CLEVELAND — In the recent history between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, the lack of talent on one side of the ball was crystal clear.
The Steelers were simply a much better team with much better players. Blowout victories were often the result of the incredible mismatch.
That wasn’t the case in 2013.
The task was simple Sunday: Avoid dumb mistakes and the Browns — a team with arguably more talent than the Steelers — could earn a victory.
You must avoid …
… committing penalties.
… dropping balls.
… turning the ball over.
The Browns did all three in the second quarter and it doomed them in the second half.
In their last three losses, the Browns have been outscored 51-14 in the second quarter. Nothing will match the spectacular disaster that was the second quarter in Cincinnati on Nov. 17. Sunday’s stinker of a second quarter was a bit subtler.
First, it was a penalty.
The Browns were winning the field position battle. A Steelers’ punt gave the Browns possession at their own 47-yard-line with 11:38 left in the half. Chris Ogbonnaya rushed for 10 yards on first down and Jason Campbell connected with Jordan Cameron for four yards to set up a second-and-6 from the Steelers’ 39. False start on Alex Mack followed by two incomplete passes from Campbell and a Browns’ punt.
Second, it was a dropped ball.
Still tied at 3 later in the quarter, the Browns began a drive at their own 13 with a 10-yard pass from Campbell to Gordon and a 4-yard run by Fozzy Whitaker. On second-and-6 Campbell was flushed out of the pocket and landed awkwardly. In came Brandon Weeden. His third-down throw, surprisingly, was on target to Cameron, who let the pass slip through his fingers.
The Steelers took over on their own 48-yard-line and two players later, Antonio Brown was laying in the end zone with the ball resting on his chest after a 41-yard touchdown reception.
Finally, it was a turnover.
Despite trailing by 10, the Browns began a drive at their own 20 and quickly moved toward midfield. Campbell connected with Gordon for 16 and 10 yards to put the Browns at their own 46-yard-line with 1:51 left in the quarter. At this point, a four-point halftime deficit looked plausible. Ogbonnaya took the first-down hand off and it appeared to have a solid 8-yard gain. He fumbled at the end of the run.
The Steelers took over on their own 46 and seven plays later kicked a 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds remaining in the half. A plausible four-point deficit was now a legit 10 points.
By then, the task to come back was too great regardless of the 30 minutes still to be played.
In a season in which easy Steelers wins over the Browns should have never happened, it did because the Browns committed those three dumb mistakes. It is tough to swallow. It is tough to accept. It is difficult to lay the blame on one single person. It is reality. The Steelers’ dominance over the Browns continues for yet another long football season.