The Cleveland Browns found themselves in desperation mode Thursday night against the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers. At 3-6 on the season, they need to run off an extensive winning streak.
On the other side, Pittsburgh had won five of six since an 0-3 start to the season and has dominated this series over the past 20 seasons.
A game that concluded with Cleveland winning 21-7 saw one of the ugliest displays of football and sportsmanship we’ve ever seen. We’re looking at you, Myles Garrett.
These are among the biggest winners and losers from an ugly “Thursday Night Football” game between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Winner: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
This second-year quarterback might not have put up huge numbers Thursday night. At the very least, Mayfield started the game strong and avoided the turnovers that had plagued the signal caller throughout the season.
He completed all four of his passes for 64 yards, including this long connection to Odell Beckham Jr., on the Browns’ first drive. Once Mayfield ended the drive with a one-yard touchdown, Cleveland found itself up 7-0.
On third down from inside the 10 and his team up just seven in the fourth quarter, Mayfield avoided pressure in the backfield (like he did all game) and connected with Stephen Carlson for a touchdown to pretty much put this away.
Mayfield finished the evening completing 17-of-32 passes for 193 yards with three total scores and zero turnovers to keep his team alive in the playoff race. Great performance from the much-maligned signal caller.
Loser: Joe Haden, Pittsburgh Steelers
This Pro Bowl corner was out there in Cleveland doing his former Browns team a few solids Thursday night. That included Haden coming on the field late on a goal-to-go situation with Pittsburgh down 7-0. It resulted in an easy touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield to Jarvis Landry.
That’s not the only black eye we saw from Haden Thursday night. He committed a pass interference in the end zone and was beat multiple times throughout the evening.
While Haden has been stellar since coming over to Pittsburgh from Cleveland, that did not extend into Week 11. It was hard to watch.
Winner: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers
While Mayfield was absolutely tremendous avoiding pressure in the backfield, Watt was out there having his way against a questionable offensive line.
The numbers (four tackles, two quarterback hits and one sack) don’t do this Defensive Player of the Year candidate justice. He was an absolute force out there.
Despite the loss, Watt has proven himself to be as consistently good as any edge rusher in the NFL. He’s now tallied 24 quarterback hits and 10.5 sacks in 10 games this season.
Loser: Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers
We already know that this second-year quarterback has struggled getting the ball down the field. In fact, Rudolph is among the worst signal callers in the NFL when it comes to actually tossing the rock beyond 10 yards.
This did not change Thursday evening against Cleveland. Rudolph completed 23-of-44 passes for 221 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. He was downright brutal.
This doesn’t even take into account a late-game incident that led to one of the biggest brawls we’ve seen in the NFL in some time. Rudolph was a disaster in every which way Thursday night.
Loser: Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns
Garrett was absolutely dominating the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line throughout Thursday night’s game. It was yet another tremendous performance from the Defensive Player candidate.
That’s until all heck broke loose with the game over in the final seconds. Garrett was ejected after tackling Mason Rudolph to the ground. He immediately tore Rudolph’s helmet off and hit the quarterback in the head with it.
We don’t really care what led to this incident. What we do know is that Garrett is facing a multi-game suspension, at the very least. What a pathetic show of barbarism from the young edge rusher here.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh entered Week 11 two games behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. It was a much tighter race than most imagined. A win here would have put pressure on Lamar Jackson in a difficult matchup against the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Instead, Baltimore has an ability to move three games up in the division with six weeks left.
A win against the Texans would pretty much wrap this up, enabling the Ravens to focus on home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Loser: Steelers injuries
Already down Ben Roethlisberger for the season, Pittsburgh’s offense has been as pedestrian as they come. Running back James Conner missing the past two games magnified this further.
Unfortunately, both Conner and star receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) exited in the first half of this outing.
We previously focused on how Conner needed to play a role if the Steelers were going to come out of Cleveland with a win. He attempted five rushes before going down with a shoulder injury. Smith-Schuster caught two passes. Void of talent at the skill positions, there’s a reason Mason Rudolph struggled here.
As ugly as the ending of this game might have been, we give the officials on hand in Cleveland a ton of credit. There’s nothing they could have done to stop Garrett from going after Rudolph.
But they were able to maintain control of the game and figure out exactly what had transpired while getting the teams off the field in quick fashion. As much as we criticize the stripes, they stood strong in a very difficult moment here.
Loser: Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers
One of the steadiest left tackles in the NFL, Villanueva just did not have it against the above-mentioned Myles Garrett Thursday night. He was called for two holding penalties and let Garrett put a ton of pressure on Mason Rudolph throughout the game.
It’s a major concern. We saw Villanueva struggle against another elite pass rusher in Nick Bosa earlier this season. With Pittsburgh at 5-5 and still very much in the playoff race, he needs to improve moving forward. It’s that simple.