Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Instant takeaways from Browns’ 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers …
1. Your move, Haslam: The Browns secured their spot in the NFL record books with only the second 0-16 season in league history after falling to a Pittsburgh Steelers squad resting five Pro Bowlers and their best defensive player, 28-24. The Browns made a point all week of de-emphasizing the urgency to avoid a winless season. And they talked themselves into playing like nothing was on the line. In single-digit wind-chill temperatures, they tackled like their arms were numb and they made their usual assortment of mindless errors. For example, a Christian Kirksey offsides call on a Pittsburgh field goal gave the Steelers a first down at the 4-yard line (though the defense held with a goal-line stand) and a questionable Myles Garrett roughing-the-passer penalty allowed the Steelers to score a touchdown rather than try a field goal. And, ultimately, they lost when Corey Coleman dropped a pass on fourth down at the Steelers' 11 with 1:46 left. So now, will owner Jimmy Haslam make good on his statement to bring back Hue Jackson after a 1-31 record in two seasons? All indications were that answer is yes. Haslam was expected to meet media in the bowels of Heinz Field immediately after the game.
2. That’s a wrap: For most of the game, DeShone Kizer kept the Browns in the game with his arm and legs. Although Kizer’s accuracy was typically wild, he made a lot of plays throwing and running. Kizer had 270 yards passing and 59 rushing with six sacks and no turnovers – until he was intercepted by safety Sean Davis with 6:47 left. But after the defense forced a punt in three plays, Kizer took over at the Browns’ 15 with 4:30 and moved the offense again. Josh Gordon went over 100 yards receiving (115, four receptions) on that possession. And with the Browns facing fourth-and-2 at the Steelers’ 27, Kizer escaped pressure and tossed to an open Corey Coleman standing at the Steelers’ 11. And Coleman -- the player the Browns drafted in the first round in 2016 after passing on quarterback Carson Wentz and trading down twice -- dropped the ball.
3. Give and take: Typical of this tug of war was the opening of the second half. Kizer drove the Browns 68 yards in seven plays to tied the game at 21-21. Key play was a 34-yard catch-and-run by tight end David Njoku, on which he juked Joe Haden to this knees. After Rashard Higgins caught his second TD pass of the game, Pittsburgh rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster accelerated through the Browns’ beleaguered special teams for a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Smith-Schuster, the youngest player in the league, had 127 yards receiving, and a touchdown, the first half alone.
4. Big-play Kizer: Kizer had an up-and-down first half. Sacked on two of his first three plays – and four times overall – Kizer torpedoed a lot of balls into the turf on a 5-of-12 first half. But he managed to produce his two longest pass plays of the year in the span of three plays in the second quarter. The first was a perfect strike to Josh Gordon (on which Joe Haden passed off coverage to late-arriving safety Mike Mitchell), which went for 54 yards when Gordon stepped out of bounds at the Steelers 2. On his next possession, Kizer found the mismatch of receiver Rashard Higgins on linebacker T.J. Watt and got the ball to Higgins on a quick-hitter. Watt fell after getting beat and Higgins took it to the house for a 56-yard touchdown – the first score of his two-year career.
5. Defensive roller coaster: Sloppy tackling enabled Steelers QB Landry Jones to move his offense 72 yards on the opening possession for a touchdown, the score coming when Darrius Heyward-Bey took a reverse 29 yards to the end zone as Browns tacklers collided with themselves. Another Pittsburgh touchdown came when Jones found JuJu Smith Schuster open in a zone for a 20-yard score. A questionable roughing-the-passer penalty on Myles Garrett on a third-down incompletion enabled that second chance. But the defense also had some highlights: Jabrill Peppers’ first career interception, a Garrett strip sack and Caleb Brantley recovery in mid-air, and a goal line stand on four Steelers plays inside the 5 (three from the 1). So while the Steelers led, 21-14 at halftime, it was closer than the 16-5 advantage they held in first downs.
6. Ring in 2018: Browns non-division opponents for 2018 have been known for years because of the NFL’s unique schedule formula. The only games dependent on Sunday outcomes are the two opponents based on 2017 records. If the Jets lose to the Patriots, the Jets will join the Browns’ home schedule, which includes Kansas City, L.A. Chargers, Atlanta and Carolina. The road schedule is set against Denver, Oakland, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. The last road game depends on the Houston-Indianapolis game. If Houston wins, the Browns will at Indianapolis. If the Colts win, the Browns will play at Houston. Dates and times of the games usually are released in April.