CLEVELAND - Eight turnovers, seven holding penalties and a third-string quarterback was all it took for the Browns to finally scale the mountain that is the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In defeating the Steelers, 20-14, Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Browns recovered five fumbles and intercepted three passes by backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who started in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. Add in the holding penalties and it was far from an artistic success.
That didn't matter to 69,661 largely Browns fans that have now celebrated just five wins over the Steelers in the expansion era. The Browns improved their record to 3-8, while the Steelers are 6-5 and in danger of not qualifying for the AFC playoffs.
The Associated Press
Cleveland Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (52) and cornerback Joe Haden break up a pass to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace (17) in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game in Cleveland. The tipped ball was recovered by Browns defensive tackle Billy Winn.
"This is the first time we've beaten the Steelers since I've been here," cornerback Joe Haden said. "It's big for the fans; it's big for the coaches; it's big for the town. This is one of the best feelings I've had in winning a game."
The Steelers spread the damage around in their parade of turnovers. Running backs Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey each lost a fumble, as did receiver Emmanuel Sanders on the final play of the game.
"You know that was an ugly performance," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "As ours, we own it. If you turn the ball over the way we did today, you're not going to beat anybody. That's just the reality of the National Football League. I'm surprised it was that close given the turnover situation."
It was close because of the Steelers' defense, which is ranked first in the NFL. The Browns scored touchdowns on a 5-yard pass from quarterback Brandon Weeden to tight end Jordan Cameron and a 15-yard run by Trent Richardson, but they squandered good field position several times and finished with just 238 yards of offense.
"Offensively, we did enough against the number one defense in the league," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "We scored enough points after spotting them seven on a tipped ball to win the game. We didn't finish the last two games we played. This game we finished. That's the important message as we move forward."
It looked like the turnover situation might work in favor of the Steelers when linebacker Lawrence Timmons intercepted a pass that was tipped by Brett Keisel on the fourth play from scrimmage. Timmons returned the interception 53 yards for a touchdown, silencing a crowd that had to be thinking "here we go again."
The Browns didn't let the turnover ruin their day. They scored on a 28-yard field goal by Phil Dawson in the first quarter and took the lead on Cameron's touchdown reception. Dawson kicked a 32-yard field goal in the second quarter to stretch the lead to 13-7.
During that time the Steelers turned possession over on fumbles by Mendenhall, Redman and Dwyer, setting a negative tone for the rest of the game.
"They were hanging their heads," Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor said. "We just had to keep going. Everybody was out there trying to make plays, and we knew how they run the ball. They keep the ball out, so we were just trying to strip the ball."
The Browns went into the locker room at halftime trailing 14-13 when Rainey bounced off a pile of defenders near the goal line and ran around the left side for a touchdown one second before the end of the second quarter. The touchdown was set up when cornerback Sheldon Brown interfered with receiver Plaxico Burress in the end zone.
"I asked the official, 'You think a little guy like me is going to knock a big guy like that down?" Brown said. "It makes no sense to me when they call a flag like that, but it's part of the game."
The Browns scored the only points of the second half when Richardson found a hole on the left side on a counter play and broke free for a touchdown in the third quarter.
"Alex Smith pulled around, and when he hit the dude dead in his mouth I knew it was going to be a touchdown," Richardson said. "I saw the safety drop, and I was going to run him over, but I saw him and took it to the left a bit so I just ran straight past him."
The turnovers continued in the second half for the Steelers. In addition to fumbles by Rainey and Sanders, Batch was intercepted three times once each by Brown, Haden and tackle Billy Winn on a throw that bounced off receiver Mike Wallace and Haden.
The Browns finished the game with Colt McCoy at quarterback. Weeden suffered what might be a concussion when his head hit the leg of offensive tackle Joe Thomas after being thrown to the ground by linebacker Jason Worilds.
Weeden was 17-of-26 for 158 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Richardson had 85 yards on 29 carries.
The Steelers clearly missed Roethlisberger, who missed a second straight game with a rib-and-shoulder injury. Batch was 20-of-34 for 199 yards and three interceptions.
"I would say that," Dwyer replied when asked if the Steelers need Roethlisberger back. "This game isn't Charlie's fault. The running backs, we didn't do well, and we put him in bad situations. The running game was supposed to help Charlie. We let him down."
The Browns are at Oakland Sunday, while the Steelers are at Baltimore Sunday.