Well, at least it wasn’t the Christmas Eve Massacre of 2005 or the opening day beat down of 2007, but regardless, the Cleveland Browns suffered their 10th consecutive defeat at the hands of their division rival Pittsburgh Steelers, 10-6, to drop to 0-2 on the 2008 campaign as the Steelers’ improved to 2-0.
The game, and the Browns-Steelers series since the mid-1990s, can be defined quite simply. The Steelers always do all the things that winners do while the Browns continually do things that habitual losers do. I cannot say it better than The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Tony Grossi did in his afternoon pod cast. Sunday night was no exception to these trends.
Pittsburgh preserved through an injury, a slightly separated shoulder of Ben Roethlisberger, and did not let that hinder their performance. The converted third downs and miscues when they needed to despite the poor weather conditions. They were physical up front as Willie Parker has yet another 100 yard rushing effort versus the Browns while the Steelers defense held Jamal Lewis under 50 yards on the night.
When they did make mistakes, the Steelers atoned for them. Hines Ward dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter and made up for by making a great read on the defense and hauled in a scoring pass on the very next play. Good teams do things like this. Right now, when they step on the field the Steelers firmly believe that they will beat the Browns and have no reason to believe otherwise.
The Browns on the other hand may have fought hard and gave a valiant effort, but in the end, they had as bunch to do with their undoing as Pittsburgh did. Braylon Edwards continues to look out of shape, out of shape and have the drop-sees as he put the ball on the ground as much as he caught it, include a potential TD grab.
Derek Anderson continued to come up in small in big games as he did in the second half of 2007. He under threw Edwards in the second quarter and was intercepted by Bryant McFadden which led to the only touchdown of the game. He inexplicably threw another interception as the half expired, this time to Troy Polamalu.
With eight seconds left, and no timeouts, the Browns were inside the ten-yard line. You need to either throw the ball to someone in the end zone or out of the back of the end zone to preserve time to kick a field goal. Polamalu was on the Browns 2, so even if Anderson had completed to pass to Syndric Steptoe, time would have expired and they would have squandered the field goal attempt anyways.
Anderson wasn’t the only Brown who’s lack of discipline and composure contributed to their demise. Shaun Rogers jumped off sides on a crucial 3rd and 6 on the Steelers touchdown drive, but at least he held himself accountable. Brandon McDonald came up empty on an interception attempt that led to a 48-yard gain. On the Browns first field goal drive, their bid was undone by a 3-yard loss on bad run blocking, a false start penalty and a receiver cutting his route short.
The Browns coaching staff seemed overwhelmed at times, too, as the use of timeouts at the end of the first and second halves seemed like a Chinese Fire Drill. The play calling was once again somewhat vanilla with the exception of an end around by Josh Cribbs. To field goal or not to field goal once again reared its ugly head again. On 4th and 8 on the Pittsburgh 20, down 10-3 with just over 3 minutes to play, Romeo crenel kicked the field goal to make it 10-6. The Browns got the ball back with 26 seconds left on their own 26-yard line. Ballgame.
The field goal call can be debated. With a stout defense, it would be the right call. With the Browns’ sub par defense, only the insane would thing the unit would be capable of coming up with a three and out. The call effectively let the Steelers off the hook and gave the Browns no chance to score again. At this point, the Browns offense can be trusted a little more than its defense.
The defense did hold the Steelers to only 10 points and they should be commended. Rogers looked like a beast but if the Browns keep losing, how long will he stay motivated? Brodney Pool did provide a nice spark in the secondary but it was not enough. Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker actually called a few effective blitzes until last week.
But they were not without their fair share of problems. The run defense let Parker gain over 100 yards again and Roelisberger was only sacked twice. McDonald and Eric Wright struggled covering Ward and Santonio Holmes at times and Heath Miller came up with the backbreaking third down conversion on the final drive. Kamerion Wimbley was invisible again as he was unable to put much pressure on Roethlisberger.
So the Browns have sunk to 0-2, last in the AFC North. It’s only two weeks into the season and anything can happen but one has to wonder if the team has the mental and physical toughness to compete with the upper echelon teams in the NFL. A no show versus the Cowboys followed by the inability to jump on a division rival make the odds of them having those qualities long.
Even if they were to pull it together and enter Week 17 tied with the Steelers they would have to beat them in Pittsburgh, a tall order for any good, wining team to do, let alone a Browns team that continues to do the things that losing teams do.