Even without the benefit of seeing the game, it was clear from the beginning that the Pittsburgh Steelers were reviving a popular theme from the 2006 season: turn the ball over in ways not even thought possible and lose in disheartening fashion.
The only other game I missed this season was the Oakland debacle and let me just say that listening to Ben Roethlisberger's four-interception performance on the radio ranks right below getting kicked in the nuts on the "Things that Sound Really Fun" list. With that thought in the back of my mind, I had no idea which Steelers team would show up in Cleveland.
I guess the better question would be which Cleveland team would show up in Cleveland. Sure, Roethlisberger threw three interceptions but after seeing the replays of each, only the first was his fault.
(I know there's some disagreement on this point, but Big Ben threw a Boller-ball to Santonio Holmes at the line of scrimmage. It wasn't like it was a 40-yard bomb, or a timing pattern. It's a throw every high school quarterback is expected to make. And if your argument is that if Holmes didn't tip the ball, it would've sailed out of bounds, I'd respond by asking: What happens if Holmes Barry Bonds-ed it -- just stood there watching the ball sail over his head -- and Daven Holly still got the pick and returned it for a touchdown? How do you think that would've played out once Holmes got back to the bench? Or in the local media?)
And even with the turnover advantage, the Browns couldn't really muster any offense. Sure, they converted third downs like they were facing the 2002 Steelers, but thanks to Phil Dawson honking a first-quarter field goal and Cleveland unable to score a touchdown without assistance from Roethlisberger or the Kevin Spencer All Stars, it's pretty clear Denny Green had it right: They are who we thought they were.
This is something you cannot say about the 2006 Steelers, however. They are ... well, it depends on the week and the most recent medical report on the star quarterback. Although, after punctuating the last three drives of the first half with interceptions, I had to check the Post-Gazette archives to make sure Big Ben didn't suffer a concussion last week and I somehow forgot about it.
Despite not knowing which Steelers team will show up on Sundays, there's one weekly phenomenon you can set your clock to: Joey Porter flapping his gums. Pregame. During the game. Postgame. And while I couldn't see it, Hillgrove and Ilkin painted a picture that sounded all too familiar: Porter yapping it up pregame with Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards. There used to be a time when I thought Porter talked too much. And then the Colts playoff game happened. Now, Porter can say whatever he damn well pleases. I think he's earned that right.
Whatever, the point is this: Porter's a smart guy and a big part of his game is getting other players out of theirs. Edwards strikes me as soft and I say that only having watched him play a handful of games. He's missed a lot of time with a boo boo on his knee, so maybe that has something to do with my perception. Winslow, on the other hand, is just crazy. Not Joey Porter pretend crazy; he actually looks like Bruce Banner right before he gets angry.
I get the sense that Porter understands it's a game and the game-within-the-game is talking smack. For some reason, Winslow takes everything as a personal affront to his manhood, no matter how seemingly benign. (For instance, when the Redskins drafted Sean Taylor over Winslow, he proclaimed the Redskins would pay for passing on him. Unless Winslow is making all of Washington's personnel decisions, I think it was just another empty threat.)
Well, Porter yelling naughty stuff certainly isn't benign, but Winslow ended the day with four catches of 36 yards. Now, I'd be negligent in my duties if I didn't point out that Winslow did stiff-arm Porter to the ground on an 8-yard gain. And even without the benefit of television I know it was bad because all Tunch could muster was an "Oooooooooh." Basically the same reaction you might have after watching Marlon McCree try to decapitate T.J. Houshmanzilly a few weeks ago. Ooooooooh.
Edwards faired a little better, but some of that had to do with Ike Taylor impersonating Lonnie Smith while in coverage. (Smith's nickname was "Skates" when he was with the Kansas City Royals. If you ever saw him play left field you'd understand.)
I'll still give Edwards credit although I'm guessing his seven-reception, 137-yard performance didn't make Browns fans feel any better after he just missed winning the game on the last second Hail Mary.
By the way, who the hell is Jason Wright? The guy hadn't had a carry in six weeks and that was a two-carry, nine-yard showing against the mighty Oakland Raiders. I was surprised to see the Browns run the ball so effectively, but give new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson credit. Unlike Maurice Carthon, who seemed to be good at absolutely nothing, Davidson actually tries to play to his team's strengths: in this case, use the running game to set up quick drops and simple reads for Charlie Frye, and control the clock.
Still, despite all the offensive wizardry, Cleveland only managed six points. But going into the fourth quarter it looked like the Steelers were on their way to sole possession of last place in the division.
And then Cleveland remembered their lot in life.
There was a lot of talk leading up to this game that last year's 41-0 drubbing would never happen again – and wouldn't be soon forgotten. I agree on both points. Beating a professional football team 41-0 is damn near impossible. And since it's such an infrequent occurrence, how can I be expected to forget it only 11 months after it happened?
Sunday's final score was 24-20 but I think this is infinitely more demoralizing than getting blown out. At least during blowouts you can mentally prepare yourself for the inevitable – it's usually pretty clear by halftime how things will play out. Sunday the Steelers scored two touchdowns on two great drives in the final four and a half minutes. After being up 10 points the Browns were down four with 30 seconds to go. Yep, Cleveland is who we thought they were and some of the comments from Monday's Akron Beacon Journal confirm as much:
"Devastating,'' Joshua Cribbs said.The good news is that the Steelers live to fight another day. It's still a long shot, but hey, it's better than no shot at all. You know, like the Browns.
"I'm speechless,'' tight end Kellen Winslow said.
"We wanted to win this game so bad,'' quarterback Charlie Frye said.
"If you talk and lose, you're still losers,'' linebacker Joey Porter said.