CLEVELAND — The Steelers did not have a ton to play for on Sunday in their regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns.
At times, they played like it. At times, it looked like the Steelers’ backups were every bit the equal of the second-place team in the AFC North.
But critical mistakes on both sides of the ball let Cleveland pull ahead and the Steelers could not complete a late comeback, falling, 24-22.
Not traveling to Cleveland were Cam Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger and T.J. Watt, in addition to two injured Steelers and three players on the COVID-19 reserve list. The replacement Steelers generally held serve with the Browns, but a pair of big plays went decisively in Cleveland’s fashion.
On the Browns’ opening drive, Cleveland running back Nick Chubb went through a number of Pittsburgh would-be tacklers, rumbling for 47 yards and a score to give the Browns a lead they never surrendered.
The teams traded field goals, with the Steelers getting three from fill-in Matthew Wright and the Browns adding one from Cody Parkey to hold a 10-9 lead.
In the third quarter, Baker Mayfield connected with Austin Hooper for a 2-yard score to put Cleveland up eight and put the pressure on the Pittsburgh offense.
The Steelers couldn’t respond, as Mason Rudolph was pressured on a third down and threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by M.J. Stewart, setting up a short field that the Browns cashed in on with a 3-yard Jarvis Landry rush.
Rudolph led the Steelers back, connecting with Chase Claypool on a 28-yard touchdowns and then after a defensive stop, finding JuJu Smith-Schuster from 2 yards out, but Rudolph’s two-point conversion attempt to Claypool was high.
The Browns recovered Wright’s onside kick attempt, and Cleveland was able to gain the one first down they needed in the running game to secure victory.
The Steelers finished the season with a 12-4 record, their best since going 13-3 in 2017. The two teams will meet again in the Wild Card round next weekend in Pittsburgh.