Steelers players, fans watch Ravens hold on from Heinz Field video board
It was perhaps the most unlikeliest of chants to come from the stands at Heinz Field.
“Let’s go Browns! Let’s go Browns! Let’s go Browns!”
But there it was, loudly, rhythmically and with enthusiasm, from many of the 63,874 who showed up Sunday.
For much of the game, the fans were largely muted and somewhat half-hearted as the hometown Pittsburgh Steelers’ defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 16-13.
That a bad Bengals team took a 10-0 lead was, of course, part of that — fans even booed in advance of a second-quarter punt. But mostly, it was the situation that led to the lukewarm reception from Steelers fans.
To make the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season and win the AFC North for the third year in a row, the Steelers needed not only to beat the Bengals but for one of their other archrivals to beat the other.
The Cleveland Browns needed to win in Baltimore against the Ravens.
And although the Browns led for only 3 minutes, 36 seconds Sunday, they had their chance.
Right about the time Ben Roethlisberger knelt twice to seal the Steelers’ win, the Browns were forcing a Ravens three-and-out in Baltimore.
That’s when the chanting began.
“I felt like Baker could have pulled it off,” Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said, referring to Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Smith-Schuster was one of about three dozen Steelers players who stayed out on the field — some of them returned to the field after initially retreating to the locker room — to watch the Browns-Ravens game on the 5,000-square-foot video board.
“I hit up Baker this week and said, ‘Yo, bro, we need you,’ ” Smith-Schuster said. “And he said, ‘What am I gonna get?’ And I said I’ll buy you whatever you want. Pair of shoes, first-round playoff money …”
But when it mattered most to the Steelers — and when Smith-Schuster was watching — Mayfield didn’t earn anything. Mayfield went 2 for 8 on the final drive, including four consecutive incomplete passes after the Browns reached the Ravens’ 39. Mayfield’s final pass was an interception by the Ravens’ C.J. Mosley.
That effectively ended the Steelers’ season.
“It was fun until the last play,” Steelers guard David DeCastro said of watching a game from the field on a screen. “I’m sure it was exciting to watch as a fan, but it was tough way to finish the season.”
DeCastro sat on the Steelers’ bench on the sidelines. Smith-Schuster might have been the only Steelers player who watched not the primary video board but the auxiliary one in the northwest corner of Heinz Field. Smith-Schuster, oddly, congregated with a pair of Bengals players watching the Browns’ final drive.
Fans cheers after big Browns’ plays were as loud as any they made during the Steelers game. Adding to the drama of the situation was the 35 yards Cleveland gained on two plays (receptions by Jarvis Landry and Breshad Perriman), which were subjected to instant-replay review.
Some Steelers players stood on the worn turf, mostly between the 15- and 40 yard-lines on the south end of the playing field. Other players sat on their helmets. A few just sat on the ground with their legs extended. All while fans twirled Terrible Towels.
“I’ve never been a part of something like that,” cornerback Cameron Sutton said.
It truly was a unique scene, one like a drive-in movie atmosphere, outdoors at night peering upwards at a big screen.
“That was a cool experience,” Foster said. “Unfortunate, but a cool experience, to be out there hoping and wishing. It’s cool. I never watched a game on a screen that big.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.