The emotion inside Cleveland Browns Stadium was at a fever pitch. The Browns, losers of 11 of their last 12 against their arch-rival Steeelrs had just put what they thought was the nail in the coffin as Josh Cribbs raced past the weak Steelers kickoff coverage team to take a 20-10 lead with 9:21 left in the game. Fans hugged, celebrated, the Browns bench high-fived and jumped up and down with what looked to be the emotion of a team well on its way to its first two game winning streak of the season. Then….
The Browns fell asleep. At least that is what it looked like from a stunned press box, as the Steelers marched right down the field not once, but twice, scoring two touchdowns, the last with just 0:32 left to steal a game from their rivals 24-20. The Browns defense laxed, the offense got conserative, and Ben Roesthlisberger played with the intensity that helped the Steelers win their fifth Super Bowl last season.
It’s the sign of a young team when they can’t close out a game, and that looks to be what happened on Sunday as the Steelers recovered and handed the Browns what has to be their most frustrating loss of the 2006 season to drop to 3-7. The locker room spoke volumes about the disgust that the players felt. “We had them,” said tight end Kellen Winslow. “We’re in every single game. We just have to find a way to pull it out at the end.”
Not pulling it out was exactly what caused the Browns the win on Sunday. After the Steelers scored to make it 20-17 with 4:14 to go, it was Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu that took over for the Steelers defense and saved the game. He tackled Charlie Frye for no gain on first down, stopped running back Jason Wright for a two-yard gain on second down, and batted down a pass on third-down. It was then up to Big Ben to get it done, and get it done he did.
10 plays, 77 yards, and with :32 seconds left a play that should have been a sack ended up being the play that not only gave the Steelers their first lead, it won them the game. About to be sacked, Roethlisberger somehow found Willie Parker standing along at the four, and from there he went in untouched for the game winning score.
“I scrambled and saw Willie,” said Roethlisberger, 18-for-29 in the final 15 minutes. “I told him later I thought about giving it to him. He didn’t like that, but I was joking. I knew he’d get in.” And get in he did. The rematch of these bitter foes will be on a Thursday night in December, but for now, the Browns look like turkey’s the way they gave the game away while the Steelers gladly gobbled it up.