Cowher's been through three mid-season Thursday night games with the Steelers and lost all three: at Jacksonville in 1999; at Detroit on Thanksgiving in 1998; and off a bye against Cincinnati in 1995.
"We were 0-3 in those games so that's why I kind of looked around and talked to some teams that have done this," was how Cowher explained his new routine.
This week there was no day off for the Steelers after beating Tampa Bay, and a normal week was crammed into three days of prep time. The winner will be the team that wants it the most, and that team is …
"Both teams don't like each other and both of them want to win this game," said Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel. "I think each team wants it a lot."
But the Steelers went into Cleveland only three weeks ago and scored 21 fourth-quarter points to pull out a 24-20 win. Surely, the Browns want revenge.
"But we want to make the playoffs," Keisel said. "In order to do that we have to win. So we want it pretty bad."
Ah, the playoffs. Written off by most, the Steelers are instead following their coach's lead.
"Just focus on the process," Cowher said. "The result will be nothing more than a by-product of the process. … If you surround yourself with guys with that mentality and that mindset, good things will happen because you don't dwell."
Cowher preached about the process after the Steelers fell to 2-6. Since then, they've won three of four games and can chalk up another win against a Browns team that will be quarterbacked by second-year man Derek Anderson. The former sixth-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens replaced injured starter Charlie Frye last week and rallied the Browns to an overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
"It surprised everybody," said Browns coach Romeo Crennel. "It says a lot about the guy's composure and his ability to run the team after sitting on the sideline for most of the season."
Anderson completed 12 of 21 passes for 171 yards with one interception. He threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, and his 33-yard run in overtime set up a 33-yard field goal. The run, according to teammates, was not an indication of any true mobility by the 6-foot-6, 239-pound Anderson.
"I think he was just running for his life," said tight end Kellen Winslow. "I don't think he's that mobile of a guy. He did a good job on that one run, but that was just wanting it more than they did. He's more off a pocket-passer type, so we're going to have to do a good job of protecting."
Winslow, bothered by a gimpy knee, caught only one pass. The Browns' leading receiver Sunday was Joe Jurevicius with six catches for 75 yards. Reuben Droughns, who missed the game against the Steelers three weeks ago, was their leading rusher with 70 yards on 14 carries. Also back and healthy with the Browns is Leigh Bodden. The cornerback from Duquesne University replaces Daven Holly, who intercepted two Ben Roethlisberger passes in the previous meeting. The Browns' biggest problem has been a leaky offensive line that ranks 31st in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play. But the Steelers' line has problems of its own. It ranks 27th in sacks allowed per pass play, and is having trouble generating a rushing attack.
In the last three games, the Steelers averaged 2.8 yards per carry. It's the worst three-game stretch under Cowher. In fact, the Steelers haven't had a worse three-game stretch since the opening three weeks of the 1990 season, when the offense of new coordinator Joe Walton averaged 2.6 yards per carry.
"The defenses are doing things that are different to us and trying to confuse us and trying to force us to go different ways than we're normally going on plays we're running," Faneca said. "It's working for them, so we have to deal with it."
The Steelers must also deal with a new set of starting receivers and a new set of safeties. Hines Ward (knee), Cedrick Wilson (ankle), Troy Polamalu (knee) and Ryan Clark (groin) have been replaced by Nate Washington, Santonio Holmes, Tyrone Carter and Anthony Smith.
"It makes it tough but give them a lot of credit because they're adjusting to me and I'm adjusting to them and I have a lot of confidence in them and I hope they know that," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "If they drop a ball, I'm coming right back to them."