Browns’ time is now

If they are ever go­ing to beat the Steel­ers again, this is the day to do it

SundayXtra - - SPORTS NFL - By Tom With­ers

CLEVE­LAND — Upon tak­ing over as Browns owner last sum­mer, Jimmy Haslam said one of his first pri­or­i­ties was to re­vive the Cleve­land- Pitts­burgh ri­valry. It’s been dead for years. Once the NFL’s equiv­a­lent to the Hat­fields vs. McCoys in hel­mets and shoul­der pads, the two- times- per- sea­son clash be­tween the Steel­ers and Browns has lost its lus­tre. Pitts­burgh has dom­i­nated the matchup be­tween the AFC North neigh­bours, win­ning 16 of the past 17 games and 22 of 24 head­ing into to­day’s game.

And while the Steel­ers might view the Baltimore Ravens as their most bit­ter foe, the folks in Cleve­land still see the yel­low and black as pure evil.

“The first thing I heard from fans when I got in town is, ‘ If you beat the Steel­ers you don’t buy a steak for a long time,”’ Browns rookie quar­ter­back Bran­don Wee­den said. “I’m go­ing to hold some of those peo­ple to that.”

If Wee­den wants to get some free meals, and if the Browns ( 2- 8) truly in­tend to be­gin evening the score with the Steel­ers ( 6- 4), this would be the time to start.

Be­cause of in­juries, Pitts­burgh is down to third- string quar­ter­back Char­lie Batch, who has been pressed into duty with both Ben Roeth­lis­berger and By­ron Leftwich nurs­ing in­juries. The 37- year- old Batch has led the Steel­ers to vic­to­ries be­fore while fill­ing in for Roeth­lis­berger and knows he needs to hold things down.

The Steel­ers trail first- place Baltimore by two games and can’t af­ford to fall fur­ther be­hind.

“There’s a lot on the line be­cause we’re still in the hunt for ev­ery­thing,” said Batch, whose pre­vi­ous start came on Christ­mas Eve last sea­son. “At this point we still have a chance to win the di­vi­sion. We still have to keep up with ev­ery­body else at this point. We still can’t get ahead of our­selves. We have to go up there and fig­ure out a way, no mat­ter what, to get this win.”

Against Baltimore last week, the Steel­ers wore those hideous striped throw­back uni­forms. They went retro again this week by re- sign­ing wide re­ceiver Plaxico Bur­ress, who last suited up in Pitts­burgh’s colours in 2004.

The 35- year- old Bur­ress, who had stints with the New York Giants, Jets and in prison since he last played for the Steel­ers, pro­vides size and ex­pe­ri­ence to a re­ceiv­ing corps thinned by in­juries. He spent the past few days dig­ging into a new playbook and be­lieves he can make a dif­fer­ence down the stretch for the Steel­ers, who will play four of their last six in­side the di­vi­sion.

“We’re go­ing to go out and try to make the best of it on this run we have,” he said. “It’s Novem­ber and De­cem­ber foot­ball. That’s when ev­ery­body be­gins to sep­a­rate them­selves. We want to be one of those teams.”

For­tu­nately the Steel­ers can count on the NFL’s top- ranked de­fence, which hasn’t given up more than 20 points in any of the past five games and can be a night­mare for rookie quar­ter­backs. At 75, Pitts­burgh de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dick LeBeau knows all the tricks to stymie any of­fence.

“They’ve got guys that have been in the league for a long time,” Wee­den said. “They’ve got guys that can tackle. They’ve got guys that are scheme- wise really, really good. He ( LeBeau) is a big zone blitz guy. They don’t give up many big plays. They try to keep ev­ery­thing in front and they do a great job with it. They’ve done it for a long time and I don’t really ex­pect it to change when we play them.”

For the Browns, this presents an­other chance to put to­gether a com­plete game. Last week’s 2320 over­time loss in Dal­las was Cleve­land’s fifth by a touch­down or less this sea­son and league­lead­ing 18th by seven points or fewer since 2010.

Coach Pat Shur­mur has made the Browns com­pet­i­tive. Now they must take the next step.

“We have to find a way to fin­ish,” he said. “Sim­ple as that.”

Rookie run­ning back Trent Richard­son stepped for­ward this week and put the blame for last week’s loss on his broad shoul­ders. Richard­son, who hasn’t been at full speed fol­low­ing knee surgery and a rib in­jury, ran for 95 yards and added 49 more re­ceiv­ing. But as far as the firstround pick was con­cerned, it wasn’t enough.

“You can put the game on me. I’m a man,” he said. “I’m go­ing to man up to my mis­takes and my faults. I made my de­ci­sion and I messed up. That hap­pens when you make de­ci­sions right on the run. It just hap­pens.”

Richard­son gained just 33 yards on 12 car­ries af­ter half­time and was stopped for zero yards on four at­tempts. In the fourth quar­ter, Richard­son couldn’t get in from the 1- yard line on a play in which he missed the hole. Richard­son wants to be their closer. “That’s what they picked me for,” said the No. 3 over­all pick. “That’s why they moved up a spot. I do feel like it’s on me.”

Wee­den wasn’t sur­prised by Richard­son’s com­ments. He just dis­agreed with them.

“He’s a com­peti­tor and a team player,” he said. “We all made mis­takes. I wouldn’t agree with him. It says a lot about his char­ac­ter to say that, but he’s a hell of a player. I’ll take more of the blame than he does.”

The Browns hope there’s no blame to be shared this week — just a rare win over the Steel­ers.

“I’ve beaten them be­fore,” said re­turn spe­cial­ist Josh Cribbs, one of the few Cleve­land play­ers who can make that claim. “It’s been a while, but it’ll mean ev­ery­thing for the city and our fans. We’ve lost a lot of games, but we can make it right. This ri­valry is ev­ery­thing to us and our fans.”

PHIL MASTURZO / AKRON BEA­CON JOUR­NAL / MCT AR­CHIVES

Pitts­burgh Steel­ers’ Isaac Red­man, cen­ter, is stripped of the ball by Cleve­land Browns’ Joe Haden, be­low, and Mike Adams dur­ing the fourth quar­ter a

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