CLEVELAND — Rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson won over Browns fans Sunday with a gutsy performance and game-winning field goal drive in a 13-10 victory over the Steelers at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Orchestrating the 48-yard field goal drive, Thompson-Robinson powered the Browns to the victory over Steelers to improve the Browns to 7-3, a half-game behind the 8-3 Ravens in the AFC North.
It dropped the Steelers to 6-4, and evened the season series for tiebreaker purposes.
After Thompson-Robinson completed his first four passes for 39 yards — and 4 of 5 including a spike — on the eight-play 48-yard drive, Dustin Hopkins boomed the 34-yard game-winning field goal with 2 seconds left in the game to send the Cleveland Browns Stadium crowd into a frenzy.
The drive began with 1:18 left at the Browns’ 35, and Thompson-Robinson — who had about eight of his passes dropped — had ice in his veins, completing passes of 15, 8 and 11 yards.
How could the Browns possibly lose to the Steelers after their fallen hero, Nick Chubb, emerged from the smoke during pregame introductions and made a cameo appearance on his crutches to thunderous cheers of “Chubb! Chubb!”
Chubb, of course, had suffered his season-ending gruesome knee injury Sept. 18 during the 26-22 loss to the Steelers in Week 2, and underwent his second surgery on the left knee just this week, to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Browns have dedicated their season to the three-time Pro Bowler, and haven’t let him down.
And if that wasn’t motivation enough for a team that lost its three-time Pro Bowl quarterback in Deshaun Watson last week for the season to a fractured shoulder, the sight of Browns long-time radio play-by-play voice Jim Donovan pushed these Browns and their fans over the top into a frenzy. Donovan, being treated for leukemia, served as the Browns Dawg Pound captain and smashed the guitar with gusto.
The Browns also had Watson serving as their gameday captain — in his walking boot and heading to Los Angeles for surgery this week — as another profound reminder that they must finish the job, regardless of who’s left standing.
By Monday, the Browns will likely add 15-year veteran quarterback Joe Flacco, who will join the room as the third quarterback. But if Thompson-Robinson can eliminate the mistakes, he’ll stave off the former Super Bowl MVP and keep him more in the mentor role.
Thompson-Robinson, making his second NFL start after his disastrous 28-3 loss to the Ravens, went 24 of 43 for 165 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT for a 54.9 rating.
It was a far cry from his three-interception performance and 25.3 rating in that loss to the Ravens. This time, the rookie was prepared for the moment, and he delivered.
The Browns led 10-0 at the half on a Jerome Ford touchdown and a Hopkins field goal, but didn’t have much time to enjoy the lead.
The Steelers, a much better second-half team this season, came out of the break like a lion, scoring on the second play of the third quarter on a 74-yard blast by Jaylen Warren. By the end of the third quarter, Warren had become the first running back to drop more than 100 rushing yards on the Browns this season.
Thompson-Robinson tried to answer, but was almost picked off on a third-down pass intended for Amari Cooper. Later in the quarter, he wasn’t so fortunate. Nickelback Chandon Sullivan picked him off on a pass batted into the air by Cooper to start the Steelers at their 23. Fortunately for the Browns, their defense came through with a three-and-out to bail out their rookie QB.
But the Steelers, behind the relentless running of Warren, got a 28-yard field goal out of Chris Boswell to tie the game at 10 with 7:40 left.
The scoreboard showed Chubb cheering in his suite to fire up the crowd.
Myles Garrett (two sacks), who shared the field with one of his biggest competitors for NFL Defensive Player of the Year in T.J. Watt, set the tone for the Browns’ No. 1 defense by crushing Kenny Pickett for a 9-yard loss on the first play of the game.
If Browns coach Kevin Stefanski had thrown the challenge flag there, it would’ve undoubtedly gone for a safety. That was the opinion of CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore. during the game broadcast.
The Steelers started that opening drive at their 9 after Cory Bojorquez’s punt was downed there to put Pickett in dire straits.
The Steelers punted from their 7 to start the Browns at midfield and set the table for Jerome Ford’s 1-yard touchdown run seven plays later. On that play, a third-and-1 plow up the middle, Stefanski didn’t hesitate to throw the challenge flag. In fact, he fired the 15 yarder with so much authority that he almost nailed the official in the foot.
But it was worth it. Ford was ruled in on the review, and the Browns had a 7-0 lead with 4:35 left in the first quarter.
They extended their lead to 10-0 with 5 seconds left in the half on a 25-yard field goal by Hopkins. The kick capped a 17-play, 77-yard drive on which Thompson-Robinson ran 5 yards for a first down.
Little did the Browns know that it would be all the points they’d score until the game-winning field goal at the end.
The Browns will travel to Denver for a 4:05 p.m. kickoff vs. the Broncos next Sunday. It’s part of a two-game western road swing for the Browns, as they will head from Denver to practice in Los Angeles the following week before taking on the Rams there on Dec. 3.
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