Rarely does a game come down to one factor, but this Browns-Steelers game did. Consider the statistics, which often are skewed, but in this game’s case are not.
Pittsburgh had 13 first downs, the Browns 14 (both had 10 passing).
Pittsburgh was a woeful 11 percent on third downs (1-for-9), the Browns were a nearly as woeful 19 percent (3-for-16).
Pittsburgh had 242 total yards, the Browns 238.
Pittsburgh had 199 yards passing, the Browns 158 (gross yards, that is).
Pittsburgh had 49 yards rushing, the Browns 108.
But the key fact came in one category: Pittsburgh had eight turnovers, the Browns one.
Rarely does a game come down to one number, but in this case it did. Pittsburgh’s eight turnovers were the reason the Browns won. Because of the turnovers, the Steelers backs ran as if they were scared of fumbling. They became hesitant, and ran that way.
“To have eight turnovers in a game and expect to win .. you can’t do that,” Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “No matter what kind of team you’re playing.”
Even the kind of team like the Browns.
Whether one considers the turnovers the failings of the Steelers or the aggressiveness of the Browns comes down to perspective. The Steelers lamented their carelessness, the Browns were proud of their ability to hit people and force the turnovers.
Both are probably true.
The Browns defense was aggressive and active. As coach Pat Shurmur said, the Browns had seven sacks in Dallas and eight turnovers Sunday. But the Steelers also were careless. Coach Mike Tomlin benched every back he had for fumbling, until he could bench no more.
The Browns faced a team with a 37-year-old third-string quarterback who struggled, a team without Antonio Brown and without Troy Polamalu, and they needed every one of eight turnovers to win by six.
In this case, the number eight turned out to equal the number six.