It’s been 13 days since the Cleveland Browns faced the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football. In the interim, there have been suspensions, appeals, canceled interviews, official statements, and countless hours of debate on daytime sports television, not mention a dominant win against the Miami Dolphins at FirstEnergy. The Browns have upped their win streak to three and come within a game of .500, an accomplishment that they haven’t superseded at any point since 2014. But even after an eventful two weeks, the team is looking ahead at what’s in front of them.
What occurred at the end of the Pittsburgh game was a shame for obvious reasons, but going beyond that, it felt like a loss. Myles Garrett’s actions reinforced the black cloud that hangs over the franchise and dampened what should have been a celebrated moment in Cleveland.
The rivalry with the Steelers has existed since 1950, making it the fourth most played in the history of the NFL. Beating them feels better than a win. Given the recent lopsidedness of the two teams record, a victory over Pittsburgh is less of an added number in the win column and more of a statement. Cleveland’s fourth win was massive, the first time they’d done so against their opponent in five years. The Browns have a chance on Sunday to repeat this without gaining the negative attention, not to mention make history along the way.
The Browns haven’t swept Pittsburgh since 1988. Thirty-one full years since Marty Schottenheimer’s team pulled it off. The president and vice president at the time are now deceased, and children born the following day have been of legal age to buy alcohol for a decade. It’s been a long time coming, and this team finally has the tools to end the streak.
Sunday’s game marks the 136th meeting between the two franchises. Pittsburgh currently holds the lead with a 75-59-1 record, surpassing the Browns in 2007 with a surge of victories that continued over the coming years. Mike Tomlin has been a grim reaper for the Browns, amassing a 15-3 record since 2010. The Steelers head coach has never lost to the Browns in Pittsburgh. Speaking of wins in Pittsburgh, Cleveland has not earned one in sixteen years. There are high school upperclassmen who have never seen it happen. Twelve quarterbacks have led Browns teams to defeat in this span, making it a cornerstone of franchise failures since their return in ’99.
The game also has current implications. A win over Pittsburgh would tie the two teams’ records this season and allow Cleveland to move past their rival in playoff standing via tiebreaker. With Oakland facing a difficult Kansas City squad, and Indianapolis facing Tennessee, a win would slingshot the Browns past two of these teams and get them one step closer to ending their 17-year postseason drought.
That’s all well and good, but for me the symbolic victory would overshadow the literal one. Heinz Field has cemented itself as a morgue for Cleveland’s hopes and dreams, echoing shades of Three Rivers Stadium in the Seventies. It is a hurdle that has yet to be jumped, and one that may pay dividends in changing the narrative of the rivalry.
Baker Mayfield put on an exhibition against the struggling Dolphins, feeding his star receivers more efficiently than he has in any other game this season. The defense did an adequate job of plugging holes as they worked in several backup players during Garrett and Ogunjobi’s suspensions, the latter of which will return to the field Sunday. Issues faced at the beginning of the season seem to be mending themselves one stitch at a time.
If I only had a few words to give Cleveland’s coaching staff it would be this: cooler heads prevail. Lack of discipline has plagued this team since their opener. The Browns lead the league in both penalties and penalty yards. They have more ejections than any of the other 31 teams. Sunday will be an emotional game, and judging by the statistics, they may have the worst roster to handle the situation. If they can play with intelligent aggression and not take the bait, the Browns are capable of making history. That all starts with coaching.
What am I thankful for this year? A chance to be competitive in Pittsburgh. An opportunity to change the idea that Steelers fans can count on a home win against Cleveland. And most importantly, to have the better team. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving, even to those waiving yellow dish towels.