The View From Pluto: The Browns Face a Win or Go Home Game Against The Steelers
The Cleveland Browns need just one more win for their first trip to the playoffs in nearly 20 years. And it comes down to their final regular season game against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. WKSU’s sports commentator Terry Pluto says the team and head coach Kevin Stefanski need to regroup after last week’s ugly loss to the Jets.
Stefanski looked like a rookie
With less than 24 hours before last Sunday's game against the then 1-13 Jets, the Browns placed four wide receivers on the COVID-19 list, leaving Kevin Stefanski scrambling to adjust. Tackle Jedrick Wills and guard Wyatt Teller also were out with an illness and injury, respectively.
"It's one of the few times I've seen [Stefanski] rattled with his game calling. This is his first year in charge of a team, and he only called 19 games before the Browns made him head coach. So that's a lot of inexperience that hadn't showed up until this game," Pluto said.
A season finale tradition
Most years, the final game of the regular season sees each NFL team play another squad within their own division. Since 2010, Cleveland and Pittsburgh have played in the finale eight times.
Pluto says for the Browns, the game is usually more about what changes will be coming after. "That's the 'Who gets fired' game. We go, 'Is it just the coach getting fired this year, or is it the coach and the general manager?'" Pluto said.
"This game would be important for them to finally get past Pittsburgh and a game that would mean so much to the franchise."
Flipping the script
But this year is different. The Browns improved from 6-10 last season to 10-5 with one game to go. They've already secured their first winning record and 10-win season since 2007.
The major item left on the bucket list is snapping the postseason drought that dates back to 2002.
"Anybody who cares about the Browns would say, 'I'll take a 10-5 record with a game at the end of the year against Pittsburgh and a chance to go to the playoffs if you beat the Steelers,'" Pluto said.
Moving past the Jets
Pluto says the key for the Browns is moving past last week's game.
"What you're thinking if you're the Browns is, 'Sunday was just a mess. Let's get back to what we've been doing so successfully,'" Pluto said.
With a 5-3 start at midseason and the potential to close out the second half 6-2, the Browns have a chance to make a statement this week.
"The Browns have been a bad team for so long, it takes a while to get past Baltimore [and] to get past Pittsburgh. That's why this game would be important for them to finally get past Pittsburgh and a game that would mean so much to the franchise," he said.
At 12-3, The Steelers have already secured their spot in the playoffs, so they'll be resting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Mason Rudolph will start Sunday against the Browns. Fans may remember him as the target of a helmet swing by the Browns' Myles Garrett last season.
Whatever happens Sunday, Pluto says football in Cleveland is fun again.
"To me, this has been a likable team. I've enjoyed writing about them. I've enjoyed watching them," he said.