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(Sunday, November 25th)
Final Score: Cleveland 20, Pittsburgh 14
Cleveland, OH (Sports Network) - Ben Roethlisberger's return may come too little and too late for the Pittsburgh Steelers to achieve their goal of an AFC North title.
Emergency starter Charlie Batch threw three interceptions and the Steelers turned the ball over eight times in all during an ugly 20-14 road loss to the Cleveland Browns that could impact their postseason chances later on.
Trent Richardson had 112 yards from scrimmage and rushed for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter to help the Browns (3-8) register only a third victory in their last 25 matchups with the division-rival Steelers, but the Cleveland defense turned out to be the biggest stars of the game.
The Browns recovered five fumbles -- including one each by four different Pittsburgh running backs -- in addition to their three picks of Batch and scored 17 points off the Steelers' litany of errors.
"That was an ugly performance," said Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin. "If you turn the ball over the way we did today, you're not going to beat anybody, that's just the reality in the National Football League. I'm surprised it was that close given the turnover situation."
Brandon Weeden added a touchdown pass while completing 17-of-26 throws for 158 yards with an interception for the Browns, who are now 3-3 following an 0-5 beginning to the season.
Pittsburgh (6-5), meanwhile, has now dropped two straight heading into next week's showdown at the AFC North front-running Ravens, who dealt the Steelers a 13-10 defeat in the Steel City last Sunday in a game Roethlisberger also missed due to injuries to his right shoulder and ribs.
The Steelers will enter that clash three games behind the Ravens in the division standings after Baltimore earned a 16-13 overtime win in San Diego on Sunday.
Cleveland also held Pittsburgh to just 242 total yards, with Batch managing 199 through the air on 20-of-34 passing.
"When I talk about this game, you talk about the defense, of course," said Browns head coach Pat Shurmur. "We had seven sacks last week [against Dallas] and we had eight turnovers this week. We held Pittsburgh to 1-for-9 on [third] down and that's outstanding stuff. We can talk about how the game was played, but our guys stepped up and did an outstanding job defensively."
The Steelers were actually the opportunistic ones early on, as Weeden's third pass of the afternoon was tipped at the line by Brett Keisel and landed in the awaiting arms of linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who raced untouched 53 yards to send the Steelers in front just over a minute into the contest.
With the exception of an 84-yard touchdown drive near the end of the first half, that would be Pittsburgh's lone highlight of a mistake-marred day.
The barrage of miscues began on Pittsburgh's initial offensive series, when Rashard Mendenhall coughed up the ball after a hard hit from Ahtyba Rubin and Usama Young recovered for Cleveland on the Steelers' 44-yard line.
Four straight runs by Richardson and Montario Hardesty moved the Browns inside the red zone, though the drive would ultimately stall and Cleveland settled for a Phil Dawson 28-yard field goal with 8:25 to play in the first quarter.
Pittsburgh's second giveaway occurred deep in their own end, when Isaac Redman fumbled on a third-down draw at the Steelers' 10-yard line and Buster Skrine came out of the pile with possession. The turnover set up Weeden's 5-yard delivery to Jordan Cameron on a post route that gave Cleveland a 10-7 advantage early in the second quarter.
"It was a great read by Brandon," said Cameron. "There were no safeties over the top and we threw it right into the corner. It was all him. He threw the ball in the perfect spot."
The Steelers' offense sputtered again on its next trip, giving the Browns the ball back near midfield on a punt. Weeden would complete all three of his attempts on a 10-play, 44-yard sequence that culminated in Dawson's 32-yard field goal that extended the lead to six late in the first half.
Batch was finally able to generate something positive before intermission, connecting on several throws to march Pittsburgh into Cleveland territory for the first time. A defensive pass interference call on Sheldon Brown on a deep strike intended for the newly-acquired Plaxico Burress placed the ball on the 1-yard line with seven seconds left, and Chris Rainey crossed the goal line just before time expired to send the Steelers into the break with a 14-13 edge.
That wouldn't be a sign of things to come, however. Brown picked off Batch at the Pittsburgh 31 midway through the third quarter, and Richardson broke off a 15-yard touchdown run three plays later to put Cleveland back ahead with 5:19 to go in the period.
The game would remain a six-point difference entering the fourth quarter, as the Browns generated little offense in the second half and the Steelers continued to be plagued by an inability to hold onto the ball.
Pittsburgh had a scoring chance after Batch found Emmanuel Sanders for a 15- yard gain to the Cleveland 28 with under 13 minutes left, but his next pass was deflected and intercepted by lineman Billy Winn to thwart that opportunity.
"With us being in that situation, I put the game on my shoulders to try and go down and put my team in the end zone, and I wasn't able to do that," said Batch.
Four of the Steelers' final five drives would end in a turnover, with Batch picked off by Joe Haden with around three minutes remaining and Rainey fumbling on a reception shortly afterward. Pittsburgh also had a lateral attempt by Mike Wallace to Sanders mishandled on the final play, with the Browns recovering as time ran out.
Burress, who spent his first five NFL seasons with the Steelers from 2000-04, was signed on Tuesday due to fellow wide receivers Antonio Brown (ankle) and Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) inactive due to injuries. He did not have a catch while being targeted twice ... The loss was only Pittsburgh's third in its last 16 clashes with the Browns in Cleveland ... Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley left the contest in the first quarter with an ankle injury and did not return, while offensive tackle Mike Adams exited in the second half with an ankle problem as well ... Cameron's TD catch was the first of his career and ended a string of 29 straight Cleveland possessions without a touchdown against Pittsburgh ... Dawson has now made 27 consecutive field goal attempts, which matches a career best, and is a perfect 21-of-21 on the season.
11/25 20:04:55 ET