There aren’t many older rivalries in the NFL than Browns/Steelers. There aren’t many better ones, either. The rust-belt rivals were the subject of our latest Madden 20 sim with the Browns— equipped with Hall of Famers Jim Brown, Otto Graham and Ozzie Newsome—playing host to a stacked roster of Steelers all-time greats including Franco Harris (of “Immaculate Reception” fame), Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, Hines Ward, Lynn Swann, Troy Polamalu and defensive staple “Mean” Joe Greene.
Saturday’s sim, which you hopefully joined us for at 1 PM ET, continued our streak of nail-biters with another last-second finish. Sixty minutes weren’t enough to resolve this AFC North grudge match as the Browns needed overtime to pull out a narrow 23-20 victory, finally sinking the Steelers on a 29-yard, walk-off field goal courtesy of Phil Dawson. Graham served as the Browns’ offensive catalyst, obliterating the Steelers’ secondary for 415 passing yards, bettering his career-best of 401 (also against Pittsburgh) accomplished in 1952.
With Pittsburgh putting the clamps on Jim Brown, who labored to a dismal 33 yards on 18 rushing attempts (1.83 yards per carry), Cleveland needed a signature game from its franchise signal-caller, and boy did he deliver. Throwing to a loaded pass-catching group of Newsome, Josh Gordon, Odell Beckham (who goose-egged in the winning effort) and Paul Warfield, Graham pulled out all the stops, effortlessly erasing a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
Pittsburgh’s vaunted “Steel Curtain” defense was no match for Graham and his late-game heroics. Gordon, still the youngest player to ever lead the NFL in receiving yards, corralled a four-yard touchdown pass with 10:04 to play in the final period, cutting the Steelers’ lead to seven while redeeming himself for an earlier mistake. The Baylor alum was the intended target on a second-quarter heave from Graham, but Rod Woodson jumped the route and snatched it for an interception at the Steelers’ eight-yard-line.
Speaking of redemption arcs, Warfield cost the Browns with a third-quarter fumble scooped up by Hall-of-Fame safety Donnie Shell, but made things right by scooting 53 yards for a game-tying touchdown with 6:35 to play in regulation. Warfield, who contributed 11 receptions for a career-high 213 yards, only needed one hand to capture Graham’s momentum-shifting deep bomb, which came just two plays after Gary Anderson botched a 57-yard field-goal attempt that would have pushed the Steelers’ lead to 10. Anderson’s kick had more than enough leg, but couldn’t find the uprights.
Despite its fourth-quarter collapse, Pittsburgh looked well on its way to victory after Lynn Swann moved the chains for a first down on an eight-yard strike from Ben Roethlisberger (who surprisingly drew the start over two-time Super Bowl MVP Terry Bradshaw) early in the overtime period. That set the Steelers up with first-and-goal at the Browns’ seven-yard-line but their touchdown hopes vanished when Rob Burnett met Roethlisberger behind the line of scrimmage, dropping Big Ben for a seven-yard loss on second down. The Steelers would ultimately settle for a field goal, costing them a chance to put Cleveland away once and for all.
After surviving that scare, the Browns responded with an emphatic final drive, claiming victory on Dawson’s clinching 29-yarder with 5:10 remaining in overtime. Newsome (9-106-0) did most of the heavy lifting, keeping Cleveland afloat by providing a 26-yard catch on third-and-13 and later coming down with a difficult, 12-yard sideline grab, putting the Browns well within Dawson’s range.
Though it didn’t produce the desire outcome, Pittsburgh still coaxed impressive performances out of Roethlisberger (315 yards, two touchdowns), Antonio Brown (eight catches for a team-high 110 yards and a touchdown) and Heath Miller (6-55-1). If you missed Saturday’s sim action or can’t wait to watch it again, you can do so by clicking here.