On Cleveland's next play from scrimmage, running back Leroy Hoard fumbled after a hard hit by Steeler safety Myron Bell. Pittsburgh converted that turnover into a touchdown. When at last, on their third possession, the Browns were able to run a play without giving up the ball, they were showered with sarcastic cheers.
The dark mood of the fans was to be expected—even before the bonehead plays—and stadium officials were prepared for it. Before the game a dozen members of Cleveland's finest took up positions in front of the Dawg Pound, where behavior has become markedly worse since Modell's Baltimore bombshell. There have been several fights between fans and security guards, and batteries have replaced dog bones as the projectile of choice, according to one security guard.
The 67,269 in attendance on Sunday included thousands of Pittsburgh fans, few if any of whom dared venture into the Pound. In the past those sporting Steeler regalia were stripped of the offending clothing. Said Pound regular John (Big Dawg) Thompson, "I've seen tough, big, grown men reduced to tears in the Pound during Steeler-Brown games. A couple of years ago we had a huge bonfire using stuff we ripped off of fans, like Starter coats and stuff. Those are expensive, like a hundred bucks, and here we were burning them to keep warm and roast weenies."
Brown fans had little to cheer until the second quarter, when Testaverde set about extricating Cleveland from the ditch it had dug for itself. With 9:30 to go before the half, the Browns' Matt Stover pushed a 49-yard field goal attempt wide right, but he was given a second chance because the Steelers had 12 men on the field. From five yards closer his aim was true. Just before the half Testaverde connected with wideout Michael Jackson for an 11-yard touchdown, and midway through the third he bolted over the goal line from the one, tying the score at 17. It looked as if Cleveland's luck had changed.
To that point the Browns had bottled up Kordell (Slash) Stewart, Pittsburgh's quarterback/running back/wideout/defensive coordinator's nightmare, whose nickname derives not from his running style but from the punctuation that separates his various positions. Lining up all over the field, running the option, throwing and catching touchdown passes, Stewart, a rookie from Colorado, had done serious damage to the Steelers' previous three opponents.
"I don't think he's worth losing a lot of sleep over," Belichick said of Slash on the eve of the game. "You have to know where he is on the field. I know this much: If you let the guy run down the middle of the field with nobody on him, you're going to give up a 70-yard touchdown." Against the Bengals a week earlier, Stewart had scored the game-winning touchdown on a 71-yard pass play up the gut.
Thus, later in the third quarter, Belichick must have been chagrined to see Stewart running down the middle of the field with no one covering him. Slash's fingertip catch of O'Donnell's soft, slightly overthrown ball was good for 31 yards, to the Cleveland 37. Two plays later Stewart lined up at quarterback, rolled right, faking the option, and threw back to his left to tight end Mark Bruener for nine yards and a first down. Norm Johnson's 27-yard field goal provided the margin of victory seven plays later.
The Browns had almost an entire quarter left to regain the lead, but Testaverde killed a drive with another interception. From then on Cleveland was done in by its defense as Pittsburgh bled the clock dry. On a key third-and-11 with four minutes to play, O'Donnell hit wideout Ernie Mills for a 26-yard completion.
Belichick sat in his office for a long time afterward stewing over the loss in general and that painful third-down conversion in particular. Had O'Donnell made a good throw, or was the Cleveland defense to blame? Belichick's acid response indicated that he preferred to be alone. "We don't have any defenses designed to give up 26-yard receptions," he said.
Rison, who had caught five passes for only 38 yards and had been roundly booed all afternoon, didn't feel like talking, either. "I didn't do——to get booed, I just came here to play football," he said. "And I'm going to play football. They can't stop me, you can't stop me, can't nobody stop me." It hardly seemed the time to point out that the Steelers had done a pretty fair job of stopping him. Besides, Rison was just hitting his stride.