"For our fans, it would mean the season for us," said the Browns' star kick returner Josh Cribbs. "They would be like, ‘OK, we forgive you.'"
Pittsburgh fans would also call it a season should their skidding Steelers lose tonight in Cleveland. The Steelers may have beaten the Browns 12 straight times, but a four-game losing streak has turned tonight's game into a sudden elimination proposition for the visitors.
"We have no room for error right now," said nose tackle Casey Hampton.
Are the Browns the perfect tonic?
"Anybody's the perfect tonic," Hampton said. "It's just the point of getting a victory and getting out of this slump, no matter who we play. We've just got to find a way to win."
The Browns have lost six games since losing to the Steelers, 27-14, on Oct. 18, and they've also lost the guts of their defense: Nose tackle Shaun Rogers, inside linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Eric Barton, and safety Brodney Pool have all been placed on injured reserve. The Browns also expect to be without defensive end Kenyon Coleman. His replacement, C.J. Mosley, went on IR this week.
The Browns have also lost a bit on offense, with running back Jamal Lewis on IR, but a change at quarterback has put a spark into the team. Brady Quinn replaced Derek Anderson at quarterback four games ago. Quinn sputtered in his first start, but in his last three games he's led the Browns to 67 points after the team had scored only 78 in its first nine games.
In his last three games – against Detroit, Cincinnati and San Diego – Quinn has thrown seven touchdown passes without an interception for a passer rating of 93.4. Last week against the Chargers, Quinn directed the Browns to 16 fourth-quarter points with two touchdown passes and a field goal.
It's a foreboding sign for the Steelers, who earlier that day allowed 21 fourth-quarter points in losing to the Oakland Raiders, 27-24. The Steelers have allowed 45 percent of their opponents' point total in the fourth quarter and overtime this season.
"We're giving up too many big plays," Hampton said. "We ain't focusing in and doing our job as a whole. That's the bottom line."
Coach Mike Tomlin promised to consider changes after the game, and much of the media attention has been on cornerbacks William Gay – who left late in the fourth quarter with a concussion – and Ike Taylor, who was responsible for Murphy.
Lewis was a third-round pick who's similar in stature to the physical Taylor.
Burnett was a fifth-round pick who finished his prep career with the second-most interceptions (31) in Florida history. As a four-year starter at Central Florida, Burnett intercepted 16 passes to rank third all-time in Conference-USA.
Even with all of his apparent ball skills, Burnett dropped an interception that hit him in the chest Sunday and would've stopped the Raiders' final drive.
"If they throw 100 to me, I'll catch 99 because I missed one already," said Burnett. "I think of myself as having great ball skills. That never happened to me before. Unbelievable. I was shocked about it, and just blessed to have the opportunity to go out there and do it again."
Only the cornerbacks of the Steelers and St. Louis Rams have yet to intercept a pass this season. The Steelers' unofficial team record for fewest interceptions by their cornerbacks in a season is two in 1955, 1956 and 1960.
The Steelers' secondary will again miss safety Troy Polamalu, but the Browns' receiving corps is even less threatening than that of the Raiders. The Browns' starting wide receivers are Cribbs (18 catches, 6.8 yards per catch) and rookie Mohamed Massaquoi (28, 18.2). Running back Jerome Harrison was the leading receiver last week with 7 catches for 62 yards and 2 touchdowns, just ahead of tight end Evan Moore, who caught 6 passes for 80 yards after being called up from the practice squad before the game.
It's certainly not an imposing group, but Quinn hasn't thrown an interception in 126 passes, and when forced to pass in the fourth quarter on Sunday he directed the Browns to three scoring drives.
Anyone in Pittsburgh panicking yet?
"I'm not panicking," Hampton said. "No one else in this locker room is panicking. We know what we're capable of doing. We're just not finishing."
One more loss and they can consider themselves finished.