Is this the same old Cleveland Browns?
Last Sunday's second-quarter performance against the Bengals seemed to answer that question quite succinctly. In the Browns' first truly big game since Dec. 23, 2007, the result was eerily the same.
The Browns laid a big fat Skyline Chili flavored egg in Cincinnati.
Then again, maybe this isn't the same old Cleveland Browns?
This week's game is at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns are 3-2 at home and at 4-6 overall, they still cling to playoff hopes with less than a week before Thanksgiving. Around these parts that's progress!
The two home losses came to those "bullies" from Miami in the season opener and an early October loss to the Calvin Johnson-less Lions.
There was a common thread linking those two games: Brandon Weeden was the Browns' starting quarterback.
The three home wins came in a Thursday night special over the Bills, over the division-leading Bengals three weeks later and snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Ravens earlier this month. In all three of those games, the Browns either made a play late or put together a drive late to seal the victory.
That's not the same old Browns.
Last week's loss aside, the Browns are continuing to make progress within the AFC North. They've split with the Bengals and Ravens and now have two games left against the Steelers.
Tabling playoff aspirations for now, the second best scenario to this season would be a 2-0 record against the Steelers, who have played well as of late including a win over the Lions last Sunday.
Now, whenever the Steelers game is played near a holiday, it can be a nerve-wracking time for Browns fans. The Steelers have dampened the holidays before thanks to some late-December beat downs on the lakefront. Yet 2013 is a different season. The Steelers may be improved lately, but they are a deeply flawed team. The Browns may still have their flaws -- *cough* quarterback *cough* -- but they can beat Pittsburgh on Sunday.
The Browns' defense did not lose the game last Sunday at Cincinnati. While the Browns trailed 31-13 at halftime, the Bengals had just three first downs and 108 yards of offense.
Unfortunately, the Browns face QB No. 7 this week. Like it or not, Ben Roethlisberger just has the Browns' number. He is 15-1 against the Browns. The only loss came at Cleveland in 2009, so the Browns have that going for them, which is nice.
Unlike most of those previous 16 games, the Browns' front seven is vastly improved. Roethlisberger has hurt the Browns and other teams by extending passing plays with his legs. He's a big dude and is tough to bring down.
The Browns are averaging three sacks a game and nothing less than three sacks are needed this Sunday. If they can limit Roethlisberger's effectiveness and have their own quarterback return to playing just OK, there is a chance.
The win over the Ravens earlier this month started the conversation -- maybe this isn't the same old Browns.
And then the second quarter began last Sunday in Cincinnati.
NFL fans have the ability to employ a short-term memory. A win on Sunday against the Steelers and we can return to thinking that, "hey, this isn't the same old Browns." While that may or may not be true, at least a win over the Steelers will help the turkey taste that much better on Thursday.