Browns-Steelers: Report Card

The grades are in! Why am I reminded of that line from Star Wars? "Great, kid! Don't get cocky."

The Browns played their best game of the season Thursday night. In beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns ended a 12-game losing streak to their rivals down the turnpike.

A team that started the game on a seven-game losing streak limited the Steelers to six points and 75 yards rushing.

This win does not eliminate the fact that the Browns are 2-11, but it does help soothe some of the pain of a difficult season.

"It's been a difficult season," coach Eric Mangini said. "There have been a lot of things that we've had to work through, but that doesn't change (the players') commitment."

Mangini's future has been questioned with every loss, and it remains in question because the Browns want to hire a new leader for football.

That being said, beating Pittsburgh has happened so rarely in Cleveland that a win can't hurt Mangini's chances.

That's how much a victory over the Steelers means to these fans, and to this team.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Josh Cribbs continues to prove he probably is the Browns' Most Valuable Player. Cribbs had an amazing game against the Steelers, with 87 yards rushing on eight carries and a 55-yard punt return.

He almost single-handedly set up 10 of the Browns 13 points, and his tough running from the Wildcat not only set up a touchdown, it also helped the Browns run down the clock late in the game.

"I just do whatever I can to help the team," Cribbs said. "Things don't always work the way you want, but in the end you have to win the game."

--LB David Bowens made the game-saving play when he knocked down Ben Roethlisberger's last-chance fourth-down pass in the final two minutes.

Bowens moved in front of Santonio Holmes to knock away Roethlisberger's pass.

"It was like one of those slow-motion deals," Bowens said.

Bowens has been one of the best of the ex-Jets brought in by Eric Mangini. He started at outside linebacker, but moved inside due to injury and played well.

Bowens has also displayed a professionalism that anyone can admire.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Chris Jennings got the Browns' first rushing touchdown in more than a year when he ran around right end to sneak into the end zone. The Browns' last rushing touchdown came in Buffalo on Nov. 17, 2008.

--LB Marcus Benard had two of the eight sacks against Ben Roethlisberger. Benard came from nowhere this season to contribute in a big NFL Network game.

--QB Brady Quinn did not have an impressive game numbers-wise, completing just 6-of-19 passes for 90 yards. But windy conditions affected the passing game, and Quinn had good command of the offense. Quinn has not thrown an interception in his last four games.

--TE Evan Moore, who came off the practice squad two games ago, continues to impress. Moore made a very nice one-handed grab of an early Brady Quinn pass and wound up leading the Browns with two catches for 34 yards.

--DE Corey Williams has been unfairly questioned this season. He has not been happy playing for Eric Mangini, but he's never stopped playing. His two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger were keys to the Browns' win.

REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- A howling wind and wind chills below zero made it next to impossible to throw the ball. The Browns wisely did not force the issue. That did not stop Brady Quinn from completing a 37-yard pass to Mohamed Massaquoi, and from completing some key passes when he needed to. Given the conditions, the effort in the passing game was solid.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The Browns ran for 171 yards against one of the better run defenses in the league. Josh Cribbs led the way, averaging 10.9 yards on his eight runs from the Wildcat. Chris Jennings added 73 tough yards on 20 carries. The Browns weren't particularly innovative. They ran the same plays. They just ran them better, and they were the more aggressive and stronger team against Pittsburgh.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Ben Roethlisberger looked confused and rattled in losing for the first time to the Browns. The Browns defense sacked him eight times, and though Roethlisberger threw for 201 yards he had no touchdowns. The Browns have never had a game like this against Roethlisberger, especially with the eight sacks and constant harassment.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The team that can't stop the run stopped the run, limiting the Steelers to 75 yards on 22 carries. The Browns ran for almost 100 more yards than Pittsburgh. The longest carry by a Steelers back went for seven yards. The Browns had been one of the worst run defenses in the league all season, but they were stronger and better than Pittsburgh for this one night.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Phil Dawson made both his field goals on a windy, cold night. Punter Russ Hodges continually put the Steelers in tough field position. And the incomparable Josh Cribbs set up a field goal with a 55-yard punt return. It would be hard for one team to ask for more than the Browns got from their special teams.

COACHING: A - The Browns didn't try a lot of new stuff, but they sure seemed better prepared and better able to handle the elements in the win over the Steelers. That is to the credit of the coaching staff, which stressed the Steelers game, and then had the team go out and win. Players will play for each other and to win, but this night they also seemed to be playing for their oft-criticized and beleaguered coach. It may not save Eric Mangini's job, but it gave him one fond memory from what had previously been an ugly, ugly season.


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