In back-to-back weeks, the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers were both mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
While the postseason is no longer a possibility for either team, Browns coach Pat Shurmur is expecting a hard-fought, physical AFC North-style game in front of more than 65,000 fans at Heinz Field on Sunday.
“They know how important it is to go out and prepare to win a football game,” Shurmur said of his players. “They want to do that and we’ve talked about how you want to end the year with a win. If you’re in the playoffs, that means you win the Super Bowl. In this situation, we want to do what we can to win a football game.
“You ask the guys to reach down and be pros; I think that’s what’s important. There are a lot of teams in the same situation that the Steelers and Browns are in; two teams playing each other that will not be competing in the postseason. These guys are very competitive; they’re very professional. They understand that you go out there to play, to win. The challenge that we have is aside from the fact that we’ve got a lot of young guys, we’re going to have more new guys in there.”
When the Browns hosted the Steelers in the 2011 regular-season finale on Jan. 1, 2012, the Steelers had already clinched a playoff berth and the Browns were out of contention. However, the Browns took a 6-3 lead into halftime with 26- and 45-yard field goals from
Despite trailing, 13-9, in the waning seconds of the game, the Browns had one final chance to win. Quarterback Seneca Wallace lofted a “Hail Mary” pass down the right side of the field, but the throw fell incomplete. Had it been caught, the Browns would have defeated the Steelers.
“What’s important for this game is, we’re playing a division opponent,” Shurmur said. “We’re well aware of the rivalry between the Browns and Steelers. It’s always good to finish the season with a win. Last year, at this time, we played a close game and we were throwing a ‘Hail Mary’ at the end of the game to win the game. It would’ve ended the season better than when you lose.
“I asked the players one more time to jump into the process and put all their focus on Sunday and nothing beyond that. I’m very confident that that will be the case.”
Part of the process of preparing for the Steelers involves defending against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The nine-year veteran quarterback from Miami (Ohio) University, has completed 269 of 426 attempts for 3,131 yards and 23 touchdowns against eight interceptions, despite missing three games with a serious rib injury.
“I’ve still seen the same plays that you see him make, where it looks like the play is dead and he extends it, finds a receiver,” Shurmur said. “I think they’re still an outstanding football team. They’re committed to running the football and they have explosive receivers outside. Anytime Ben’s out there, you know he can make a big play. In the last few games against the Steelers, they’ve been close in terms of the score. A big play either way could be the difference. He always has that ability to make that play when he’s out there.”