Despite a 3-6 record, the Cleveland Browns have a chance to get themselves back in the playoff picture as they start a stretch of three consecutive home games.
First up Sunday are the reigning Super Bowl champion and archrival Pittsburgh Steelers, who the Browns desperately want to beat after a lopsided home loss to them last year.
The Steelers (3-6) came into Cleveland last season and won 41-0 on Christmas Eve as Willie Parker had an 80-yard touchdown run en route to 130 rushing yards. The Browns walked away embarrassed after being outgained 457-178 and allowing quarterback Charlie Frye to be sacked eight times.
“That never left us,” Browns linebacker Andra Davis said. “That’s personal right there. We’re definitely looking forward to that one.”
The Steelers are 11-3 against the Browns since they re-entered the NFL in 1999, winning the last five meetings between the teams. They’ve also won five straight at Cleveland since a 23-20 loss on Sept. 17, 2000.
The Browns immediately started to look ahead to this game after their surprising 17-13 win last Sunday at Atlanta.
“We’re coming after (them),” Cleveland wide receiver Braylon Edwards said. “You don’t beat somebody 41-0 at their own house. We’re coming for the Steelers, that’s point-blank, period.”
The Browns have won two of their last three games after a 1-5 start, but are 1-3 at home. Coach Romeo Crennel, though, is hoping to use last week’s victory— his first against a winning team since taking over last year—and this game as a springboard to regain home-field advantage and make Browns Stadium a hostile setting for opponents again.
“We’ll have our home crowd behind us pulling for us,” he said. “Like I tell the players all the time, we have to make it a home-field advantage and we do that by making plays. We’ll see what happens after that.”
Frye was efficient at Atlanta, completing 16 of 22 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, was not intercepted for the first time this season. Crennel was pleased with his quarterback’s decision-making and hopes it will continue.
“That’s been a point of emphasis all year, make the decisions and the fact that an incomplete pass is not necessarily a bad play,” Crennel said. “Not having any interceptions is a big plus. That is a huge step for us.”
Like the Browns, Pittsburgh also harbors playoff hopes despite a dismal record. The Steelers—who had committed 10 turnovers their previous two games— held onto the ball last Sunday and posted a 38-31 win over New Orleans, which shredded their once-vaunted defense for 517 yards.
Pittsburgh hadn’t allowed that many yards since giving up 520 at Cincinnati on Sept. 17, 1989.
“I’m disappointed with the yardage, but I’m really happy with the win,” coach Bill Cowher said. “We’ve been on the other side of that. I’d rather give up 500 yards of offense and win than give up 98 yards and lose.”
Pittsburgh has given up 123 points in its last four games, and last Sunday’s win was the third time in its last four contests that it allowed 31 or more points after doing so just once in the last two seasons. Despite the unsettling numbers, linebacker Joey Porter thinks his team is heading in the right direction.
“We’ve been faced with all kinds of situations,” he said. “Guys could have easily folded their tents and started thinking about other stuff. But that’s not the makeup of this team. We know what we have here in this locker room. It was only one game, but it’s one game we definitely needed. Hopefully it’s something we can build on.”
The Steelers, though, may be without a key member of their defense for this game. Troy Polamalu is listed as questionable after suffering a concussion trying to tackle Saints running back Reggie Bush.
It is the sixth concussion Polamalu has suffered while playing football, causing concern among team officials and leaving Cowher to take a cautious approach with his Pro Bowl safety, who almost fell off the bench at one point during the game after the hit.
“I know there has been a history, and the doctors will take that into account,” Cowher said. “I don’t think it’s my place to be judgmental about that. I’ve got to leave that up to the professionals and the doctors and we’ll talk about that and certainly make decisions accordingly.”
Ben Roethlisberger, who threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns in last Sunday’s win, is 3-0 against the Browns. Parker, who rushed for 213 yards and two TDs last week, has averaged 7.0 yards per carry on 25 attempts in two games against Cleveland.