Pittsburgh Steelers defeat Cleveland Browns, move to 5-0 for just second time

 espn.com  10/18/2020 20:23:19 
4:18 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Before facing the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward said the team wasn't focused specifically on targeting quarterback Baker Mayfield's bruised ribs.

But he did say the plan was to inflict "good punishment."

And that's exactly what the Steelers did, sacking Mayfield four times and intercepting him twice in a 38-7 win that gave Pittsburgh just the second 5-0 start in franchise history and first since 1978. It was also the Steelers' first win against a team with a winning record this season.

"That was varsity ball today," coach Mike Tomlin said. "They stepped up and stepped up big all across the board."

It wasn't all good news, though, as inside linebacker and defensive playcaller Devin Bush went out with a knee injury in the second quarter. A source told ESPN's Adam Schefter that the injury is an ACL tear and Bush will need season-ending surgery.

The 2019 first-round pick played every defensive snap until the injury. He was replaced by Robert Spillane, who had just one defensive snap before this season.

Even without Bush, the Steelers dominated the Browns (4-2).

"As a D-line and as a defense, you want to make sure he's thinking about the rush," Heyward said of Mayfield on Wednesday.

There's little doubt that's exactly what Mayfield was thinking about throughout the game until he was pulled late in the third quarter for Case Keenum. Mayfield was pressured on 52% of his dropbacks, the highest mark of his career.

"Baker is a heckuva a guy that wants to go out there and fight for this team," Heyward said after the game. "But as a D-line, as a defense, we want to affect the quarterback, punish the quarterback. Good punishment, I didn't mean anything, to play any illegal football. It's my job to get after the quarterback."

The Steelers found early success with their blitz, getting a sack and a Minkah Fitzpatrick pick-six on their first two. Fitzpatrick's interception and score, his first of either this season, gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead just a few minutes into the first quarter.

The pick-six also came on third down, a trouble area for the Steelers' defense in the previous week's win against the Eagles. That wasn't the case Sunday, as the Steelers allowed the Browns to convert just 1 of 12 third downs and none of their three fourth-down attempts.

"We had a better plan," Tomlin said of the third-down success. "It starts with us as coaches and then the guys performed better, and they finished it off. But we were both JV last week, players and coaches, and we got better this week."

Tomlin added of Fitzpatrick's interception: "It sent a message to them that third down wasn't going to be easy sledding today, and we needed it, obviously."

On the next drive, the Steelers forced another three-and-out, this time with a Bud Dupree sack of Mayfield on third-and-6.

"Baker is a good quarterback," Dupree said. "At the end of the day, he's one of those top-notch guys. Respect is due. We don't really think about hurting a player. We just go out and we hit him a couple of times. We know his ribs hurt ... but we don't intentionally go in and try to hurt somebody."

The Steelers have recorded three or more sacks in six consecutive games, going back to the 2019 season finale against the Ravens. The streak ties the longest in franchise history with the 1994, 2001 and 2004 seasons. The Steelers are also only the second team in league history, joining the 1985 New York Giants, with at least three sacks and an interception in each of their first five games of the season.

Before he was replaced by Keenum, Mayfield completed 10 of 18 attempts for 119 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 54.9.

The Browns entered the game with one of the league's best rushing attacks, but it was shut down by the Steelers, who managed to balance bringing pressure on Mayfield with slowing Kareem Hunt better than they did a week ago, when they faced running back Miles Sanders and the Eagles.

Hunt averaged 3.1 yards per carry, picking up 40 yards on 13 carries.

Instead it was the Steelers who dominated in the rushing game, taking advantage of Cleveland's subpar safeties. James Conner racked up 101 yards on 20 carries and scored the team's first offensive touchdown for a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. Receiver Chase Claypool and running back Benny Snell Jr. also managed to score rushing touchdowns.

The Steelers' ground game finished with 129 yards on 37 carries and three touchdowns, while the defense held the Browns' rushing attack to just 75 yards on 22 carries.

"We didn't have to throw many in the second half when you have a lead like that," Ben Roethlisberger said. "It felt like an old Bill Cowher offense."

After posting an anemic offensive performance without Roethlisberger last season, the Steelers have scored at least 26 points in each of their first five games for the first time in franchise history. Last season, the team scored 26 or more points in just four games.

With a 38-7 lead thanks to Snell's fourth-quarter touchdown, Roethlisberger went to the bench for the final eight minutes of the game, allowing Mason Rudolph to play one drive.

"This is a good football team coming in here," Roethlisberger said. "Our first AFC North game. We wanted to kind of play good football. And we wanted to do it on all phases, and I don't know the last time I came out of the game with eight minutes to go, so that's a good feeling."

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