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Browns fall to Steelers 26-22, Nick Chubb out for the season

Courtesy of the Cleveland Browns
Browns star running back Nick Chubb (pictured) suffered a season-ending knee injury on Monday night’s game, marking the start of an unfortunate game for Cleveland.

Twenty. That’s the number of consecutive regular season matchups in Pittsburgh that the Cleveland Browns have left Heinz Field as losers. The Pittsburgh Steelers, even in their tattered state in 2023, still emerged victorious in one of the most bitter NFL rivalries. It closely mirrors Case Western Reserve University’s rivalry with Carnegie Mellon in various sports.

Pittsburgh and Cleveland have much in common as former industrial giants that experienced urban decline before undergoing recent revitalizations as flourishing urban centers. But only one of the two NFL franchises has been successful in the 21st century, with the Steelers winning two Super Bowls and making the playoffs 14 times, compared with the Browns qualifying for the postseason just twice.

The losing streak was the last thing on Browns fans’ minds Monday evening. Fans were looking forward to a fresh start, but their hopes were quickly dashed as Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson threw an interception that Pittsburgh returned 30 yards for a touchdown. The Browns responded with a field goal and then intercepted struggling Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, setting the Browns up in Steeler territory—only for them to miss a 43-yard field goal. After a Pittsburgh 3-and-out, the turnover cascade would continue, with Watson fumbling for the first time that night. Pittsburgh would fumble on the next play, however, setting up the Browns at the Pittsburgh 23-yard line.

If you’re noticing a trend in Browns’ games in 2023, you would probably point out the very sloppy play from both the Browns and their opponents. The Browns had some hope after this one as they ran a couple successful plays until a 5-yard dash from running back Nick Chubb got them all the way to the Steelers’ 3-yard line. But Nick Chubb didn’t get up. A replay shown on the video boards at Heinz Field left Steelers fans aghast. ESPN refused to show what they deemed an incredibly grisly replay. Players from both teams huddled around Chubb as medical staff came over and got him onto a medical cart. Chubb was carted off and taken to a local hospital as a precaution before going back to Cleveland. Chubb was later revealed to have suffered a knee injury that will presumably take him out for the rest of the season. The Browns have been plagued with the injury curse in back-to-back games as key starters—offensive tackle Jack Conklin last week—have suffered season-ending injuries.

It seemed very hard to focus on the game after that. The Browns would, however, score a touchdown and a two-point try to put them up 11-7. The Steelers responded with a field goal and a 71-yard touchdown pass before the Browns ended the half with a 55-yard field goal after a drive-killing sack of Watson. The offensive line’s ineptitude was obvious throughout the whole game, with Watson being sacked 6 times and fumbling twice. The score at halftime was 16-14 in favor of the Steelers.

Chubb’s replacement, second-year player and fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Cincinnati Jerome Ford, broke out onto the scene in grand fashion in the second play of the Browns’ first drive in the second half. Ford ran for 69 yards all the way to the Pittsburgh 1-yard line, as Browns fans let out a collective sigh of relief that they may have a capable running back to fill the void with Chubb out for the foreseeable future. Ford would finish the game with 106 rushing yards on 16 carries.

The Browns would score a touchdown and successfully convert another two-point try to make the score 22-19 Browns. A string of punts from both teams, with one Browns fumble—their third of the night—, followed the touchdown until the second-most deflating event of the game. In true Browns fashion, their hopes of breaking the Steelers’ win streak were dashed with a self-inflicted wound. Watson was sacked and fumbled, yet again, but this time, it was not only recovered by the Steelers but also returned by star linebacker T.J. Watt 16 yards for what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown.

The Browns would try to come back for the latter half of the fourth quarter, culminating in a Watson pass that left the Browns’ sideline screaming in hopes of getting a pass-interference call. The ball was uncatchable, and the Browns would turn it over on downs with one minute remaining. The pass led pundits to call Watson’s efforts in the first two weeks of the season “embarrassing.”

The most embarrassing thing, though, was how the Browns somehow managed to lose this game. A quick glance at the box score would leave one scratching their head at how the Steelers won: the Browns had 153 more yards of total offense, ran 28 more plays and possessed the ball for around 10 minutes longer. Sloppy play doomed them, with countless penalties, fumbles and sacks, all leading to the failure of Cleveland to start 2-0—a feat that they have not accomplished since 1993.

To help fill the void left by Chubb, the Browns brought back Northeast Ohio native Kareem Hunt on a one-year, $4 million deal. A quick turnaround means the Browns will have to work quickly to retool their offense before hosting the 1-1 Tennessee Titans at 1 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 24.

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