CLEVELAND — Freddie Kitchens predicted the smarter, tougher team would win Thursday.
Instead, the Browns did.
They won on a night Damarious Randall was ejected for a cheap shot and Myles Garrett invited a multi-game suspension by ripping off quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and swinging it (and connecting) with the Pittsburgh quarterback’s head.
Garrett’s meltdown was made even more unnecessary (if that’s possible) by the time on the clock: The Browns led 21-7 with eight seconds remaining.
But the day this football town complains about any win over the Steelers will be unassailable proof of an alternate universe.
So the 3-6 Browns are now the 4-6 Browns, and if you pretend to know what this win means for the rest of the season, you’re at least smarter than Randall and Garrett were Thursday night.
The talent show that has almost always favored Pittsburgh in this "rivalry" made the difference for the Browns on a night when the Steelers cap pistol offense lost top receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and No. 1 running back James Conner.
The biggest talent mismatch: Baker Mayfield versus Rudolph went as it always seemed to in their time playing college football in Oklahoma.
Mayfield looked enough like his 2018 self early (and looked better than Rudolph all night) in scoring one TD on a sneak and throwing for two more in a 21-7 win that should’ve been easier than it was.
The Steelers probably wouldn’t have scored at all if not for the Browns (who had previously dedicated themselves to reducing penalties, remember?) suddenly going MMA.
(Yes, I remember James Harrison’s head shots, too. But these Browns players don’t and that’s dredging the past in a heated rivalry is an excuse for a dangerous play by Randall and double the excuse for what Garrett did.)
Randall’s brutal hit on a defenseless receiver came not long after the secondary lost safety Morgan Burnett with a leg injury.
Steelers receiver Deontae Johnson left the game with a concussion after the Randall cheap shot, never to return. He followed Smith-Schuster, who also suffered a concussion on a hit to the head.
The Schuster collision didn’t draw a penalty, perhaps because the refs were otherwise occupied calling roughing the quarterback on the Browns.
You get the idea how this went down because you’ve seen that before this season.
The only difference is the Steelers didn’t have the ammunition to take advantage of it.
They eventually scored (after a pass interference call) to make it 14-7 and inject drama where none figured to exist.
It was almost all Jamie Gillen from there.
The Browns only touchdown of the second half came after Joe Schobert’s second interception of Rudolph (Burnett and Juston Burris had one each) gave them a first-down on the Steelers four-yard line.
Mayfield made a great throw after scrambling away from pressure to tight end Stephen Carlson.
If you are making a list of why you should feel good about this Browns team after this game—and there are certainly some reasons you can—Mayfield tops the charts.
From beginning to end, he moved in the pocket the way he did last year, not vacating as much as relocating.
His touchdowns covered one yard (QB sneak), one yard (crossing pass to Jarvis Landry) and eight yards (to Carlson).
But it was an impressive night for him in other ways, starting with a 42-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr. for a first down at the Pittsburgh one.
Mayfield completed 17 of 32 passes for 193 yards and only took one sack against a Pittsburgh team with 33 1/2 sacks entering the game.
Reasons to worry about this Browns team? That list is topped by a lack of discipline and smarts, as Thursday showed and the NFL office will remind us again shortly.