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23Sep/220

Steelers’ Mike Tomlin not considering QB change after loss to Browns on Thursday night

Questions surrounding the Steelers' quarterback situation will come as frequently as the losses do in Pittsburgh during the 2022 season, but you can expect head coach Mike Tomlin to remain consistent on the matter in the immediate aftermath of defeat.

Tomlin gave a clear-cut answer when asked if he will re-evaluate Mitchell Trubisky's status as team's starting QB following Thursday night's 29-17 loss to the division-rival Cleveland Browns. His resolve was reminiscent of that during the Steelers' QB competition this past summer.

"I'm not in that mindset," Tomlin said postgame. "I'm interested in reviewing his tape and looking at the totality of it and figuring how we collectively get better.

"So, the answer to that question is definitively no."

Forgoing any knee-jerk reactions has been a consistent approach from Tomlin since the preseason. However, with rookie Kenny Pickett waiting in the wings and Pittsburgh fans letting Trubisky hear it in last week's home-opening loss, the storyline is seemingly on the brink of turning a page.

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Trubisky's night wasn't all that bad on paper, especially in the first half. The Steelers went into halftime with a 14-13 lead thanks to Trubisky's mistake-free start as he went 9-of-13 passing for 109 yards and scored one of Pittsburgh's two touchdowns on a 1-yard run.

Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada set Trubisky up for success with crafty play-calling that played into his QB's strengths, but a well-adjusted Browns defense was ready for it in the second half, where the Steelers punted on four of five drives and mustered just three points in the defeat.

"I feel like I'm in a good rhythm with my routine," said Trubisky, who finished 20 of 32 for 207 yards passing. "Felt good tonight -- just got to be better in the second half."

According to Next Gen Stats, 78.1% of Trubisky's attempts were thrown outside the numbers and he was 9 of 12 for 129 yards on intermediate passes. Trubisky completed just 1 of 6 deep passes for 36 yards, and the lone connection was due in large part to George Pickens' amazing catch.

Once the Browns took away the sidelines and forced Trubisky to throw down the middle, the Steelers offense stagnated and made life easy for a Browns defense that blew a late lead last Sunday. At the end of the night, Pittsburgh had 308 yards of total offense and converted just 1 of 11 third downs.

Perhaps Tomlin will have a better idea after reviewing the tape, but the respected Steelers coach could be facing his first losing record in 16 seasons if he doesn't find a solution to the struggling Steelers offense quickly.

"I thought he made some plays but we all collectively came up short, and so that's how we measure performance -- winning is our business and we didn't handle business," Tomlin said. "So we don't break that apart and look for the feel-good."
Cleveland Browns bounce back from embarrassing loss to beat rival Pittsburgh Steelers

CLEVELAND -- Nick Chubb ran for 113 yards and a touchdown as the Cleveland Browns took control in the second half to beat the rival Pittsburgh Steelers 29-17 on Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper gave up the onside kick that allowed the New York Jets to pull off a stunning comeback Sunday. Thursday night against the Steelers, Cooper more than atoned for that mistake.

He finished with seven receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown, propelling the Browns to victory.

"We've got to own it, learn from it and flush it," Cooper said this week of the collapse against the Jets. Cooper spearheaded Cleveland's rebound performance, as the Browns (2-1) claimed first place in the AFC North standings.

Pivotal play: On third-and-1 to begin the fourth quarter, quarterback Jacoby Brissett faked a handoff to Chubb. Cooper, meanwhile, dashed away from Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton before hauling in a 32-yard reception at the Pittsburgh 39-yard line. Cleveland punched the ball into the end zone eight plays later to go up by two scores. With the key play-action reception, Cooper became the first Browns player in nine years to finish with more than 100 yards receiving and a receiving touchdown in back-to-back games.

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QB breakdown: Brissett delivered another solid performance in his third start for the Browns. He tossed a pair of touchdowns in the first half, the first to Cooper on a slant, the other to tight end David Njoku at the back of the end zone. Brissett finished the game 21-of-31 passing for 220 yards as he continued to steady the Browns' offense.

Troubling trend: The Browns lost both starting linebackers to injury, including Anthony Walker, who was carted off the field with a left knee injury. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah also left the game with a quad injury. Cleveland was already missing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who injured his ankle last weekend. -- Jake Trotter

Underrated statistic to know: Cooper now has a receiving TD in consecutive games. No Browns wide receiver caught a receiving touchdown in consecutive games last season.

The Steelers preached an aggressive approach to the offense after two weeks of underwhelming performances. For a half, they delivered.

But a disappointing second half from an offense that couldn't sustain drives coupled with a defense that couldn't generate a pass rush or run defense buried the Steelers (1-2) in the loss to the Browns.

Troubling trend: For the second week in a row, the Steelers struggled to get an effective pass rush going in T.J. Watt's absence. Larry Ogunjobi and Alex Highsmith combined for a sack early, but that was the only one until late in the fourth quarter. With the pass rush faltering, Brissett was pressured on only three of his 23 dropbacks in the first half. And on the back end, the Steelers' secondary had a series of breakdowns and miscommunications that led to big plays and touchdowns. Terrell Edmunds was in the wrong position on the Browns' first score, an 11-yard pass from Brissett to Cooper, giving the receiver too much room. Cooper feasted on the secondary, racking up 101 yards on seven catches. The ineffective pass rush also contributed to the Browns' ability to run the ball freely, and Chubb (23 carries, 113 yards) and Kareem Hunt (12 carries, 47 yards) carved up the Steelers' defense.

Biggest hole in the game plan: For all the offensive adjustments made -- at least in the first half -- the Steelers still didn't target the middle of the field. Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth didn't get targeted until midway through the fourth quarter. That pass sailed high, and Mitch Trubisky threw it into triple coverage. Freiermuth's first catch came with 2:56 left in the fourth quarter, an impressive grab for a 26-yard gain. He followed it up with another on the next play over the middle for 15 yards. But trailing by two scores, it was too late for those completions to have much impact on the game.

QB breakdown: Trubisky did what he said he needed to do in the days leading up to the meeting with the Browns: He was more aggressive and he targeted George Pickens -- at least in the first half. Trubisky aired the ball out more often in the first half, connecting with Pickens for a 36-yard completion -- courtesy of the wide receiver's impressive one-handed snag -- for the Steelers' longest pass play of the season. Trubisky also showed off his mobility as he escaped from pressure, completing 7 of 8 passes from outside the pocket for 108 yards in the first half -- the most for any Steelers quarterback outside the pocket since 2015. But Trubisky and the offense reverted to an anemic brand of football in the second half. After completing 9 of 13 passes for 109 yards in the first half, Trubisky completed 6 of 12 passes for 41 yards until the final drive of the fourth quarter, when he targeted the middle of the field and moved the ball into range for a field goal. -- Brooke Pryor

Underrated statistic to know: Three different Steelers have now made a one-handed catch this season (Pickens, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool). No other team has had multiple one-handed receptions yet.
With nine straight defeats, are Panthers becoming perennial losers?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There were no chicken wing giveaways at d.d. Peckers Wing Shack on Tuesday.

Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule wasn’t fired after losing to the New York Giants on Sunday.

But restaurant owner Justin Holland gladly would have fulfilled his social media offer of free wings (that could have cost him well over $10,000) if Rhule had been fired by 5 p.m. on Monday.

But restaurant owner Justin Holland gladly would have fulfilled his social media offer of free wings (that could have cost him well over $10,000) if Rhule had been fired by 5 p.m. on Monday.

Holland blames Rhule, whose record is 10-25 overall and 4-13 at home since taking over as head coach in 2020, even though there is no indication from owner David Tepper a change is imminent.

“I was hacked off,’’ said Holland, who began the promotion after Sunday’s 19-16 loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. “I’d had enough.’’

Former Saints coach Jim Mora understands the frustration.

He took over a New Orleans team in 1986 that was the most inept in the NFL with 19 straight non-winning seasons.

He arrived six seasons removed from New Orleans radio personality Buddy Dilberto first putting a brown paper bag over his head with the word “Aints’’ scribbled across the front during their 1-15 1980 season.

Saints fans soon followed suit, and the fad spread to other markets and other sports with perennial losers.

“They were so dang hungry for a winner,’’ recalled Mora, who delivered a winning record in his second season.

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Fans aren’t putting bags over their heads in Charlotte, but frustration is mounting from long-time supporters such as the 50-year-old Holland, who was overwhelmed by the response to his promotion.

They are worried Carolina is turning into a laughingstock.

“I’m trying to support them," Holland said. "I hang my flag out every Sunday, but the losing is getting old.’’

The Panthers haven’t won at home in more than a calendar year, dating back to last season against New Orleans on Sept. 19. Such streaks often get coaches fired.

According to ELIAS, Carolina is the 12th team in the past 10 seasons to go a full year without a home win. Of the others -- Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns (twice), Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions (twice), Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Las Vegas Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Washington Commanders – all but Dallas and Cleveland have had at least four different coaches during that span.

Only the Giants (21-46), Lions (18-47-2), Jets (18-49) and Jaguars (16-51) have a worse record than Carolina since 2018.

So the Panthers, who haven’t had a winning record since 2017, appear on their way to becoming a perennial loser.

Rhule, in the third year of a seven-year, $62 million contract, disagrees.

“Any thought of ‘There’s a loser’s mentality in this building’ is a falsehood,’’ he said. “Because if you’re in this building you want to win.’’

Panthers players who have been with other perennial losers don’t sense Carolina has reached the point to be listed with those other teams. Former New York Jets wide receiver Robbie Anderson said Rhule wasn’t the reason for the skid.

“I’m playing this game for Coach Rhule,’’ said Anderson, who was on the Temple team Rhule turned around in its third season. “He’s getting a lot of blame. It’s not him. For me, knowing what we know as a team, he’s telling us what we need to do.’’

Panthers players and coaches believe they are close to turning things around and getting fans onboard.

“Really, it doesn’t bother me. I’ve dealt with boos in the past,’’ quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “We’d love to have our fan base helping us out with the energy. When it comes down to it, if we execute, they’re going to be loud for us.’’

Although Rhule hasn’t gotten the Panthers to break their losing streak, both losses this season were close games, coming on fourth-quarter field goals of 58 and 56 yards, the first time that has happened in consecutive weeks in NFL history.

“I just want to make sure I say that we’re close [to winning],’’ Rhule said Sunday. “I believe that with all my heart.’’

Rhule explained on Wednesday he said “close’’ because “as a head coach you’re responsible for the guys and their mindset and psyche,’’ not as an excuse.

“Make no mistake, when we walk in here on Monday there is no, like, ‘Hey, it’s OK guys,’ ’’ Rhule added. “There’s a bunch of angry people here that are dying to win. ... It’s a tough place to be. It’s a frustrating place to be.

“But at the same time, we’re, ‘Here we are.’ You’ve got to fight your way out of it.’’

Mora understands, but he would advise Rhule not to use the word “close’’ publicly. His 49ers speech summed up what close means to him.

“We’re close, and close don’t mean s---" he said. “And you can put that on TV for me.’’

Cornerback Donte Jackson said players have to be smart and look past the “narratives’’ of fans.

“Nothing they say or do is going to affect us in here,’’ he said.

Safety Juston Burris has played for the Jets and Browns, and so far, he doesn’t feel the losing culture he experienced with those teams.

“With maturity, you learn to block out the outside noise,’’ he said. “Once we start winning again, those people will come back.’’

“With maturity, you learn to block out the outside noise,’’ he said. “Once we start winning again, those people will come back.’’

“People like to find somebody to blame for things,’’ he said. “[Rhule’s] at the top of the chart. That’s just what comes with his position and job. Knowing what we know, he’s doing what he needs to do.

“... From our perspective, we’re right there.’’

Holland hopes so. He wants to believe the winning will return like it was in 2015 when the Panthers had an NFL-best 15-1 regular-season record and reached the Super Bowl.

But Sunday he was so frustrated that his emotions spilled into Twitter and Facebook.

“To me, it looked like they needed a change, so I put my two cents in,’’ he said.

The response on Twitter alone to a site that has 926 followers was 5,877 likes and 280 comments.

Holland can’t imagine what fans will say if Carolina loses Sunday, equaling the Panthers' 2019-20 streak of 10 straight losses, five short of the 15 straight to end the 2001 season.

“I usually get four likes,’’ Holland said. “So trust me, I’m not alone.’’

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