Dogged Brown Defense Stops the Steelers, 17-7
The Cleveland Browns’ defenders nicknamed themselves the Dogs last season, although until Monday night, their bark was usually worse than their bite.
After collapsing in the closing seconds of a season-opening loss against the St. Louis Cardinals last week, the Cleveland defense turned in two fourth-quarter interceptions Monday night to seal a 17-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“We really needed this, to take things over in the latter part of the game,” linebacker Chip Banks said. “It’s important to let them know that our defense is not just back there barking, but that we can make things happen.”
Quarterback Gary Danielson hit rookie Fred Banks with a 17-yard touchdown pass to help the Browns take a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Browns’ defense did not allow the Steelers (1-1) closer than the Cleveland 36-yard line through the first three quarters. But a 38-yard punt return by Pittsburgh’s Louis Lipps carried the ball to the Cleveland 15 two minutes into the fourth quarter, and Mark Malone hit John Stallworth with a six-yard scoring pass two plays later to pull the Steelers within 10-7 with 12:06 to play.
Linebacker Curtis Weathers, filling in for injured starter Clay Matthews, sacked Malone at the Pittsburgh nine-yard line and then intercepted him on the next play to set up the clinching score, a 21-yard burst by Earnest Byner with 2:37 to play.
“Hey, those plays just came at the right time,” Weathers said. “We needed to crush them then. All we were talking about then was ‘Crush them, crush them, put them away.’ I’m just fortunate I was the one at that time.”
Malone, who had another pass intercepted in the final seconds, blamed Pittsburgh’s problems as much on its own mistakes as on the Cleveland defense.
“Any time you have dropped passes, they’re going to hurt you,” Malone said. “Some were balls we usually catch. Others were either because of tight coverage or I threw the ball a little low, a little high, or a little behind.”
Fred Banks, an eighth-round draft choice from Liberty Baptist College, dropped two passes before hauling in the 17-yard scoring pass, his first as a professional, with 3:56 to play in the first half.
The touchdown capped an 80-yard drive on which Byner ran five times for 27 yards.
The Steelers had 45 points and 445 total yards in their season-opening victory over the Indianapolis Colts, but they managed only 216 yards against Cleveland (1-1), the leading defensive team in the AFC last season.
Danielson completed 18 of 30 passes for 206 yards, but the Browns’ real strength was their defense.