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Browns 21, Steelers 7: Victorious Browns could be the big losers, and what about Colin Kaepernick?

As bad as Mason Rudolph and the Steelers looked in their 21-7 loss in Cleveland Thursday night, no one looked worse than Myles Garrett.

The Browns were seconds away from giving their fans 10 days to bask in a landmark win for the franchise, but Garrett came through in the clutch and saved them from all that happiness when he tore off Rudolph’s helmet and whacked him over the head with it.

He was ejected from the game along with teammate Larry Ogunjobi and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, who got off a few kicks and punches when he got into the brawl to stick up for Rudolph.

The 305-pound Ogunjobi was ejected for coming up behind the 235-pound Rudolph and shoving him to the ground.

The incident started in the game’s final seconds when Rudolph didn’t seem to appreciate the way Garrett brought him down after he completed a pass. The two got into a shoving match and it escalated from there. Rudolph appeared to be pulling at Garrett’s helmet. It’s unclear if his hand was caught. Even if Rudolph was trying to take Garrett’s helmet off, it’s highly unlikely that it was with the intention of using it as a weapon the way Garrett did.

It was the second straight win for the Browns (4-6), who are now a game behind the Steelers (5-5) in a crowded AFC wild-card race. Now, however, they’ll have to fight for a playoff spot without their best defensive player for the rest of the season. Garrett, who entered the game tied for third in the league with 10 sacks, has been suspended for the rest of the regular season and playoffs (if the Browns make it) at a minimum, according to ESPN.com.

Ogunjobi has been suspended for one game. Pouncey has been suspended for three games and Rudolph will be fined, according to Pro Football Talk.

Before Rudolph was basically assaulted by Garrett, he took a beating on social media for his performance Thursday.

And it was bad.

Rudolph threw four interceptions, completing 23 of 44 passes, and fell to 0-2 in road starts.

Two of those four interceptions came in the final six-and-a-half minutes of the game. The score was still 14-7 when linebacker Joe Schobert picked off a pass intended for James Washington at the Steelers’ 24. Rudolph forced a throw into double coverage there. That pick led to the Browns’ game-clinching touchdown.

Then with 4:03 left Rudolph badly overthrew Vance McDonald and was intercepted by Juston Burris.

It was by far Rudolph’s worst game. but it’s way too early to conclude that he’s not the Steelers’ starting quarterback of the future.

Rudolph basically was working with a preseason lineup Thursday after James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson left the game with injuries. Conner re-aggravated his shoulder injury and the other two were knocked out by helmet-to-helmet hits that have flown under the radar in the hours after the game because of what Garrett did. Safety Demarious Randall was ejected for his hit on Johnson and he could be suspended, too. This game could be just as costly for the Browns as it will be for the Steelers.

Smith-Schuster, Johnson and Conner are three of the Steelers’ top four pass catchers this season. Their departure left Rudolph throwing to guys like Johnny Holton, a 28-year-old whose one catch Thursday was the 12th of his career, and Tevin Jones, a 26-year-old playing in his first career game.

There were a few drops and catchable balls that went through receivers’ hands, and that includes Smith-Schuster and Washington. It also didn’t help that Rudolph was sacked four times behind an offensive line that seems to be missing Mike Munchak‘s guidance and will miss Pouncey if and when he serves a suspension that seems a little excessive considering he was trying to defend his quarterback.

Would Ben Roethlisberger have done much better under those circumstances?

Rudolph has started just seven games. That’s less than half a season. Peyton Manning threw 28 interceptions in his rookie season. No, Rudolph is no Manning. He might never even be as good as Roethlisberger. But he still could turn out to be a good starting quarterback without matching his Hall of Fame-bound predecessor.

The Steelers need to give Rudolph time. However, they have to keep evaluating their quarterback depth and there’s a certain quarterback who’s working out for NFL teams Saturday in Atlanta.

Colin Kaepernick has been exiled because he knelt down during the national anthem. Meanwhile, on Thursday the Steelers played against Kareem Hunt, who was caught on video assaulting a woman in 2018.

If Hunt can play, so can Kaepernick, and the Steelers should get a look at him Saturday. It wouldn’t mean they have no confidence in Rudolph. Kaepernick wouldn’t immediately compete with him for the starting job because he’s been out of football for nearly three years. If Kaepernick lands on any NFL roster he’d be a backup and he’d have some work to do to become a starter.

Backup Devlin Hodges has won a game for the Steelers this season. After Roethlisberger was injured the Steelers picked up Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick by the Broncos in 2016 who so far has been a bust. Lynch is a lottery ticket. The Steelers likely signed him figuring he could someday live up to his draft pedigree in a different system.The 32-year-old Kaepernick already has performed beyond his second-round pedigree. It’s not hard to see him as at least an upgrade over Lynch in the No. 3 quarterback spot.

The Steelers have made some bold moves in 2019. They traded up in the first round of the draft for the first time in 13 years. They traded away a first-round pick and will be without one for the first time in 42 years. Signing Kaepernick would attract more media attention than either of those moves even if it has less immediate impact on their roster.

Whether the Steelers look at Kaepernick or not, Rudolph has to learn how to win games on the road. He’s 4-3 as a starter with all of those wins coming at Heinz Field. Unfortunately, the Steelers have only two home games remaining. Maybe the Steelers’ stock was inflated somewhat during their four-game winning streak because they played three straight home games following a bye.

Although four of the Steelers’ six remaining games are on the road, it can be argued that before their Week 17 trip to Baltimore, this was the toughest remaining game on their schedule.

The Browns seem to be a new team with Hunt and they had some momentum after their victory over the Bills (6-3) on Sunday. Next up for the Steelers is a game at winless Cincinnati followed by a home game against the Browns that they figure to be ready for considering what happened Thursday.

In Week 14, the Steelers go to Arizona (3-6-1). In Week 15 they host Buffalo. Despite their record, do the Bills really scare anyone? The Steelers then play at the Jets (2-7) in Week 16.

There are a lot of winnable games left on the Steelers’ schedule as long as Rudolph can bounce back from Thursday’s stinker.

As for the Browns, their remaining schedule looked pretty easy for the first 59 minutes of Thursday’s game. But without Garrett, who knows? They host the Dolphins, who actually seem to be trying to win now, in Week 12. Perhaps in Week 13, the Steelers can retaliate for the Browns’ dirty play Thursday by knocking them out of the playoff picture.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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