The Cleveland Browns joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to go 0-16 when they failed to find a way to beat the backup-laden Pittsburgh Steelers in a 28-24 loss on Sunday.
Cleveland had a chance late in the fourth quarter, but quarterback DeShone Kizer’s fourth-down pass to Corey Coleman bounced off Coleman’s hands and fell incomplete.
And for the 16th time in 2017, the Browns walked off the field searching for answers that are as elusive now as they’ve been at any point since the franchise’s return to the NFL nearly two decades ago. Head coach Hue Jackson is expected to return despite a 1-31 record and the Browns have two of the top four picks in the 2018 draft.
Kizer finished with 314 yards passing and two touchdowns to Rashard Higgins but also threw a fourth-quarter pick, his NFL-leading 22nd of the season.
The AFC North champion Steelers (13-3) sat stars Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell among others but it hardly mattered. Landry Jones completed 23 of 27 passes for 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster caught nine passes for 143 yards and a score. He also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
Pittsburgh sacked Kizer six times, boosting its season total to 56, a franchise record.
Nearly four months removed from a taut 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh in the season opener — a game that seemed to indicate the Browns were ready to take a significant step forward in Jackson’s second year — Cleveland walked onto frigid Heinz Field still looking for its first win in 372 days.
The wait will continue for another eight months following three hours that symbolized Cleveland’s historically miserable season.
While there were bouts of competency, including a pair of takeaways by the defense and long Kizer hookups to Higgins and Josh Gordon, the Browns simply could not get out of their own way. Twice in the first half they drew third-down defensive penalties that extended Pittsburgh drives. Three times in the fourth quarter they had the ball and a chance to go ahead.
The first two ended with turnovers, giving Cleveland an NFL-high 41 on the season. The third ended with Kizer somehow escaping pressure on fourth down at the Pittsburgh 27 only to have his pass clank off Coleman’s hands and fall to the frozen turf, one last missed opportunity in a year filled with far too many.
While Jackson, who will jump in Lake Erie at some point in the near future to fulfill his vow the Browns wouldn’t go 1-15 as they did in 2016, is expected back in 2018, another offseason filled with searching awaits.