Baker Mayfield sensed the gravity of Browns-Steelers from the sidelines. He never played a snap during the Week 1 matchup, but Mayfield, coupled with his churn-it-out victory against the Ravens, has an idea of what Sunday's matchup will feel like.
"(You) can sense the physicality of this game," Mayfield said of his Week 1 view from the sidelines. "That is kind of how all of our division games go. Yeah, I got a good taste for it."
This week, though, Mayfield will personally introduce himself to Heinz Field and the Steelers. The crowd will try to complicate communication. The Steelers' pass rush will be chasing him in the backfield. Observations will become obstacles.
Mayfield thrives off the atmosphere rivalries provide. His on-field personality is intense, and as many saw after his long scramble against the Buccaneers, he's not afraid to talk trash. This Sunday's baseline for intensity will be much higher than it was in Tampa. And that suits Mayfield just fine.
"When it comes to rivalry games, that is when it is the most physical," Mayfield said. "A lot of things – assignment errors and stuff like that – can be overcome by imposing your will on the other team. That is what AFC North is about and that is what this rivalry is about."
But of course, the Browns aren't overlooking their past mistakes because this week's game carries a stronger heartbeat. The Browns face a steep challenge against the Steelers' pass rush. Pittsburgh sacked Tyrod Taylor seven times in Week 1, and the Browns have allowed five sacks in three straight games. Committing 14 penalties like they did against Tampa Bay will produce losses most weeks. Rivalry game or not, those trends need bucking.
"There's certain things that are discipline," Joel Bitonio said. "We need to get set better, some of our motions, false starts, all those things are on the players.
"We're working to change that up a lot."
Bitonio also reiterated his point from Sunday that the mistakes are unintentional. Sometimes mistakes result from trying too hard to make a play and making a mistake, Bitonio said. Sometimes, the Browns don't believe they've made the mistakes they've been penalized for. But everyone in the locker room agrees that mistakes need to be reduced and bad calls don't decide games. They all agree the main reason for the Browns' recent shortcomings is, well, the Browns.
This week against Pittsburgh is the perfect moment to change trajectories. Not just because Steelers Week means more or because the Browns haven't won in Pittsburgh since 2003. But because they still have a chance at the playoffs and the division title.
Sunday isn't just Mayfield's first game against Pittsburgh. It's also the first time the Browns have stood within two games of the division leader this late in the season since 2014.
"We come out with a win on Sunday – that is a huge division win," Mayfield said. "(The) Steelers are leading it right now, and so we would like to think of it as these games count as two down the road. We need to take advantage of this opportunity, and put ourselves in a good spot moving forward."