The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have met 29 times (including the postseason) since the Browns re-entered the league back in 1999. Pittsburgh has won 24 of those 29 matchups and have largely dominated the newest installment of their rivalry with Cleveland.
To be fair to the Browns though, they have had success as of late against the Steelers in Cleveland. In fact, they have actually won two of their last four games against their AFC North foe on their home field.
2009′s Thursday Night Disaster
I will admit it, I don’t necessarily remember Pittsburgh’s 13-6 loss to the Browns on Thursday Night Football back in 2009. Not because I didn’t watch it, but mostly because I drank so heavily before, during, and after that disaster-show.
What I do remember is that Pittsburgh’s then-offensive coordinator Bruce Arians going to the passing game far too often on that cold and windy night when Rashard Mendenhall was in the midst of his breakout season. I also remember Daniel Sepulveda punting on what turned out to be eight of Pittsburgh’s 11 possessions. Finally, I remembered how despite the best efforts of the defense and special teams, Josh Cribbs continued to be a thorn in the side of the Steelers.
Cleveland built a 13-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter due in large part to a 55-yard punt return by Cribbs on one possession and a 37-yard run by the wide receiver on another. Brady Quinn, who started at quarterback that night, finished the game with only 90 yards passing but collected 37 of them on a pass to Mohamed “McLovin” Massaquoi on a drive sandwiched in between those.
Pittsburgh’s offense was completely stifled by the defense of the Browns who were 1-11 at that point. As I mentioned before, much of this was due to the fact that Arians went with a pass-happy game-plan that evening. Unfortunately for Ben Roethlisberger, his offensive line allowed eight sacks, and he only completed 18 of his 32 pass attempts.
By the end of this game I was certainly livid, especially since Pittsburgh’s defense played well enough for the team to emerge victorious and break their then-losing streak of four games. Had the Steelers won, they would have earned the AFC’s final postseason seed and would have been able to defend their Super Bowl title from the previous season. Sadly, Arians and the offense crapped the bed and they were forced to spend January and February at home.
2012′s Turnover-Laden Joke
Last season’s game in Cleveland was an unmitigated disaster for Pittsburgh, particularly their butter-fingered running backs. During the Steelers’ 20-14 loss, Pittsburgh’s offense managed to turn the ball over EIGHT times! In a game in which Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined, Charlie Batch threw three interceptions and only completed 20 of his 34 passes for 199 yards.
Despite the best efforts of the defense, especially Lawrence Timmons who scored on a 53-yard interception return, the Steelers’ inability to move or hold onto the football prevented them from emerging victorious.
Each of Pittsburgh’s four running backs fumbled once (Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Chris Rainey) while Emmanuel Sanders coughed the ball up on the game’s final play. The offense was so stagnant that Rainey’s one-yard touchdown run before half time were the only points the Steelers’ offense scored all afternoon!
To the credit of Cleveland’s defense and their offense which was led by their rookie signal-caller Brandon Weeden, they hung tough and played almost mistake-free football on their way to a victory. Weeden connected with Jordan Cameron on an important 10-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, while Trent Richardson rushed for 85 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
Just like their loss in 2009, the loss against the Browns last fall prevented the Steelers from earning a postseason berth. Pittsburgh finished with an 8-8 record, and the fact that a loss which featured eight turnovers against a divisional foe kept them from participating in postseason play probably made the sting feel even worse.
As much as some of us would like to think that they are, the Browns are no longer a “gimme” on the schedule for the Steelers. They are slowly but surely catching up to Pittsburgh from a talent perspective, and they have played the Steelers well in Cleveland.
Just like the Steelers, the Browns need to win this game to keep their dreams for a postseason berth alive and relevant. Pittsburgh cannot enter this game overconfident and look past the Browns. If they “play down” to the Browns or come out flat, a common theme during the Mike Tomlin regime, then Cleveland will make them pay like they did in the two games I mentioned in this post.
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