PITTSBURGH, PA – No head coach, no position coaches, no starters on defense, a makeshift offensive line and given no chance of beating their long-time arch-nemesis in their proverbial house of horrors down by the Confluence, the Cleveland Browns exorcised decades of anguish in knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers, 48-37.
Cleveland, who was widely panned in beating what was the junior varsity version of the Black and Gold in a narrow two-point win, 24-22, went into the franchise’s first postseason game since 2002—where they lost in gut-wrenching fashion to the Steelers, 36-33—without their rookie head coach, Kevin Stefanski, their offensive line coach, Bill Callahan and notables such All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio, Pro Bowl CB Denzel Ward and WR KhaDarel Hodge, and work with a patchwork offensive line with center JC Tretter calling plays, Kendall Lamm and lose RG Jack Conklin.
No one. And I mean NO. ONE. Would have foreseen the kind of start Cleveland would get off to in jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead thanks to an errant snap from Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey.
And in the blink of an eye, the underdog Browns were up 28-0 on the almighty Steelers.
That sound you heard, was not a nearly empty Heinz Field crying silently, but the ancient demons of the past slowly being extinguished. Despite being up 35-10 at halftime, you were far from comfortable if you were a Cleveland sports fan.
The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. You have seen this movie before.
So many times, Cleveland sports teams have been tantalizing close, only to lose in brutal fashion. Nothing ever comes easy when it comes to the Browns, especially against the big brother from the Steel City that have bullied and tormented Cleveland for decades.
When the Steelers pulled to within 35-23 on a five-year touchdown pass to Cleveland’s newest villain in the forementioned Smith-Schuster, you felt your that Cleveland sports DNA of angst and dread spike your blood pressure to near-cardiac levels.
This was 2002 all over again. The Browns were going to “brown” again. Cleveland was going to implode and self-destruct in another playoff game in Pittsburgh.
Not this time.
On a perfectly-called screen pass to RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland regained momentum at 42-23 with 12:23 left, and despite Pittsburgh responding back on a 29-yard touchdown pass to Chase Claypool to make it 42-29, these Browns did not fold, panic and let the moment become too much for them.
Instead of Baker Mayfield going down in Cleveland sports history as another tragic hero, this time it was Pittsburgh’s Canton-bound two-time Super Bowl quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger playing the role of Kelly Holcomb in passing for 504 yards, four touchdowns and throwing four interceptions on 68 attempts.
68 attempts for a 38-year-old QB on what may be his last leg is way too much for even the likes of Big Ben, but if you’re a Browns fan this morning, you will savor this, as Roethlisberger has made a career of owning the Browns to the tune of a 24-2-1 mark.
Time to add 0-1 vs. the Browns in what may likely be his last game as a Steeler, as he is owed $51 million for the 2021-22 season.
For the first time in generations, Browns fans can celebrate a victory Monday over the hated Steelers in the post-season. Cleveland can once again wear it’s football pride openly and proudly in finally beating the biggest of bullies, that one team that has always haunted them, the one fan base that has ruthlessly mocked them for an eternity.
For once, the shoe is on the other foot. For once, Pittsburgh has to come to grips with losing in the playoffs—to Cleveland—of all teams. There will be no Terrible Towels to wave, no JuJu dancing away on TikTok, no loudmouth Steeler fans flooding your social, and openly bragging over another win vs the same old Browns.
Because, these Browns are not the same old gray faces, but something new and differently entirely.
And for once, it feels great to be a Browns fan on a Monday.
Also published on Medium.