PITTSBURGH — Cleveland Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper kept shaking his head in disbelief. Quarterback Deshaun Watson couldn’t find the words for several seconds. And defensive end Myles Garrett admitted, “It f—ing hurts.”
Cleveland lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 26-22 on “Monday Night Football.” But in the Browns’ locker room afterward, the loss of the game felt secondary compared to the loss of Nick Chubb.
The All-Pro running back suffered what coach Kevin Stefanski called a “significant” injury to his left knee in the second quarter and had to be carted off the field. Asked after the game if he anticipates Chubb missing the rest of the season, Stefanski told reporters: “I do.”
Stefanski declined to specify Chubb’s injury, but the team fears that Chubb suffered multiple tears in his knee, according to a source. A team official said Chubb was taken to a local hospital as a precaution and then returned to Cleveland ahead of the team.
“Obviously it’s a huge loss,” Cooper said. “Nick is the engine of the team. Best player on the team. … I’m very sad for Nick, sad for this team losing Nick. Not only is it not ideal, it’s a tragedy.”
Chubb injured the knee following a 5-yard run to the Steelers’ 3-yard line after Pittsburgh safety Minkah Fitzpatrick crashed into him while making a tackle. Players from both teams gathered around Chubb as he was loaded on the cart.
The injured left knee is the same one Chubb had reconstructed after tearing his MCL, PCL and LCL while at Georgia in 2015.
“At that moment, it was tough,” said Watson, Chubb’s longtime friend. “Once we saw the [stadium] replay, [I had] a lot of flashbacks to the [injury] he had in college.”
Before leaving the game, Chubb had already totaled 64 rushing yards on 10 carries. He had rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four straight seasons, including a career-high 1,525 yards last year.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Chubb is one of just five players in NFL history with at least eight rushing touchdowns in each of his first five seasons, alongside Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith and former Browns great Jim Brown.
“He totes the rock, every play he gets the ball,” Cleveland defensive end Za’Darius Smith said of Chubb. “That piece is 1695124638 missing.”
Without Chubb, the Browns’ offense struggled the rest of the game. His replacement, Jerome Ford, reeled off a 69-yard run to set up a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. But Cleveland never scored again. And Pittsburgh’s second defensive touchdown of the night proved to be the game-winning score.
Browns All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio admitted the offense missed its star rusher in the second half.
“He’s a great teammate, he works hard, a great person,” Bitonio said. “To see him go down … it’s tough. … It’s a big loss.”
Going into Monday, the Browns were trying to start 2-0 for the first time since 1993. Instead, they’ll have to move forward without one of the top running backs in the league.
“That’s our brother, my brother,” Garrett said. “Been together a long time. It’s a blow for the whole team. We don’t want his injury to be in vain. We gotta push on. That’s what he would want us to do. Just continue to fight.”