(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Steelers president Art Rooney II spoke with the Pittsburgh media on Thursday to talk about the 2020 season and the future of the team as the NFL new league year starts in March. In addition to Rooney's interview with local reporters, he also had a one-on-one interview with Missi Matthews of Steelers.com and was asked about the season-ending 48-37 loss to the Browns in the wild-card game.
This is how Rooney described the loss to Cleveland in his interview with Matthews: "It was like being awake for a nightmare. It was just tough to watch."
Rooney is spot on there as the Steelers got embarrassed by the Browns at Heinz Field. Cleveland was dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak at the time and only practiced once in the week leading up to the wild-card game against the Steelers. They were also without several key starters for the game as they were on the reserve/COVID-19 list and head coach Kevin Stefanski was back in Cleveland because he tested positive for COVID-19.
With all things seemingly in the Steelers' favor, the Browns still managed to get out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter. The game was pretty much over before it really even started. The Steelers turned the ball over four times in the first quarter and the Browns capitalized off three of the Steelers turnovers by scoring 21 points. On the first offensive play of the game, Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over Ben Roethlisberger's head and Browns' strong safety Karl Joseph recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Browns an early 7-0 lead. At that moment, Steelers fans knew they were in for a long night.
"Looking at the playoff game, when you turn the ball over four times in the first half, you're not going to beat many people," Rooney said via Bob Labriola of Steelers.com. "Taking nothing away from the Cleveland Browns; they have a good team, but we just didn't give ourselves a chance. No need to overanalyze that. We just didn't give ourselves a chance."
The Steelers were minus-5 in turnover differential in the game. The offense turned the ball over five times and the defense didn't get any takeaways. In addition, the defense had no sacks or quarterback hits in the game after leading the league in sacks with 56. As Rooney mentioned, there's really nothing to overanalyze. The Steelers just laid an egg in the biggest game of the year against a team that hasn't won at Heinz Field since 2003.
The Steelers began the season with a franchise-best start at 11-0 and many Steelers fans thought they would at least reach the AFC Championship Game. The Steelers collapsed down the stretch for the third straight year and lost five of their last six games, including the humiliating playoff loss to Cleveland.
"Obviously we didn't finish the way we'd like," Rooney said about the playoff loss to the Browns. "It's hard to analyze what we did there in terms of turning the ball over that way. I don't really see how you attribute that to coaching preparation. I think the team went into that game prepared. Felt like we were going to win. It wasn't one of those things we came out flat, or anything like that. You just can't turn the ball over. In terms of the overall season, we set a franchise record starting out 11-0, won our division. Those are the positives. The way we finished was not one of the positives. I know Mike feels as bad about that as any of us and is determined to do what we need to do to fight to get back into having another opportunity to win the division and move on."