Derry: The Rivalry Returns

Frank Derry believes he saw something last Sunday which has hasn't seen for quite some time. Here's the perspective of a long-time Cleveland sportswriter, who has been tracking the Browns from the days when the Browns-Steelers rivalry was the fiercest in the NFL...

The rivalry, at long last, is alive and well. After more than eight years of talking about the ill-will that exists between the Browns and Steelers, the two teams went out Sunday afternoon and proved it on the field. They fought tooth and nail from the opening whistle until after the final gun sounded.

They pounded each other the way they did back in the 1970s and ‘80s when these longtime rivals truly hated each other. It evoked memories of Joe `Turkey' Jones planting Terry Bradshaw on his head; Jack Lambert saying Brian Sipe should wear a skirt; Lambert and Bob McKay kicking and scratching and clawing.

This game was a sight for sore eyes, at least until the Steelers took the momentum following a Jamal Lewis fumble in the third quarter.

The fact the Steelers overcame a 21-9 halftime deficit and prevailed, 31-28, was disappointing, to say the least. But for the first time since 1999 it now appears the Browns have enough talent to go toe-to-toe with their AFC North rivals.

If Sunday's game is any indication of what is to come, it won't be long until Browns-Steelers games are once again featured on prime time telecasts.

Had the Browns been able to hold off the second half charge by Ben Roethlisberger and Company, Cleveland fans would have been raving about this game for years and years to come. Instead, they'll be bemoaning the three-point loss, detailing numerous plays that could have, probably even should have, been made down the stretch to secure the victory.

Roethlisberger, showing the savvy of a Super Bowl veteran, used his legs and arm to ignite the come-from-behind victory. But that in no way should detract whatsoever from the all-out effort put forth by the Browns.

This game included enough big plays by the Browns' offense and special teams to fill an entire highlight reel.

Joshua Cribbs' 90-yard kickoff return in the first quarter, which gave the Browns a first down on the Steelers' 3, was one of the best returns I've ever seen. He stiff-armed a couple of Steelers and gave every ounce of his energy in trying to reach the end zone before finally getting pulled down. His return set up the Browns' second touchdown.

But even that great return wasn't at all comparable to his fourth-quarter return that might be the best by a Browns player in recent history, maybe even of all time.

Cribbs, after misplaying the kickoff, had to make a split second decision to pick up the slow-rolling ball that looked like it would die just inches from the goal line. After making several Steelers miss tackles inside the 10, he tip-toed his way down the sideline, barely missing the chalk line at least twice with his right foot.

He then made at least four more Steelers miss tackles before outracing two more defenders to the end zone to put the Browns up 28-24 with 11:14 to play.

If Cribbs doesn't make the Pro Bowl as a return specialist this year, they had better find a new way to vote.

Another guy who definitely deserves a ticket to Hawaii this year is Braylon Edwards, who made an equally great 16-yard touchdown catch from Derek Anderson that gave the Browns a 21-6 lead with five minutes to go in the first half.    

Edwards, in the right corner of the end zone, somehow managed to keep his toes on a couple of blades of grass inside the sideline stripe. The officials initially ruled him out of bounds, which was totally understandable considering it looked to be an impossible catch.

But head coach Romeo Crennel somehow caught wind of the fact Edwards might have come down with his toes inbounds. Just as the Browns were lining up to kick a field goal, Crennel came charging onto the field with the red challenge flag in his hand in one of the funniest sights you'll ever see.

Edwards now has 10 touchdown receptions this season, the most for a Browns receiver since Gary Collins caught 11 in 1969.

Speaking of Anderson, he threw three touchdown passes, all in the first half, and now has 20 for the season. It's the most by a Browns quarterback since Bernie Kosar tossed 22 in 1987.

Anderson once again took advantage of outstanding protection from his offensive line, which for the second straight week did not allow a sack.

Lewis, who lost the critical second half fumble while trying as hard as possible to gain a few more yards, had a couple of runs that had to give Browns fans goose-bumps. At least twice he ran right over Steeler defenders who looked like toothpicks in a windstorm as they bounced off his solid, powerful frame. 

His runs also helped key the Browns' opening 16-play, 71-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard touchdown reception by Kellen Winslow.

Credit also has to be given to the Browns' defensive players and coordinator Todd Grantham for finding a way to sack Roethlisberger four times. This from a defense that had only seven sacks total in its first eight games this season.

Unfortunately, the all-out pressure also helped open up some running lanes for Roethlisberger, who took off five times for 49 yards, including a heartbreaking 30-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Crennel also made what turned out to be a big mistake late in the game when he decided to challenge a two-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Heath Miller with just over three minutes to play. The touchdown and subsequent extra point gave the Steelers a 31-28 lead.

But prior to the conversion, Crennel decided to call time out to let his coaches upstairs get a better look at the catch. Then, he got word to challenge the play.

After looking at numerous angles, it was clear Miller caught the ball, thus the Browns lost two timeouts on a play that was not over-ruled.

Even if Crennel had simply thrown the red flag rather than call the time out, the Browns would have only been charged with one time out. That proved critical because after the Browns punted, the Steelers were able to wind the clock down to just over one minute remaining before they had to punt the ball back to the Browns.

To the Browns' credit, they never gave up. Despite a costly holding call that wiped out a Cribbs punt return that would have given the Browns the ball on the Steelers' 38, they started at their own 33 and were able to reach the Steelers' 35 before settling on a 52-yard field goal attempt by Phil Dawson that fell just short of tying the game.

If you didn't care who won, it was a great game. And even if you did care, it was a great game.

It was a game that pretty much clinched the AFC North title for the Steelers, now 7-2. But it was also a game that gave the Browns, now 5-4, and their fans even more hope that they can indeed make a strong run for the playoffs this season.

And, even better, give the Steelers a run for their money in future years.

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