Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95) forces a fumble by Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (30) during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium.

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Reasons why Sunday's 21-21 tie felt like a win and a loss for the Browns

Cleveland ended a bunch of losing streaks while blowing multiple chances to win

September 10, 2018
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by Daryl Ruiter, 92.3 The Fan

Cleveland, OH – Every year with the Cleveland Browns we see something new and they wasted no time Sunday delivering for 2018.

How about a 21-21 tie – a first since the NFL instituted overtime in 1974 and the first Week 1 tie since the Broncos and Dolphins tied in 1971 – that featured everything.

Cleveland ended their 17-game losing streak, 17-game divisional game losing streak and 13-game Week 1 losing streak while avoiding setting a new franchise record for consecutive losses and tying the third longest losing streak in NFL history.

That in and of itself, is a victory.

“I think the guys can see that we are an improved football team, but there are some areas that we have to clean up and clean up fast, and we will,” head coach Hue Jackson said. “The guys fought. Disappointed for our fans. Did not want them going home without a victory. I did not want our players to go home without a victory. We were not able to get it done. Did not finish it, but obviously, a tie. A tie.”

Here are 3 reasons why Sunday’s game felt like a win for the Browns.

1. The defense forced 6 – that’s right 6 – turnovers.

Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice, safety Damarious Randall a third time in the first half. Defensive end Myles Garrett forced a pair of fourth quarter fumbles – stripping Steelers running back James Conner that set up Carlos Hyde’s 1-yard touchdown run to get within 21-14 as well as a strip sack of Roethlisberger on the very next possession. Rookie linebacker Genard Avery strip-sacked Roethlisberger with less than 40 seconds left in overtime and linebacker Joe Schobert’s return set up Zane Gonzalez’s 42-yard field goal try that was ultimately blocked.

“That is what I asked this defense to do,” Jackson said. “We have to take the ball away. Obviously, we do not want to give up the yards that we gave up. At the same time, we are getting the ball. You get six turnovers, you think you have a chance that you should win the game if you turn it over one time. You are plus five [in turnover margin]. I am impressed with what they did.”

2. Myles Garrett was dominant.

Garrett single-handedly resurrected the Browns, who were lifeless trailing 21-7 in the fourth quarter by creating 2 turnovers with forced fumbles. The 2017 No. 1 overall pick tallied 5 tackles, assisted on a sixth, had a tackle for loss, 2 sacks and a pass breakup in addition to the 2 forced fumbles.  

 “I am being the person they got from the draft,” Garrett said. “I am finally healthy, and I am just trying to be the guy to make the plays when we need them.

“I was hoping [those plays were enough to help us win], but it is not enough until all zeros are on the clock and we win by one, three or six, seven. It does not matter, but we did not get that done.”

3. Denzel Ward was as good as advertised.

Ward intercepted Roethlisberger twice in the first half, broke up 3 passes, made 2 tackles and assisted on 4 others.

“I still gave up a touchdown and we didn’t get the win,” Ward said.

Although he gave up that touchdown to Steelers receiver Antonio Brown in the third quarter that put Pittsburgh on top 14-7, his coverage was tight, and Brown simply did what great players do – made a play.

“I just didn’t get the ball out,” Ward said. “It was a great catch by him, and next time, I have to get the ball out.”

Several players said the tie still felt like a loss to them, and while there are about a dozen legitimate reasons for them to feel that way, here are our top 3.

1. How many chances to win a game do you need?

First, 3 turnovers were forced in the first half and zero points scored off them. The Browns had as many penalties as first downs in the first half – 7 of them and they were out-gained 196-98.

Second, trailing by 7, Garrett strip-sacked Roethlisberger and Schobert recovered the ball at the Pittsburgh 37, but the offense quickly went 3-and-out after Hyde ran for 1 then lost 3 on first and second down before Tyrod Taylor misfired to Jarvis Landry. Colquitt punted and downed it at the 5.

Third, with 1:29 left on the clock in regulation and the ball at their own 29, the Browns moved to the Steelers’ 48 before Taylor underthrew Josh Gordon up the far sideline with 23 seconds remaining allowing Pittsburgh to kneel on it and go to overtime.

Fourth – The Browns offense went 3-and-out at the start of overtime 3 consecutive times, including right after Chris Boswell’s missed 42-yard field goal. The fourth posession came after Avery strip-sacked Roethlisberger and Schobert returned it, Hyde lost a yard forcing Taylor to kill the clock and Gonzalez to come on and kick what should’ve been a game-winner.  

2. The special teams unit remains, well, special. Not in a good way either. They were absolutely awful – especially when it mattered most in overtime.

Let’s start with Zane Gonzalez’s blocked 42-yard field goal with 9 seconds left in overtime. The protection up front was as porous as the heavens were all afternoon. Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt was credited with the block, but 3 others could’ve just as easily gotten to the kick. Unacceptable with the game on the line. Jabrill Peppers retuned 1 punt 15 yards and waived for fair catches on 3 others – one in overtime that saw him slap the ball in frustration after realizing there was 15 yards of green grass in front of him. Britton Colquitt also shanked a punt in overtime that went 29 yards and gave the Steelers the ball at their own 45.

In regulation the Browns gave up a 22-yard punt return, committed 2 illegal blocking penalties on kickoffs, Antonio Callaway had an 8-yard kickoff return to the 11, were called for leverage on a PAT and Nick Chubb almost had a punt hit him in the helmet causing a turnover but despite a Steelers challenge, got away with a lack of awareness. One positive: Colquitt downed 4 punts inside the 20.

3. Penalties. The lack of discipline observed in the preseason showed itself again in Week 1.

Cleveland was flagged 11 times for 87 yards: 3 on special teams for a pair of illegal blocks and leverage, 4 on the offensive line: left tackle Desmond Harrison 2 false starts, left guard Joel Bitonio 1 false start and Kevin Zeitler was guilty of a hold. Receiver Josh Gordon was flagged for unnecessary roughness while Garrett got called for roughing the quarterback, being offsides and an illegal block on Joe Schobert’s fumble return in the final minute of overtime. The Steelers declined 2 other flags – one on Harrison for illegal formation and the other on Jarvis Landry for illegal motion.