Perfect timing for Browns-Steelers game

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor


Associated Press

PITTSBURGH - The conditions, the timing, the setting all seem perfect for a Browns-Steelers game.
Heinz Field is more dirt than grass this time of the year. The game-time temperature Thursday night is expected to be in the low 20s, with biting winds - in these parts, the very definition of football weather.
The fans figure to be loud and rowdy for a rivalry that often is among the NFL's most intense, and the pregame verbal exchanges promise to be nastier and more pointed than usual for the second game between the teams in 19 days.
"We've been known to do that from time to time," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said of trying to intimidate the Browns by talking.
Browns-Steelers games were meant for this time of year, these kind of conditions - only not this Browns-Steelers game. All that's missing from the NFL's version of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys this time around is any significant meaning. The game matches up teams with a combined nine victories in 24 games.
The NFL gambled by giving Cleveland (4-8) a primetime TV date in early December, even one against its most familiar and disliked opponent. What the league wouldn't have guessed is Pittsburgh (5-7) would have a nearly as bad record one season after winning the Super Bowl.
With four games remaining, the Steelers - 26-6 the previous two seasons - remain only on the mathematical fringes of the AFC playoff race after playing for conference or league championships in the 2004 and 2005 seasons. The Browns are playing merely to avoid what seems inevitable, a fourth consecutive losing season.
After last week's Ravens-Bengals matchup highlighted a new Thursday night TV package that remains widely unavailable to cable subscribers, think there might be a drop-off in log-ins to the "I Want the NFL Network" Web site?
Steelers stars Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu won't play because of knee injuries and Browns quarterback Charlie Frye (bruised wrist) may not go, either. That means non-fans of the two clubs may have to entertain themselves watching Derek Anderson throw passes, Nate Washington catch them and Anthony Smith defend them.
"A lot of guys are sore. A lot of guys are beat up," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "It's tough."
The Browns have lost 12 of their last 13 to the Steelers, and felt they had them beat when they led 20-10 in the fourth quarter Nov. 19 in Cleveland. But the Steelers rallied for 14 points in the final four minutes-plus to win 24-20, as disappointing a loss as the Browns have had in a season filled with defeat.
"I'm sure they want some redemption," Steelers guard Alan Faneca said. "Ahead 14, but to wind up losing the game in the fourth quarter, that would definitely give me some motivation."
The Browns are optimistic they can win this time, even if second-year QB Anderson's first NFL start may be against the Steelers' oft-confusing, blitz-filled defense. Anderson, who had never thrown an NFL pass, replaced an injured Frye in the second half to throw two touchdown passes and rally the Browns from a 21-14 deficit to a 31-28 overtime victory Sunday over Kansas City.
"He came in and dominated the game," tight end Kellen Winslow said. "We're proud of him. He came in upbeat and we didn't lose a step at all. He's going to be fine."
The Browns shut down the Steelers' running game 2 1/2 weeks ago, limiting Willie Parker to 46 yards on 16 carries. That forced Roethlisberger to try to beat them by throwing out of a no-huddle formation, something he might find more difficult to do with starting receivers Ward and Cedrick Wilson (ankle) injured and out.
Parker didn't do much Sunday in a 20-3 win over Tampa Bay in which much of the Steelers' offense came off the Buccaneers' four turnovers. Staying away from similar mistakes will be one of Anderson's primary goals if he starts.
Roethlisberger joked the Steelers didn't need to draw up a new game plan because they used the no-huddle look so often in Cleveland, the Browns never did see their planned scheme.
"All we did was the two-minute drill," he said.
The question is whether that will be enough to compel fans outside the two cities to tune in for 180 minutes or so.
"For us, it's like a Monday night game," Winslow said. "This is a rivalry. We're going to get up for it."