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Steelers Cling to Playoff Hopes, the Browns to the Idea of a Rivalry

Despite his inexperience, Hodges, an undrafted free agent who was signed by the Steelers after training camp, completed several long passes, including a 30-yard touchdown score to receiver James Washington, who had two defenders draped over him. In the third quarter, Hodges helped put the Steelers in the lead for good when he hit Washington again for 44 yards. Four plays later, Benny Snell Jr. ran for a 1-yard score, giving the Steelers a 17-10 lead and turning Hodges, whose nickname is Duck, into a minor legend.

“Duck has been a leader since he stepped foot on the Steelers’ facility,” Snell said after the game. “I witnessed it firsthand, so I always have my trust in Duck.”

On the next drive, the Steelers' defense did its part. Linebacker Bud Dupree sacked Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who fumbled as he fell to the ground, giving the Steelers the ball at midfield. Pittsburgh added a field goal to push the lead to 10 points.

It has been that kind of season for the Browns. Despite their history of disappointment, the Browns were expected to take a big step forward this season. Mayfield got help in his second year with the addition of receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Kareem Hunt, who served an eight-game suspension for a pair of violent incidents, including one in which he was videotaped kicking a woman, before joining Nick Chubb in the backfield.

But in Kitchens’s first year as a head coach, Cleveland has instead been a model of inconsistency. The Browns beat the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens in the same season for the first time since returning to the N.F.L. in 1999 and took down the playoff-bound Buffalo Bills.

But Mayfield has almost as many interceptions as touchdown scores — completing barely 60 percent of his attempted passes — and has been sacked 31 times this season, including four times on Sunday. Beckham has just two touchdown scores.

With Garrett, a No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017, this season, Cleveland’s defense has been middle-of-the-pack. (Previously, it was among the league’s worst.) Despite his absence on Sunday, the Browns kept the game interesting when cornerback Terrance Mitchell intercepted Hodges near midfield with just over seven minutes remaining. The Browns were unable to convert the turnover into a score, however.

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