Browns finally finding ways to win and keep playoff hopes alive

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns are winning ugly.

But at least now they’re starting to win.

Cleveland jumped to an early two-touchdown lead over Pittsburgh, then held on for a 21-7 victory on Thursday night, despite an uninspired and mistake-laden second half that allowed the defanged Steelers to hang around.

With the victory, the Browns (4-6) have their first winning streak of the season. More importantly, their playoff hopes remain very much alive.

Still, it wasn’t easy.

Even with Pittsburgh losing its two top playmakers -- wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) and running back James Conner (shoulder) -- to injuries during the first half.

After an early flurry on offense, the Browns struggled to move the ball throughout the second half. Then the Cleveland defense essentially gifted Pittsburgh a touchdown drive in the third quarter via three different penalties that gave the Steelers automatic first downs, including a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit by safety Damarious Randall, who was ejected.

The defense, however, later redeemed itself in the fourth quarter and finally put Pittsburgh away.

With the Steelers pinned deep, Cleveland linebacker Joe Schobert picked off Mason Rudolph for a second time, returning the ball to the Pittsburgh 4-yard line.

Three plays later, Baker Mayfield tossed a daring pass at the back of the end zone to reserve tight end Stephen Carlson, who wrestled the ball away for the game-clinching touchdown.

Underscoring the ugliness of the win, Cleveland's massive victory was marred in the closing seconds when Browns star defensive end Myles Garrett inexplicably ripped off Rudolph's helmet and hit him in the head with it. Garrett and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who leveled Rudolph with a cheap shot from behind moments later, were both ejected as well.

Promising trend: Four days after an epically poor performance offensively at the goal line, the Browns were perfect from the 1-yard line against the Steelers. Cleveland scored its first two touchdowns on first-and-goal from the 1, the first on a Mayfield quarterback sneak, the second off Mayfield’s play-action pass to a wide-open Landry. The Browns came into the game having scored only once from the 1 in nine tries. Sunday against the Bills, Cleveland also became the first NFL team since the 1993 New York Jets to run six plays from an opponent's 2-yard line or closer on a possession without scoring, according to Elias Sports Bureau data. In that game, the Browns were later stuffed on another possession that reached the 1 and had to settle for a field goal.

Eye-popping NextGen Stat: On his 1-yard touchdown catch, Landry was 9.5 yards away from the nearest defender, the most separation on a Browns passing touchdown over the past three seasons. After the Buffalo game, Cleveland clearly worked on its 1-yard offense this week, which paid off with three touchdowns in three red zone opportunities.

QB breakdown: Mayfield is really beginning to come out of his early-season funk, producing a second straight multi-touchdown game. Mayfield also has now gone four consecutive games without an interception, notwithstanding a pick on a shovel pass on Oct. 27 in New England. Mayfield also only took one sack Thursday, and he came up with several plays outside the pocket, reminiscent of last season.