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Browns notes: Big win has downside as Pro Bowl center Alex Mack suffers broken leg

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CLEVELAND — Browns center Alex Mack will miss the rest of the season after suffering a broken left lower leg Sunday, a league source confirmed.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection was injured on a running play in the second quarter of Cleveland’s 31-10 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mack was immediately placed in an air cast before being taken off the field on a cart. He smiled and acknowledged the crowd before heading into the locker room.

“It was pretty emotional, for me especially, because we’ve played every snap together for six years,” said Browns tackle Joe Thomas, who was visibly shaken by the situation.

“We’re finally getting the best of Pittsburgh, and he deserved to be out there with us. It was hard to go on because we’ve gone through hell together, and this was finally the payoff. To lose Alex is devastating.”

Mack’s injury ended his career-spanning streak of 5,279 consecutive plays, which began on Sept. 13, 2009, against Minnesota. He has spent all six of his NFL seasons with Cleveland since being the No. 21 overall selection in the draft.

“Alex is arguably the best center in the NFL, so it’s tough, especially to see him go out like that,” Browns tight end Jordan Cameron said. “We had to regroup for a little bit, but I think we all rallied together because we wanted to get this win for him.”

Mack is in the first season of a five-year, $42 million contract — $18 million guaranteed — that he actually signed with the Jaguars as a restricted free agent. Cleveland exercised its option to match the offer sheet April 11.

Following Mack’s injury, right guard John Greco shifted to center and Paul McQuistan logged his first snaps of the season at Greco’s normal spot.

Though Greco said he has only played center “once in my life, in a preseason game against Detroit a couple of years ago,” the patchwork offensive line didn’t allow a sack over the final 2½ quarters.

“My mindset was just not to screw up, but I’ve always said if you can play guard, you can play center because the calls are all the same,” said Greco, who does take practice reps at both positions. “Alex definitely leaves big shoes to fill, but I had no choice but to get in there and work hard.”

Browns coach Mike Pettine said center Nick McDonald, who has been on the non-football injury list with a broken wrist since Aug. 26, could be activated. Rookie guard Vinston Painter is another option on the line, having made his NFL debut in spot duty against the Steelers.

The current plan, though, is to go with Greco snapping the football with ninth-year pro McQuistan lining up to his right.

“The downside of having your starting guard as your backup center is it’s not a one-for-one switch,” Pettine said. “John had to go to a new position and we had to bring Paul in, but I thought those guys handled everything tremendously.”

Injury update

Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant (right knee) was helped off the field by a pair of trainers in the first quarter. He was able to walk without crutches after the game, but did so gingerly with his right knee heavily wrapped.

“The news isn’t good on Armonty, and the same with Alex,” Pettine said.

Cleveland cornerback K’Waun Williams (concussion) was hurt in the third quarter while defending Steelers wide receiver Lance Moore. First-round draft pick Justin Gilbert played his only defensive snaps after Williams exited.

Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle), defensive ends Billy Winn (quadriceps) and Phil Taylor (right knee surgery), wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring), running back Terrance West, tight end Gerell Robinson and cornerback Pierre Desir were inactive.

Ishmaa’ily Kitchen started in Rubin’s spot, while Bryant filled in for Taylor. West entered the day as Cleveland’s leading rusher, but was a healthy scratch after falling behind Glenn Winston in the pecking order.

“There wasn’t anything infraction-wise there with Terrance, it was purely a coaching decision,” Pettine said. “We’ll be men of our words when we say whoever practices best will be up for the game.”

Not in uniform for Pittsburgh were linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee), cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm), safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring), wide receiver Martavis Bryant, defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, guard Chris Hubbard and quarterback Landry Jones.

Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon (right shoulder), safety Mike Mitchell (right knee sprain) and defensive end Brett Keisel (left knee sprain) were unable to finish the game.

Impact players

Browns running back Ben Tate scored his first two touchdowns of the season and rushed for 78 yards on 25 carries. Despite missing two full games with a knee injury, he took over the team lead with 243 yards on the ground.

“It was tough, I was doing a lot of pounding my head, but it doesn’t matter who gets it done or how we get it done, just as long as we get it done,” Tate said. “I’m happy with the win.”

Backup Isaiah Crowell rushed for a career-high 77 yards and one score, but also mishandled a pair of pitches from quarterback Brian Hoyer and lost a fumble.

“Crow had a bunch of nice, long runs,” Tate said. “It was a lot of open space and making guys miss for him.”

Cameron caught three passes for 102 yards, posting Cleveland’s first 100-yard receiving game this season. His longest grab was a 51-yard touchdown from Hoyer in the second quarter.

“This win was huge for our fans and it was an important win for all of us,” Cameron said. “To beat the Steelers in this fashion is amazing. We got ’em.”

Toughing it out

Browns linebacker Paul Kruger (lower back strain) and cornerback Joe Haden (hip) were listed as questionable after missing practice, but both starters played.

Kruger received an epidural injection, which Pettine termed “very painful,” while Haden gutted it out in order to defend standout wide receiver Antonio Brown.

“That’s a credit to them and their prep,” the coach said. “They were very resolute in saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to go.’ I thought Joe came out and played extremely well.”

Haden credited Cleveland’s coaching staff for simplifying their defensive game plan in light of the numerous injuries on that side of the ball.

“Everybody knew their assignment and it was just us playing to the scheme,” he said. “Everybody did a really good job making tackles, making plays and staying into the game for the entire game.”

Extra points

  • The Browns are 37-25 all-time against the Steelers in Cleveland, but trail the overall series 66-58.
  • A season-high sellout crowd of 67,431 was in attendance. The kickoff conditions were 58 degrees under mostly sunny skies.
  • The Browns wore their traditional brown tops and white pants, while Pittsburgh sported white tops and gold pants.
  • Steelers owner and family patriarch Dan Rooney made the trip to Cleveland and watched the game from a suite.

Contact Brian Dulik at 329-7135 or brisports@hotmail.com.

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