The Browns and Steelers have played 29 times since 1999. In the first two seasons after the Browns returned in 1999, they beat the Steelers twice, including in Pittsburgh in their first year back on the field. It was a monumental upset saved by safety Earl Little, who saw Phil Dawson warming up on the sideline while the field goal unit ran out for a last-play kick, and alerted Dawson to get on the field.
Since 2001, the Browns have gone 3-22 against Pittsburgh. The litany of losses has been presented for years. The embarrassing return in 1999. The Chrismas Eve Massacre in 2005. The playoff loss in 2002, when the Browns led 24-7 early in the third quarter only to allow Tommy Maddox (Tommy Maddox?) to lead the Steelers back to the win. There was William Green and Joey Porter fighting before a game, with Porter after the game apologizing and Green nowhere to be found. There was James Harrison's scary hit on Colt McCoy, and the Browns putting McCoy back in the game. And on and on and on.
Longtime Browns followers remember Browns-Steelers games being played on Saturday night at old, cavernous Municipal Stadium. They remember the Kardiac Kids trying to blow through the Steel Curtain. They remember competition.
But an entire new generation of Browns fans has seen little but futility against the Steelers. Night game, day game, early season, late season -- it hardly seems to matter. Except for the occasional aberration -- Charlie Batch starting last season and the Steelers turning the ball over eight times -- the Steelers find a way to win. And when a quarterback the Browns could have drafted wins 15 of 16 games against Cleveland, well it's really folly to pretend there's competition.
A few years ago, Porter basically dismissed this matchup as a rivalry. Porter said it's really not a rivalry unless both teams win. This week in an article for ESPNCleveland.com, Tony Grossi talked to Steelers president Art Rooney, and Rooney said: "It's probably fair to say [the Ravens are] our biggest rival right now."
Clearly this Steelers team is not the Steelers team of the past several years. They lack a run game, are aging in spots and give up big plays. The Browns want to hope they are a different team, one that can beat Pittsburgh in a real and accomplished way.
They wanted that in Cincinnati a week ago, and that result was ugly. They have another chance Sunday. It's a game between teams who are fighting for relevance, with the loser in terrible shape for the final five games. It could be the game that slightly alters the perception of the AFC North. Or it could be one that firmly establishes the Browns as a team that is not quite ready for that next step.
Now let's continue with some Morning Brownies:
In Pittsburgh, the Steelers acknowledge how well Haden is playing, but Antonio Brown told the Post-Gazette's esteemed Ed Bouchette "I hope so" when asked about Haden simply covering him man-to-man. "One-on-one is better than two-on-one. If you study game plans and prepare for one guy, it's a lot easier with your matchup planning for him than other guys or other zone coverage."
Bud Shaw of The Plain Dealer minces no words in saying the loss to the Bengals was a terrible loss, but points out the Browns have three home games in the next four and can still make a jump this season.
Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer points out that the Browns would be alive for the playoff chase with a win over Pittsburgh. He does so by running through the way the other teams are playing.
Following Sunday's loss, Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon Journal says what everyone wonders about Jason Campbell: "His performance against the Bengals could have been an aberration. But so, too, could have been the two that came before it."