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In case anyone forgot, it’s Steeler Week

Posted Sep 1, 2014

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the distractions of setting the roster can be put aside as the Browns focus on Sunday’s opener at Pittsburgh.

Maybe, with everything else that we’ve had to digest like so many servings from a Labor Day Weekend barbecue, the true significance of what this week is all about for the Cleveland Browns has become a little bit lost.

The roster reduction to the not-so-final 53, followed by the reconfiguration of the roster as better depth options became available via the waiver wire, understandably took our attention in other directions.

And there was the dilemma of trying to find peace with the fact that after three preseason games of watching the offense – and especially the quarterback – struggle, there was much more to like in those areas in last Thursday night’s August finale even if it was against the Chicago Bears’ backups.

Those distractions are gone now.

It’s time to focus on the fact that this is … drum roll, please … Steeler Week!

Hard as it might seem to believe, the Browns are less than six days away from playing the first game of the 2014 regular season against their fiercest rival. They are less than five days away from boarding a convoy of chartered buses to Pittsburgh, site of the last game of the 2013 regular season.

Even veteran offensive tackle Joe Thomas acknowledged Monday that “it doesn’t feel like (Week One) yet.”

“But I’m sure when we come back on Wednesday, it’ll feel real when you really start putting in the real game plan and start dialing things down and really getting tuned into only the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time in the whole season, really,” Thomas said.

We all remember how the last trip to Pittsburgh worked out. Rather, we all know how much we’d prefer to forget it.

For the second time in as many years, the Browns not only closed the season with a loss at Heinz Field – which was frustrating enough – but they also fired the head coach after the game. Another year, another transition.

The good news is that Sunday’s opener against the Steelers represents a new beginning for the Browns. 

It will be Mike Pettine’s first official game as an NFL head coach. It will be the first time Brian Hoyer has opened a season as a starting NFL quarterback.

New offensive and defensive schemes, mostly kept under wraps the past four weeks, will finally see the light of day.

Are there questions? Plenty. Is there some level of anxiety being felt in and around the team? Of course.

But all of that is trumped by the fact that this is Steeler Week.

And that raises the stakes on a game that doesn’t really need anything to elevate its importance beyond the fact that it’s the opener, a game the Browns haven’t won since 2004 (when they beat another AFC North opponent, the Baltimore Ravens).

Everything the Browns do against the Steelers is enlarged by the magnifying glass of a rivalry. The fact the Browns haven’t done a whole lot in the last 15 years to make it feel as intense as it was in seasons when they were more competitive can’t be ignored.

But neither can the fact that the last time the Browns began a season in Pittsburgh, 1989, they also had a first-year head coach in Bud Carson. They won, 51-0. They would go onto finish with their division with a 9-6-1 record and play in the AFC Championship Game at Denver, where they lost.

Consider Hoyer’s perspective on the Steelers. While the Cleveland native was out of work late in the 2012 season, the Steelers gave him a job as a backup quarterback. He never played, but he did have to endure the awkwardness of wearing black and gold when his hometown team faced Pittsburgh at FirstEnergy Stadium before the Steelers cut him loose soon thereafter.

Although Hoyer will always appreciate the opportunity the Steelers provided to keep his NFL dream alive, he is quick to add that he’s “on the right side of rivalry now.”

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