November 20, 2016
Cleveland Browns quarterback Cody Kessler hits the ground after getting sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second half. (Joshua Gunter, cleveland.com)
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Cody Kessler left Sunday's 24-9 loss to the Steelers with his second concussion in 29 days, and Josh McCown was lucky that he didn't get knocked out with one too.
Each quarterback was sacked four times and pummeled about another three times by the Steelers' relentless pass rush.
"It's dangerous,'' said Terrelle Pryor. "They're getting hit on every play. I hate it. Whoever's giving up the blocks, they've got to stop this s---.'
The dagger came when McCown was strip-sacked by linebacker Ryan Shazier, and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave recovered in the end zone for a touchdown that produced the final margin with 3:36 remaining.
As a result, the Browns fell to 0-11 to extend their record for worse start to a season. The Steelers, who had lost four straight, improved to 5-5.
The Browns have now lost a club-record 14 straight, 21 of their last 22 and 29 of their last 32. Le'Veon Bell rushed for 146 yards and Ben Roethlisberger improved to 20-2 against them.
For the first time in the NFL history of the club, they now have more losses than victories. They're 461-462-10.
"Obviously these are not very good times and haven't been for us,'' said coach Hue Jackson. "I don't want this group to go backwards anymore than they already have.''
The Browns are also in serious jeopardy of becoming only the second team in NFL history to go 0-16. The 2008 Lions are the other. Cleveland has games left against the New York Giants, Bengals, Bills, Chargers and Steelers (in Pittsburgh) remaining.
The Steelers headed into the game tied for last in the NFL with 13 sacks, and tee'd off on the Browns all afternoon. They had 14 quarterback hits overall, compared to only four by the Browns on Big Ben.
Kessler, 0-8 as a starter, also suffered a concussion against the Bengals Oct. 23 and sat out the Jets game the following week.
Jackson is so concerned he said he'll talk to the medical staff about shutting Kessler down for awhile. With five games left, that could mean the season.
"This is about a young man's career and future so we have to do the right thing,'' said Jackson.
Kessler was blasted by linebacker Lawrence Timmons after he completed a 16-yard pass to Corey Coleman at the end of the third quarter. Timmons was flagged 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, and Kessler took a long time getting up.
He was woozy and wobbly, and soon diagnosed with a concussion with his second concussion in four games.
Joe Thomas said such a forearm or shoulder blow to the head when a QB is already going down after a throw shouldn't be in the game.
At the very least, Kessler will likely sit out next week's game against the Giants, and then comes the bye.
Even before the concussion, he was shaken up a few times on hard blasts by the Steelers, who poured on the pressure all day and were flagged twice for unnecessary roughness, including once on Daniel McCullers, who hit McCown in the head late in the game.
Kessler, who held the ball too long on several occasions, completed 7-of-14 attempts for 128 yards with no touchdowns and one interception for a 52.1 rating.
It was arguably his worst game of the season, and may have been his last. The Browns were using this home stretch to determine if he's the QB of the future, and now that might be over.
In the first half, Kessler completed 3-of-7 attempts for 60 yards with no TDs and one INT for a 33.9 rating. But two of his passes were dropped by Corey Coleman.
The Browns also have Robert Griffin III returning to practice next week, but Jackson said McCown will start against the Giants if Kessler can't go.
Would Jackson even want to risk Griffin behind this shaky protection?
As Pryor observed, "I don' think somebody would take $10 million to sit back there and take those hits.''
"They're trying so hard to win, and sometimes you start thinking you need to do more,'' said Jackson. "You just have to do your job.''
McCown admitted that's not in his nature.
"There is a degree of that because you want to kill this freaking hump,'' he said.
McCown entered the game with one untimed play left in the third quarter because of the Timmons penalty, and led the Browns on a TD march, capped by a 14-yard pass in the end zone to tight end Gary Barnidge, his first TD of the season.
It provided the kind of spark coach Hue Jackson was looking for last week when he replaced Kessler with McCown in Baltimore. But it was too little too late.
McCown finished the game 14-of-27 for 118 yards with 1 TD and no INTs for a 75.8 rating.
On the fateful sack-fumble at the end, he said, "I thought I had some more space to get a good throwaway.''
Pryor's big plays
Pryor promised "I'll be flying out there'' because his hamstring finally felt good. He didn't disappoint. He finished with a team-high five catches for 97 yards, and returned the game in the fourth quarter despite getting the wind knocked out of him.
He caught a 36-yard pass on the Browns' opening drive, making a nice adjustment to the ball. Unfortunately for the Browns, they couldn't cash in. Kessler was picked off on a deep pass to Coleman with 11:46 left in the first quarter.
Pryor made another great play in the third quarter, leaping over cornerback Ross Cockrell for a 26-yard catch on fourth to the 1 on fourth and 9. Once again, the Browns weren't able to take full advantage of the big catch and of their first and goal at the 1. Isaiah Crowell lost 2 yards on the next play, and Kessler was sacked by James Harrison to knock the Browns back to the 8. They settled for a field goal.
During a timeout on the sidelines after the sack, Pryor was steamed and had to be calmed down.
"I'm an ultimate competitor,'' he said. "I take this very seriously.''
He also caught a 15-yard pass in the fourth quarter that led to Barnidge's TD catch that closed the gap to 17-9.
End of second-half untimed TD
The Steelers scored eight points after scoring on an untimed down to take a 14-0 lead into the locker room. It was more points than they had scored with time on the clock in the first half.
Facing a second and 3 from the Browns 3, the play clock ran out on Roethlisberger, but the officials missed it. Instead, Briean Boddy-Calhoun was flagged for defensive holding for a first down at the 2 with no time left on the clock.
The next play, Joe Haden was flagged for pass interference against Antonio Brown in the end zone to bring up a first and goal at the 1. That brought a barrage of debris from the Dawg Pound into the end zone, and Browns players had to urge their fans to knock it off.
Bell, the workhorse of the first half, then found a seam on the left side for the 1-yard TD on the second untimed down.
The Steelers, who took possession after the two-minute warning, tacked on two points on the conversion with a Roethlisberger pass to tight end David Johnson.
"They don't really respect us as a defense,'' said Haden.
If the officials had caught the expired playclock, the Browns may have trailed only 6-0 at the break.
Vintage Big Ben play
On that first-half TD drive, Roethlisberger pulled off one of those vintage plays that make him a likely Hall of Famer. On third and 2 from the 18, he sidearmed a 5-yard pass to Bell while he was falling to the ground on his right side to avoid pressure from Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah got good pressure on Roethlisberger numerous times, but couldn't bring him down.
Holding 'em to field goals
The Steelers were held to field goals on three long drives and thanks to fine third-down play by the Browns defense. On the first one, Briean Boddy-Calhoun knocked a pass away from tight end Jesse James in the end zone.
On the second one, linebacker Chris Kirksey deflected a pass to receiver Eli Rogers. Defensive lineman Danny Shelton punctuated that incompletion to Rogers by drilling Roethlisberger after the throw. The QB got up a little slowly, but he is the seemingly indestructible Big Ben. That kept it to 6-0 Steelers in the second quarter. In the third quarter, safety Derrick Kindred knocked away a pass in the end zone to force the Steelers to settle for another short field goal that increased their lead to 17-3.
Tramon Williams inactive
Williams sat this one out with his knee injury. It meant more time for Boddy-Calhoun, who had his best game of the season, including several breakups.
Browns host the Giants next Sunday at 1 p.m. FirstEnergy Stadium.