CLEVELAND (AP) — Once they stopped dropping the ball and throwing it to the Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers realized something bigger than a win could be slipping away.
The Steelers committed eight turnovers — five fumbles and three interceptions by quarterback Charlie Batch — to make things easier on Cleveland and the Browns did just enough for a 20-14 win on Sunday over their bitter rivals to put Pittsburgh's playoff hopes in a pickle.
"We have to get ourselves together in a hurry and figure out a way to get some wins," Steelers tight end Heath Miller said.
With their second loss in a row inside the AFC North, the Steelers (6-5) dropped into a tie with Cincinnati and now trail first-place Baltimore by three games. Pittsburgh visits the Ravens next Sunday in what boils down to a must-win situation for a team that looked anything but postseason primed against the Browns (3-8).
By next week, Pittsburgh could have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back from injury. But even Big Ben might not be able to straighten out these Steelers, who converted just 1 of 9 third downs, rushed for 49 yards and did little right after linebacker Lawrence Timmons returned an interception 53 yards for a touchdown just 71 seconds after the opening kickoff.
All four Pittsburgh running backs fumbled once, and it was fitting that Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders committed the final turnover with a fumble on a last-play, desperation lateral.
"If you turn the ball over the way we did, you're not going to beat anybody, that's just the reality in the National Football League," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who has rarely looked as upset with his team. "I'm surprised it was that close given the turnover situation."
Batch, forced to start because of rib injuries to Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, finished 20 of 34 for 199 yards. The 37-year-old third-stringer wasn't the reason Pittsburgh lost, but he didn't make enough plays to shake the Steelers from their funk.
"I have to put it on my shoulders," Batch said. "We had a chance to win, actually two, and I turned it over. Can't do that. I made some bad throws. We had all the fumbles, and yet we still had a chance to win, that's the crazy part."
The Browns, though, hung on and finally came out on the winning side of a close game. In beating the Steelers for just the second time in 18 games, Cleveland improved to 5-23 against Pittsburgh since 1999.
"I said to the rookies, 'You're all 1-0 against Pittsburgh,'" said Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who faces an uncertain future in Cleveland. "You play a rivalry and you're trying to get some traction. This game we finished. I think that's an important message as we move forward."
The victory came with a price.
Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden sustained a concussion in the final minutes, requiring backup Colt McCoy to come in and finish off a victory Cleveland fans — and new owner Jimmy Haslam — savored as much as any in years.
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