Woe and 16: Browns go winless after falling short against Steelers

The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — It was a lost season distilled to one play, filled with hope and achingly familiar anguish for a franchise that’s known little else over the last two decades.

Fourth down. Trailing by four. One last shot at avoiding NFL infamy. Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer somehow escaped pressure. He worked to his left and flicked the ball to receiver Corey Coleman all alone on the sideline, well past the first-down marker.

The ball smacked off Coleman’s hands then fell harmlessly to the frigid Heinz Field turf. Two minutes later, the clock hit zero.

Pittsburgh 28. Cleveland 24.

Woe and 16.

The Browns joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go winless during a 16-game season when they couldn’t overcome Pittsburgh’s backups or the kind of mistakes that have become their trademark during a turnaround that’s been stuck in neutral for 10 years, yet one owner Jimmy Haslam remains positive will come if his organization just keeps at it.

Haslam reiterated that coach Hue Jackson will return in 2018 despite a 1-31 record through two seasons. Cleveland is 4-48 since Week 12 of the 2014 season, has dropped its last 21 road games and has lost 17 consecutive games against AFC North opponents.

Kizer finished with 314 passing yards with a pair of touchdown throws to Rashard Higgins, but also threw a fourth-quarter interception, his NFL-leading 22nd of the season.

The division-champion Steelers improved to 13-3 despite sitting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Ve­on Bell and other starters to rest them for the playoffs.

Pittsburgh — which is the No. 2 seed in the AFC and will host a game in the divisional round Jan. 14 — never trailed while beating its closest rival for a seventh straight time. Landry Jones completed 23 of 27 passes for 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and JuJu Smith-Schuster caught nine passes for 143 yards and a score. Smith-Schuster also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.

The Steelers sacked Kizer six times — Saint Louis School graduate Tyson Alualu had two — boosting the team’s season total to 56, a franchise record.