Tie looks better on Browns than it does on Steelers

Perhaps you’ve heard a million or so times that the Steelers have had only three head coaches since 1969.

Well now, they’ve had three ties during that same time period after playing to a 21-21 stalemate with the Browns in Sunday’s 2018 season opener at Cleveland.

Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher both have one tie on their resumés, and now Mike Tomlin can put himself in the same class as those coaching legends.

He must be thrilled.

Rare as they are, when ties do happen they leave us wondering how we’re supposed to feel. It’s not a win. It’s not a loss. It’s quite literally something in between.

In this case, it’s a lot closer to a loss for the Steelers and it’s a lot closer to a win for the Browns.

This is the first time the Steelers have failed to defeat the Browns in a game since 2014. It’s also the first time the Browns haven’t lost a game to any opponent since Week 16 of the 2016 season.

There’s also this whole blown-lead thing on the Steelers’ side. They led 21-7 with 7:44 remaining when James Conner fumbled and Jabrill Peppers returned it 36 yards to the Steelers’ 1-yard line to set up a touchdown that got the Browns back in the game.

It’s unfair, of course, that the first mention of Conner involves his fumble. Replacing holdout Le’Veon Bell, Conner ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns and caught five passes for 57 yards. That’s 192 all-purpose yards. Bell has surpassed that only six times in his career, according to Pro Football Reference.

For more than 52 minutes Sunday, Conner was helping the Steelers beat both of their opponents.

What other opponent did the Steelers face other than the Browns?

Well, until Bell ends his holdout, the Steelers will be up against not only the opponents on their schedule but also Bell. If the Steelers struggle, then refusing to meet Bell’s contract demands will look like a bad idea. If they can win games without him, it will show that they’ll be ready to move on when some other team signs him to the megadeal of his dreams.

Does Bell win Round 1 of this standoff because of Conner’s fumble? It’s hard to say because this particular game isn’t decided on a scoreboard. Like the tie between the Steelers and Browns, we’re left wrestling with mixed emotions when it comes to Conner’s performance.

Would Bell have fumbled in that situation? Who knows? But it’s not like he hasn’t let the Steelers down before. This is the fourth time in his career that he’s missed Week 1. He missed two other openers because of suspensions.

Despite the fumble, the Steelers come out of Sunday’s game looking OK on the Bell front. And there is plenty of blame to go around, like Ben Roethlisberger‘s three first-half interceptions and his inability to hold on to the ball on two of his four sacks. It’s not like he hasn’t been sacked before.

Myles Garrett, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, had two sacks and forced two fumbles, including Conner’s game-changing fumble. Garrett vowed that he was coming for Roethlisberger on the day he was drafted, and with both players finally on the field at the same time Garrett backed up his words.

Garrett is someone the Steelers will have to deal with if they want to keep the upper hand in this rivalry, but let’s not forget that T.J. Watt had four sacks Sunday. That’s the most by a Steeler in a single game since Joey Porter had four at Tampa Bay in 2001. It’s also the first time the Steelers have failed to win a game when a player gets four sacks.

The Steelers had seven sacks as a team and allowed the Browns to convert just five of 18 third-down attempts. One of the touchdowns the defense allowed came when the Browns took Conner’s fumble to the 1-yard line. The defense doesn’t look like the kind of liability that it was after Ryan Shazier went down last year.

That improvement was in vain, however, because of the Steelers’ sloppiness on offense. It also didn’t help that the Steelers committed 116 yards worth of penalties.

They’ll need to clean up their act, because their Week 2 and Week 3 opponents pulled off upsets on Sunday over teams that got a lot of preseason hype. The Chiefs, who come to Heinz Field on Sunday, defeated the Chargers 38-28 at Los Angeles. The Buccaneers,who the Steelers visit on Monday Night Football in Week 3, won 48-40 at New Orleans.

That first win won’t be easy to get.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.