A week ago it was quarterback Deshaun Watson leading the Browns past the Baltimore Ravens with a game-winning drive that culminated in Dustin Hopkins’ 40-yard field goal at the buzzer.
This week, with Watson out for the season with a shoulder injury, the Browns turned to rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and while it was rocky at times the result was the same as Hopkins was successful from 34 yards to give the Browns the win.
Much of the credit for today’s victory will go to the defense, which held the Steelers to just 249 yards of total offense, 3-of-14 on third down, and forced punts on nine of Pittsburgh’s 13 offensive drives; and the special teams, as Hopkins was perfect on three kicks and punter Corey Bojorquez continues to be a weapon as he pinned the Steelers inside their 20-yard line three times.
But that should not diminish what DTR did on the day in a performance that goes beyond just the raw numbers of 24-of-43 passing for 165 yards, an interception and a quarterback rating of 32.3.
Because the Browns would not have won this game without the work that Thompson-Robinson and the offense did at the end of the first half and the final drive of the game.
Following a Pittsburgh punt late in the second quarter, DTR led the Browns on a 17-play, 77-yard drive that consumed five minutes and 24 seconds off the clock. While the drive ended in a field goal despite the Browns having a first-and-goal at the six-yard line, DTR kept the chains moving and almost as importantly kept the ball out of Pittsburgh’s hands. With the Steelers getting the ball to open the second half, denying them the opportunity to score points at the end of the first half was huge.
Then, of course, there was the game-winning drive where Thompson-Robinson led the Browns 48 yards in eight plays, going four-of-four on the drive, to set up Hopkins for his game-winning kick. Prior to that drive, the Browns offense in the second half had the ball on six offensive series, which resulted in an interception, five punts, and 58 yards of total offense.
As well as the defense was playing, if the Browns had not been able to score on that final drive, or posted a 24-second drive like the Steelers did on their final offensive series and give Pittsburgh one more chance, the game may have had a much different outcome.
That drive also validated the work that DTR has put in since his Week 4 start and rewarded the faith that the coaching staff showed in giving him a second start, he said after the game (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“You know, they believed in me, they trusted me, I trusted my teammates. The biggest thing I was telling myself the whole game is just stay disciplined, and take it one play at a time. There’s times in that game where if it was Week Four, I would have forced it and we had a tip pick another tip pick or whatever it was. Like I said, it’s going to be night and day when I get out there. I’ve been working my tail off and I’m just glad my teammates were there with me.
“I’m super happy, glad that I can get this one for my teammates and actually go out there, like I said, get the reps at practice, make the mistakes throughout the week. And so that way those mistakes don’t come up on Sunday. And there were some times where there were plays I messed up in the week that we got corrected today, and they were huge for us coming down the stretch.”
It may have been more difficult that fans would prefer, but the Browns once again proved that they are a resilient team that is finally finding ways to win games as opposed to discovering innovative ways to lose them.
Thompson-Robinson and the offense will have to be better than they were today for the Browns to earn a playoff spot, but they were good enough today when they needed to be to pull out a big win against a Steelers team that has usually been the one finding a way to win.