With third string quarterback Charlie Batch under center Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers faced an uphill battle against the two-win Cleveland Browns.
The two ways they would have been able to win on were to establish a rushing attack and take care of the football. But the Steelers did neither and left Cleveland with a costly 20-14 defeat.
Pittsburgh turned the ball over a whopping eight times and Batch struggled mightily to get the offense going as the Steelers’ offense had more turnovers (eight) than points (seven). 17 of the Browns’ 20 points on the day came as a result of Steelers turnovers.
And they happened early and often.
The Steelers actually took a 7-0 lead on a defensive touchdown, something that has not happened since 2010. Creating turnovers has been a huge problem for this defense, but Lawrence Timmons picked off Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.
After that, it was a comedy of Steelers errors.
The Steelers fumbled seven times, five of which were recovered by the Browns. All four running backs – Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey – lost fumbles and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders lost one on the last play of the game. In addition to that, Mendenhall and Rainey each put the ball on the ground a second time, but those did not result in turnovers.
As for Batch, he looked every bit his age and struggled big time to move the Steelers’ offense. He had no success throwing the ball over 10 yards and contributed to the turnover number with three interceptions. When he did have opportunities to make plays, the veteran showed his lack of arm strength and accuracy as he underthrew many receivers and often threw behind them.
After the Timmons touchdown, the Browns scored the next 13 points on two Phil Dawson field goals and a Weeden 5-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron sandwiched in between.
However despite three first half turnovers (all fumbles), the Steelers took a 14-13 lead into the locker room when Rainey scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown with five seconds left in the half.
But Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson put Cleveland back up 20-14 when he scored untouched from 15 yards out in the third quarter.
For the Steelers, the problems just weren’t in the turnover department. They rushed for only 49 yards on 20 carries (2.5 average) and their longest gain was an 8-yard run from Dwyer. In addition, they were only 1-for-9 on third down and had nine penalties for 68 yards.
In the nine quarters since Ben Roethlisberger has been injured, the Steelers have scored only two offensive touchdowns.
The loss is costly as they now sit 2.5 games behind the Baltimore Ravens, with Baltimore playing at San Diego later on with the chance to push that lead to three.
The Steelers and Ravens meet again next Sunday, which could play a big role in determining the Steelers’ playoff fate.