Published 7:57 PM EDT Sep 9, 2018
CLEVELAND – At one point in overtime, when it was anybody’s game to win and nobody’s game to win, Jabrill Peppers had a pointed question amid the drama at rain-soaked FirstEnergy Stadium.
Peppers, a second-year safety for the Cleveland Browns, has been playing football since he was four years old. Until Sunday, he had never played in a tie game.
“I asked coach, ‘We’re going to a second overtime, right?’” Peppers recalled of a sideline chat.
“He said, ‘Not in regular season.’
“I’m like, ‘Aw, (expletive)!’ ”
The Browns engaged with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the NFL rarity of a 21-21 tie, which couldn’t be settled with 10 minutes of overtime or a winning field goal attempt.
Afterward, it was fair to debate which team felt more like it lost. The Steelers led 21-7 in the fourth quarter. The Browns turned what seemed like a miracle turnover into the chance for Zane Gonzalez to nail a 43-yard field goal, only to have the kick blocked by T.J. Watt with nine seconds on the clock.
“We don’t go to work to get ties,” Browns receiver Josh Gordon declared. “It’s a disappointment. It’s the equivalent of a loss. It’s not good enough.”
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It was so Cleveland. Last season, the Browns became just the second franchise in NFL history to go 0-16. With a chance to end their 17-game losing streak against the dreaded divisional rival from Pittsburgh with a dramatic rally, it turned out that such a vision was just too good to be true.
Something had to happen, and it did with the blocked kick.
What a tease for the Browns and their rabid base. How often does a team force six turnovers and not win? According to ESPN, NFL teams are 132-4-1 when they have a turnover margin of plus-5 or better, and the Browns can claim two of the losses and now the tie. It was like Lucy showed up and pulled the ball from Charlie Brown.
No wonder so many of the Browns, from coach Hue Jackson down, seemed so disgusted after they let one slip away – even though the Steelers should have been kicking themselves more.
Someone asked defensive end Myles Garrett, who made one big play after another down the stretch that illustrated why he was the first pick overall last year, whether it felt like a loss. Garrett flashed the smile of a man who collected two sacks and two forced fumbles and concluded, “It doesn’t feel like a win.”
Still, it’s progress by at least one measure for a team with a “hard knocks” life, long before becoming the subjects for HBO’s reality series this summer, Hard Knocks.
At least the Browns won’t go 0-16 again.
Go ahead, admit it. That’s progress. The team is headed in the right direction. Tyrod Taylor is, well, undefeated as Browns quarterback. There’s hope, more new blood and maybe even a star quarterback in the wings in rookie Baker Mayfield. They played scrappy against an AFC North bully.
That nobody would be satisfied with any back-handed compliments right now is progress, too.
They expect to win?
“There’s no way we shouldn’t have won this game,” Peppers grumbled. “We’ve just got to clean up the mental errors.”
Gordon: “We’ve got to get to the point where we don’t leave it up to special teams. We had multiple opportunities, where we could have avoided that scenario.”
Peppers said this wasn’t about changing the mindset after the 0-16 season. I’d beg to differ, given history, coaches on the hot seat and stuff like that.
“It’s a whole new team,” Peppers countered. “Nobody’s thinking about that. What was their record coming in?”
The Steelers were 0-0, just like the Browns. “New year,” Peppers said,
Maybe next time. The made-for-TV finish was set up by Joe Schobert’s 26-yard return of a Ben Roethlisberger fumble, the sixth turnover forced by the hungry Browns defense. But when Gonzalez’s kick went awry, it forced the Browns into a bit of self-reflection.
“I was sure he was going to make it,” Garrett said. “To see it blocked, it was, ‘Well, we’ve got ’em again. We have to beat ‘em next time.’”
Next time. It’s the hope that won’t quit.
Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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