No snow job: Browns finally catch Steelers
The Browns have caught the Steelers, and they have momentum to boot, John Clayton writes.
On a surreal, snowy Sunday, Cleveland defeated the Buffalo Bills 8-0 and tied Pittsburgh for first in the AFC North at 9-5 for the season. Sure, the Steelers hold a tiebreaker edge with two wins over the Browns, but Pittsburgh has lost two straight and faces a quick turnaround game Thursday at the St. Louis Rams.
No wonder the Browns, who have eyed the Steelers with envy since the Steel Curtain days, are talking big.
"We should have beat them the second time we met them," Browns tight end Kellen Winslow said of the 31-28 loss Nov. 11 in Pittsburgh. "If we had won that, we could have locked it up in the next two weeks. We have as many wins as they have, and if we win out, we'll get it."
Of course, Winslow has been known to overstate things about the Browns and Steelers. He has helped fuel the long rivalry between the two teams, which are separated by only 140 miles. But don't misinterpret Winslow's bold statements about his team.
These Browns are good.
"I said all along we were going to turn some heads this year," Winslow said. "Obviously, it's shocking to see the progress we have been doing. I knew in the end we were going to be in this situation. I wrote down in my notebook in the preseason we were going to be 11-5, and we have a chance to reach that. There have been some people talking about 9-7, and I tell them, ' No, we're going to be 11-5,' and we have a chance to make it."
Winslow wasn't alone in his stunning forecast for Browns success.
"I've been saying that every week since the preseason that this is not the same team as before," said wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who caught four passes for 64 yards Sunday and moved the chains with some big plays. "I said, 'We will rebound.' I said we would be 10-6 at least."
And how crazy was this game?
• A blizzard blew into Cleveland Browns Stadium an hour before the game's start. Winds gusted to 43 mph. More than two inches of snow covered the field and blew into the players' faces for three hours.
• Umpire Jeff Rice could not, on one occassion, find the 50-yard line to spot the ball.
• The Browns, who had been allowing 28.2 points per game, allowed none.
• The last time there was an 8-0 final score in the NFL was Nov. 10, 1929, when the Chicago Cardinals beat the Minnesota Red Jackets.
• Statisticians in the press box could not get word to the field officials that they misplaced a spot 2 yards ahead of the line of scrimmage. No problem; it wasn't much of a stats game anyway. The teams combined for no touchdowns and 536 yards of total offense. The only scores came on a safety and a pair of Phil Dawson field goals, including a 49-yarder that hit the extended crossbar.
"It was hard to gauge where the ball was coming when it was in the air," Winslow said. "It was kinda like a curve ball. It would shoot left or shoot right."
On their first series, the Browns threw four times before settling into a running offense. For 245-pound Jamal Lewis, who ran hot for years in the Baltimore cold, the weather was perfect. Lewis' running style -- short, choppy steps -- works well on a slick field.
"My position coach told me, 'Don't overstride,' but you don't have to worry about that," said Lewis, who rushed for 163 yards on 33 carries. His longest carry was 26 yards.
In an interesting sidelight, the Browns' offense came out without sleeves to show their toughness. Left tackle Joe Thomas said it was a statement by Browns offensive linemen. Winslow did it because he doesn't like to vary his uniform. Lewis didn't wear sleeves or gloves.
"I believe in having skin on the ball," Lewis said. "If you wear gloves, you could fumble."
Even Browns quarterback Derek Anderson got in on the act. He skipped the sleeves, even though, as he told his teammates in the huddle, he had "never played in anything like this, even in a pickup game."
"The conditions were a great equalizer today," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said.
Anderson didn't think the Browns would be in this position after their 34-7 opening loss to Pittsburgh. But to think the Browns would bounce back to win nine of the next 13 and be one win from clinching their first playoff appearance since 2002 is a story Hollywood scriptwriters couldn't sell.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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