Steelers, fittingly, all but extinguish Browns' playoff hopes

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh finished it.

The game. And, likely, the Cleveland Browns' season.

Not surprisingly, it was the Steelers who all but extinguished the Browns' already slim playoff hopes, rolling to the 20-13 victory on Sunday in a revenge game off the melee just 17 days ago in Cleveland.

Fittingly, it was former Browns cornerback Joe Haden who came up with the game-clinching play, intercepting Baker Mayfield in the final minute of a potentially game-tying drive.

After a brief and chaotic reprieve, the Steelers restored balance to a rivalry that's been anything but balanced while flexing their permanence as a franchise against a flailing one defined mostly by its dysfunction this millennium.

A single T-shirt seemed to say it all.

On his birthday Friday, Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens was spotted at the movies wearing the "Pittsburgh started it" shirt, a reference to Mason Rudolph and the Browns-Steelers brawl that led to the indefinite suspension for Browns defensive end Myles Garrett and more than $730,000 in fines.

Sure enough, the Browns couldn't back up the bluster, even though the Steelers were playing several third-string offensive players, including quarterback Devlin Hodges making his second career start.

Meanwhile against the Steelers, all of Cleveland's recurring warts this season resurfaced. They couldn't get the ball to Odell Beckham Jr. once again. Their secondary was shorthanded yet again, this time because safety Damarious Randall was left behind after deciding to skip a practice this week, which helped allow a quarterback nicknamed "Duck" to torch them after the first quarter.

And Mayfield, who injured his throwing hand while attempting a pass from inside his own 40-yard line with just seconds to go in the first half, failed to sustain drives with an offensive line unable to protect him.

The Browns had their slogans.

But they came away from Pittsburgh without a win yet again.

The Steelers put the finishing touches on a Cleveland season that once held so many expectations. That now appears to be all but over.

Describe the game in two words: Season-ender. The Browns desperately needed this game to keep their playoff hopes alive. They now have roughly a 7% chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN FPI.

Troubling trend: Once again, Beckham Jr. was a virtual non-factor, finishing with 29 receiving yards on three catches and six targets. OBJ has now gone six straight games without reaching 100 receiving yards for the first time him in his career. Last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, it looked as if Beckham and Mayfield were finally starting to discover a chemistry, with Beckham finishing with 84 yards and a touchdown. That turned out to be a one-game aberration against an overmatched opponent. What a disappointment the splashiest trade of the NFL offseason has turned out to be.

Pivotal play: The Browns were in total command in the first half, up 10-0 against a seemingly hapless Pittsburgh offense. Then on third-and-9, Hodges connected with James Washington for a 31-yard gain over Cleveland corner Greedy Williams, basically giving the Steelers their first positive offensive play of the game, which led to a field goal. Pittsburgh was in command the rest of the way.