The Browns have a chance on Sunday to sweep the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time in 31 years. But hanging over the rematch is the aftermath of the ugly brawl at the end of their last meeting two weeks ago. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto puts it in perspective.
First sweep since '88?
The last time the Browns swept the Steelers was in 1988. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 23-2-1 against Cleveland since he was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2004. But this season Roethlisberger has been out with an injury, and the Browns are finding their groove with quarterback Baker Mayfield.
"For once, the Browns and Steelers are almost on equal footing in terms of where they are in the standings," Pluto said. Heading into this Sunday's game, the Browns are 5-6 while the Steelers are 6-5.
"They’re both on kind of the edge of the Wild Card playoff race and frankly, the team that wins probably has the better shot. The one that loses, it could kind of submarine their whole season."
A ripple effect
Looming over the rematch is the ugly game-ending brawl between the two teams Nov. 14. Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett ripped the helmet off of Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph and used it to hit Rudolph over the head. The Browns were eight seconds away from a decisive 21-7 win.
"This is one of those situations when you throw that big rock in the water that goes to the bottom, but all the ripples go out and out and out," Pluto said.
The latest twist came last week, when Myles Garrett accused Rudolph of using a racial slur just before the incident. Rudolph has denied it.
“My guess is Mason definitely said something to incite Myles because they’ve always said Myles had to be more aggressive," Pluto said. "He was viewed as this wonderful athlete and very cerebral.”
The NFL upheld Garrett's season-ending suspension. Rudolph wasn't suspended, but Pluto believes the incident has had a lasting effect on the quarterback. He was benched during last week's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“They’re playing the worst team in the league, and [Rudolph] is playing so poorly they have to take him out. He was a mess against the Bengals, psychologically and my guess, physically," he said.
The Steelers have named Delvin Hodges the starting quarterback for the Browns game on Sunday.
Last week the NFL announced it was moving this Sunday's game from the nationally televised 4:25 p.m. slot to 1 p.m.
“The network claimed they liked the Kansas City vs. Oakland game better. Let’s face it, the NFL is not wild about every time you turn on the TV and the Browns or Steelers are mentioned, there’s Myles Garrett whacking Mason Rudolph over the head with a helmet. They don’t’ like the fact that their sport is viewed when you look at the worst part of it," Pluto said.
And he hopes fans keep their cool.
“Go back to why you liked football in the first place. Most of the time it’s family thing, getting together and a diversion from real life," he said. "It’s more to see guys make great touchdown passes and watch Nick Chubb run the ball. It’s not to watch helmet-to-helmet hits.”