Won't be a Layup by the Lake

Mike Prisuta warns the Steelers that they'd better play all of their medically cleared players because the Cleveland Browns won't be pushovers Sunday.

Peyton Hillis is Peyton Hillis again (in other words he's a runaway truck). Greg Little has learned not only how to catch the ball but how to use his 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame to make linebackers and defensive backs bounce off him after he catches it. And Brad Maynard still doesn't have a touchback this season (through 75 punts and counting).

So it's not as if the Cleveland Browns are completely lacking in redeeming social value. It's not as if the 4-11 Browns are the 2-13 St. Louis Rams (and yes, I'm aware the Rams beat the Browns on Nov. 13 in Cleveland).

Mike Tomlin knows.

That's why Tomlin stressed on Tuesday that those healthy enough to prepare and practice for the Browns this week will play against the Browns in the regular-season finale.

The Steelers have no choice.

They'll have to earn it on their end and get some help from the Bengals if they are to steal the AFC North Division championship from the Baltimore Ravens.

Chances are the Steelers will get some help from the Browns along the way (Baltimore did last week).

Chances are the more mistake-prone team will be Cleveland, as it was on Christmas Eve at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Browns' biggest problem throughout a season in which they've managed to scrap and claw and compete but haven't managed to accomplish a whole lot else has been that they're still the Browns.

They still experience enough head-scratching, what-where-they-thinking, how-did-that-happen moments throughout a game to turn close games the wrong way.

Cleveland's Dec. 24 visit to Baltimore was as representative as any along those lines.

* One such moment occurred on Cleveland's first possession, on third-and-1 from the Baltimore 30-yard line. After moving smartly from the Cleveland 26, including the conversion of the game's first third-and-1 by blasting Hillis through Ray Lewis, the Browns outsmarted themselves.

This time Seneca Wallace tried an out to Mohamed Massaquoi, but Wallace threw drifting backward without setting his feet and the pass was intercepted.

Hillis had carried five times for 19 yards to that point and looking like he'd be a handful all afternoon. Opportunity lost.

* The Browns also revealed themselves to be the Browns with the Ravens facing a third-and-5 from the Baltimore 24 late in the first quarter. Cleveland blitzed cornerback Dimitri Patterson and asked linebacker Chris Gocong to cover wide receiver Torrey Smith out of a bunch-right across the field on a shallow cross. Gocong never had a chance.

Smith gained 29 yards and advanced the Ravens closer to the field goal that would put them up, 10-0.

* Still another Browns moment occurred just before halftime. Facing a second-and-goal from the Ravens' 3, with 11 seconds remaining and no timeouts, the Browns ran Hillis and he was stopped short of the goal line.

Half over. Still no points for Cleveland.

* Saving perhaps the best for last, the Browns ended the game by being the Browns. Baltimore, clinging to a 20-14 lead after once being up 20-0, faced a fourth-and-2 from the Cleveland 37 one snap after the two-minute warning. The Ravens came out in a running formation and Joe Flacco tried the oldest trick in the book, the color/number hard count ("Black 77, Black 77 …").

It didn't work the first time so Flacco tried it again.

This time, rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor bit and encroached.


A different occurrence in any of those instances could have easily altered the outcome, and from the Cleveland perspective it was all self-inflicted.

But that said counting on the Browns to be the Browns again enough times to decide things this Sunday probably isn't in the Steelers' best interest.

Cleveland did plenty of things right in rallying furiously from a 20-0 deficit on the road to within a fourth-down conversion of really making the Ravens sweat late in the fourth quarter.

Cleveland, thus, can't be taken for granted.

If the Steelers really want that division title and home-field advantage they'll need to go out and take it, or at least take their end of the division-winning equation. And the best way to go about that is to play the best players and, hopefully, watch them play at something approaching their best.

That ought to get the job done even in the event Cleveland suddenly smartens up, if only for a given Sunday.

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