades. They now need to build on this effort and develop consistency, a trait this franchise has not displayed for way too long.