CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns kept fighting long after the outcome had been decided, and it likely will cost them their best defensive player.
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripped off Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and hit him with it in the head in the final seconds as the Browns’ 21-7 win over the Steelers on Thursday night ended with a wild brawl between the rivals.
Garrett faces a likely suspension for his actions, and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey will likely be disciplined for kicking Garrett in the head.
Players from both sidelines spilled on the field during the wild melee, which began after Garrett wrestled Rudolph to the ground after he threw the ball on a meaningless play with the outcome decided. Garrett, Pouncey and Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi were ejected.
Rudolph got his hand on Garrett’s helmet first as the players wrestled on the ground, but Garrett escalated the brawl after he got back on his feet. He yanked the helmet off Rudolph and swung wildly, hitting the quarterback on the top of the head. Rudolph threw his arms in the air in disbelief after the impact.
“The reality is he’s going to get suspended, we don’t know how long, and that’s going to hurt our team,” Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said immediately after the game.
Before the ugly ending, Mayfield threw two touchdown passes and scored on a 1-yard plunge as Cleveland held on to defeat the banged-up Steelers for just the fourth time in 10 years and improved to 2-0 in the AFC North for the first time.
The Browns (4-6) have won two in a row after dropping four straight, a skid that put first-year coach Freddie Kitchens’ job in jeopardy.
But Mayfield’s 8-yard TD pass to undrafted rookie tight end Stephen Carlson with 5:25 left helped clinch a rare win over the rival Steelers. And softer upcoming schedule has eased the pressure on Kitchens and given the Browns some hope they can end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
The loss was especially damaging to the Steelers (5-5).
Pittsburgh lost its top two playmakers as running back James Conner (shoulder) and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) suffered injuries in the second quarter and didn’t return.
Without them, Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph didn’t have enough help and threw four interceptions.
In the third quarter, Steelers rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson got concussed from a vicious hit by Browns safety Damarious Randall, who was ejected.
Browns running back Nick Chubb had 92 yards and went over 1,000 this season.
Despite the injuries, the Steelers were within 14-7 entering the fourth quarter after Rudolph connected with Jaylen Samuels for a 3-yard touchdown pass.
The score was set up by Cleveland’s secondary, which was called for three penalties — one of them Randall’s ugly hit — totaling 58 yards on the scoring drive.
But the Browns were able to put it away late after linebacker Joe Schobert intercepted Rudolph for the second time and returned it to Pittsburgh’s 9.
On third down, Mayfield, who hasn’t thrown an interception in three games, bought time in the pocket and delivered a strike to Carlson, who jumped and reached around Steelers linebacker Mark Barron to haul in the TD pass — his first NFL reception.
The Browns have been wrapped up in drama all season, and that was the case again Thursday as the team released wide receiver Antonio Callaway just hours before kickoff.
Callaway, who served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy earlier this season, was benched by Kitchens for arriving late to Sunday’s game against Buffalo.
Mayfield’s 1-yard TD pass to Jarvis Landry gave the Browns a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, and with the Steelers missing their top running back and wide receiver, it was going to be a long night for Rudolph.
The Browns needed a fast start and got it, scoring on their first drive with Mayfield sneaking in from the 1 after completing a 42-yard pass to Odell Beckham Jr.
It was a badly needed red-zone finish for the Browns, who were stopped on 12 plays inside the 5-yard last week but did enough to beat Buffalo and end a four-game losing streak.
The Browns are one of 11 teams committed to attending former quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Atlanta this weekend.
Owner Dee Haslam said didn’t know who from the team would be at the workout to evaluate Kaepernick, who hasn’t played since 2016 and became a polarizing figure when he kneeled during the national anthem to protest social and racial injustice.
“We are in support of anybody getting an opportunity to play football,” Haslam said. “We love that.”
Steelers: Along with the others, Pittsburgh lost LB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (concussion) and CB Artie Burns (knee).
Browns: Safety Morgan Burnett sustained an Achilles injury in the first half and didn’t return.
Steelers LB T.J. Watt took down Mayfield in the third quarter, giving him eight sacks in five career contests against the Browns. Watt has at least one-half sack in seven straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Steelers: Visit winless Cincinnati on Nov. 24.
Browns: Host Miami on Nov. 24.