On the coldest night in the history of the rivalry, the Steelers played like all they wanted to do was board the bus and go home. On a night that saw temps fall into the mid negative teens with the wind chill, the Steelers offense was frozen all day, never doing much of anything as Ben Roethlisberger was hit all night in a 13-6 loss to the now 2-11 Cleveland Browns.
The loss is the fifth straight for the Steelers, who were sitting pretty at one point at 6-2, but now might as well start thinking about the 2010 NFL Draft. At 6-7, they would need to win their last three games and get a lot of help around the AFC in order to make the postseason.
“We fell short in all three phases,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “We knew we had to stop their perimeter run game, the wildcat football, and we weren’t able to do that. They got on the perimeter and hurt us with big chunks. They controlled the time of possession, converted first downs. We knew we couldn’t give up a big return due to the nature of the weather. We gave up a big return to kind of get them started. It put us behind the eight ball.
“When you get beat in all three phases, schematically and performance-wise we are all to be held accountable for that and we are. I liked the fight in the group. I trust they will continue to do that. They are a close-knit group and I trust that they will stick together. But fighting and sticking together are not going to win football games. Performance is and preparation is. We have an extended week here in preparation for our next performance. We better make moves and get that done.”
The team played like they were the team that had lost 12 straight to the Browns, not the other way around. They were out played on both sides of the ball, and as usual, gave up a big kick return, allowing a 55-yard punt return to Josh Cribbs that led to the Browns first field goal.
The Cleveland defense pounded the Steelers all night. They sacked Roethlisberger 8 times for minus 60 yards, and the offense had just 216 yards all night against a defense that had been beaten up all season by not only other teams, but by the injury bug. The Steelers were just 3-for-14 on third downs, and 1-for-2 on fourth downs.
Three of the first four Steelers drives ended with three-and-outs, and then when they did move the ball, they were killed by drops as well as mistakes and penalties. “Protection of our quarterback was a big time issue,” said Tomlin. “We couldn’t move the chains on third down. We couldn’t establish rhythm that way. We weren’t able to get a run game going that we felt pretty good about going into the game because we weren’t able to move the chains on third down.”
Cleveland ran past the too aggressive Steelers defense all night. Cribbs ran past them in the wildcat on a number of occasions, once for 37 yards that set up another score. Then running back Chris Jennings, who was playing for the injured Jamal Lewis, ran for 73 yards on 20 carries. The Browns gashed the Steelers for 171 yards rushing.
The Steelers ground game was held in check for the most part. Rashard Mendenhall had 53 yards on 16 carries, and Willie Parker had 12 yards. The ground game rushed for a total of 75 yards, a 3.4 yards per carry average.
Pittsburgh down seven in the fourth quarter had two chances to tie the game. The first drive stalled at the Cleveland 44, and after a holding penalty they were forced to punt. Then from their 21 with 6:16 left, the team drove to the Cleveland 43, but another sack and then a pass to Heath Miller got them to a 4th-and-6 with 1:48 left. On fourth down Roethlisberger could have run for the first down, but tried to force the ball to Santonio Holmes, and the pass was knocked away.
The team will play at home on December 20th vs Green Bay.