PUSKAS: Season opener an unsatisfying stalemate

Meet the new Browns … same as the old Browns.

Not quite. The 2018 Browns didn’t find a new and spectacular way to lose Sunday in their season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But they did find a new and spectacular way to tie.

Here’s the recipe:

Combine six Steelers turnovers, a slew of their own missed opportunities, a 15-of-40 passing performance by new starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, a furious comeback in the final 7:32 of regulation and a roller-coaster of an overtime period that was the most exciting scoreless 10 minutes of football you’ll ever see.

Add water — lots of water — and simmer for about four hours.

Oops. Almost forgot one of the most important ingredients: sprinkle in no more than three targets for wide receiver Josh Gordon.

The result was better than anything the 2017 Browns did, but you couldn’t convince offensive lineman Joel Bitonio.

“It feels like a loss,” he said.

It sure felt like one was coming when the Browns — trailing 21-7 — punted for the eighth time on a soggy day at FirstEnergy Stadium with 7:44 to play. That particular punt was no different than 11 others off the foot of Britton Colquitt, but the timing of it, combined with the overall ineptitude of the Browns’ offense and the unshakeable sense that they’d seen this show before prompted a slew of Browns fans to head for the exits.

Those who left early may have beaten the traffic, but were probably kicking themselves before too long.

Browns second-year defensive end Myles Garrett forced a fumble on the next play from scrimmage and second-year safety Jabrill Peppers scooped up the ball and returned it to the Steelers’ 1-yard line.

That set up Carlos Hyde’s 1-yard touchdown run and the Steelers’ lead — which had seemed insurmountable at 21-7 just moments before — was down to 21-14 with 7:32 to play.

Taylor directed a game-tying drive five minutes later, capped by a 17-yard touchdown catch on a fade route by Gordon.

After a Pittsburgh punt, the two had a chance to win the game for the Browns at the end of regulation, but Taylor badly underthrew Gordon at the Steelers’ 8 with nine seconds to play and Cameron Sutton made an interception to force overtime.

The game that neither team wanted to win in regulation became the game neither wanted to win in overtime.

Pittsburgh’s four possessions in OT went like this: Punt, missed field goal, fumble and a game-ending incompletion.

Cleveland’s overtime play-calling was a disappointment after the offense awakened to get the Browns back in the game. First-year coordinator Todd Haley got conservative and the result was three straight punts.

Colquitt shanked one to give the Steelers a short field, but Chris Boswell was wide left from 42 yards on a field that would have won it.

But not to worry. In keeping with their a day-long theme of self-inflicted wounds — the one aspect of the Browns that never seems to change — the Browns managed to bungle a chance to win at the end of overtime.

Linebacker Genard Avery forced the Steelers’ sixth turnover when he sacked Ben Roethlisberger and stripped the ball. Linebacker Joe Schobert recovered and returned the ball to the Steelers’ 12, but an illegal block pushed the Browns back to the Pittsburgh 24 with 36 seconds left.

After Hyde lost a yard, Taylor spiked the ball and Zane Gonzalez came on to try to win the game with a 43-yard field goal.

These may not be the same, old Browns, but there was enough 2016-17 left in this team — despite a 35-player turnover from last season — for the worst to happen at exactly the wrong time Steelers defensive lineman T.J. Watt got a hand on Gonzalez’s low-trajectory kick to leave both teams unhappy.

“It’s disappointment. Real disappointment,” said Gordon, whose game-tying touchdown catch was his only reception of the day in three chances. “That’s a tough way to end the game. … It’s a lot better than a loss, sure, but we came in here ready to win. Anything less is not good enough.”

In the end, it was another Browns-y finish to a game the Browns had so many chances to win. And for change, the Steelers got to experience some of those feelings in squandering a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter and blowing other opportunities to win.

“Hell, yeah, it feels like a loss,” said Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.

Welcome to the club, Cam.

Write Vindicator Sports Editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @EdPuskas_Vindy.

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