Cleveland shocks

Stick a fork in those playoff hopes. The Steelers are done after their fifth consecutive loss, this one to the Cleveland Browns.

CLEVELAND – It was fitting that the referee for Thursday night's game at Cleveland Browns Stadium was the aptly named Ron Winter.

With game time temperatures hovering in the teens and a wind-chill factor of below zero, the conditions weren't fit for man or beast.

And the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a long winter to think about what could have been with this season.

Cleveland sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eight times and rushed for 171 yards, beating the Steelers 13-6 Thursday night.

The rushing total was the most Cleveland has had in a game against Pittsburgh since 1972.

We fell short in all three phases," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "When you get beat in all three phases, schematically and performance-wise, we're all to be held accountable and we are."

Not only did the victory end Pittsburgh's 12-game winning streak against the Browns, it probably ended any hopes of the defending Super Bowl champions of earning a spot in this year's AFC playoffs.

Pittsburgh, now 6-7, has lost five consecutive games and would likely miss the playoffs even if it won the final three games.

"I like the fight in the group," said Tomlin. "I trust that they will continue to do that. And it's a close-knit group and I trust that they will stick together.

"But fighting and sticking together isn't going win football games. Performance is. Preparation is."

The Browns (2-11) continually stopped the Steelers throughout the second half, the final time with 1:43 remaining when Roethlisberger's fourth-down-and-six pass intended for Santonio Holmes was knocked to the ground.

"To lose five straight coming off a Super Bowl victory last season, it's embarrassing," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who played despite being questionable with a strained hamstring.

"There's a lot of gut check with three games left. We're going to see who really wants to go out and play for the pride of this organization and for our city, and who doesn't want to be around here. I'm going to continue to fight my tail off, even though we're not in the playoffs. But it hurts. It hurts a lot."

Cleveland did all of its scoring in the first half.

Cleveland used a 55-yard punt return by Josh Cribbs to set up its first score, a 29-yard Phil Dawson field goal with 3:51 remaining in the first quarter.

Roethlisberger was sacked for a 10-yard loss on third-and-three from the Pittsburgh 13 and Cribbs mishandled Daniel Sepulveda's 55-yard punt, picking it up at the Cleveland 37.

He quickly split the Pittsburgh defense and got to the Steelers eight before being tackled by Sepulveda.

Cleveland extended the lead to 6-0 after pinning the Steelers deep in their own territory early in the second quarter.

The Steelers went three-and-out after taking over at their own seven and Sepulveda's 36-yard punt gave Cleveland the ball back at the Pittsburgh 48.

On third-and-13 from the Cleveland 49, Browns quarterback Brady Quinn threw a short pass to rookie receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and he turned it into a 37-yard gain. That set up another 29-yard Dawson field goal that gave Cleveland a 6-0 lead.

Pittsburgh's offense continued to sputter and the Steelers again punted following another Roethlisberger sack.

Cleveland took over at its own 26 and Cribbs – running from a wildcat formation – broke off a 37-yard run on third down to the Pittsburgh 30.

Rookie Chris Jennings took over from there, carrying the ball on five of the next six plays to score his first career touchdown on a 10-yard run with 41 seconds remaining in the first half.

Down 13-0, the Steelers finally responded, as Roethlisberger, working out of the no-huddle offense, drove them from the Pittsburgh 33 to the Cleveland nine with seven seconds remaining in the first half.

But Roethlisberger threw incomplete to tight end Heath Miller at the two on first down and Jeff Reed booted a 27-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.

The Steelers cut the lead to 13-6 with a pair of Jeff Reed field goals in the third quarter.


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