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Browns expecting 'playoff atmosphere' in Pittsburgh but aren't forgetting '1-0 mindset'

The questions needed to be detailed and specific Wednesday to get the Browns to talk about Sunday's game at Pittsburgh in any different fashion than they would any other game.

"It is about right now," quarterback Baker Mayfield said after Wednesday's practice. "It is about what we have in front of us and this game. To us, this is the biggest one of the season, just like the next one always is. That is how we have to handle it."

Still, considering the recency of the teams' last meeting, the ending of that game and the stakes at hand Sunday at Heinz Field, there was no avoiding discussion of what Browns players are expecting when they run out of the tunnel in front of thousands and thousands of fans rooting against them.

"A playoff atmosphere," Mayfield said. "This game means a lot to both teams. Looking at the bigger picture, we talk about the singular focus, but there is no hiding how much this one really means."

Cleveland's singular focus and a mindset centered on going 1-0 each week are the reasons why this game carries that kind of meaning. That's why the Browns, winners of three straight after finishing the first half of the season 2-6, aren't straying far at all from what's gotten them back in the postseason conversation.

Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Steelers Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey

A win for either team Sunday doesn't settle anything as far as the playoffs go. Plenty of work would still need to be done, especially for the Browns, who have three AFC North games to play after this one.

A loss, though, would be tough to swallow. For the Browns, it would require winning out and getting some help along the way to even have a shot at the postseason.

The Browns just aren't thinking that far down the road. Their margin for error has been this thin for weeks, but they've been able to center their focus on the task at hand -- despite an array of potentially distracting circumstances -- and the results have dramatically improved.

"I think it is pretty much easy for everybody," left guard Joel Bitonio said. "We are focused on trying to get a win this week. It is a new game. We played them. They know some of our tendencies, and we know some of theirs. I am sure they will change some things up from a defensive standpoint. 

"We are focused on going to Heinz Field and playing our best game possible. You have all the outside noise and stuff. but once you get to gameday it is us versus them on the field, there are 11 guys on each side of the ball and we will be ready to roll."

That this game carries this type of significance, though, hasn't been lost on some players, especially those who have experienced plenty in which Pittsburgh was the only team able to think about games beyond the regular season. Still, even as they addressed it, the players always came back to the mantra that's helped turn around their 2019 season.

"It is good to be playing in December and a meaningful game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They have been successful for the last 15 years, but for us to come out there and have a chance to put us in position, we will be good," Bitonio said.

"It is just another game for us. We are trying to go 1-0 this week. We are trying to be the best team we can be and build on what we have done the last couple of weeks, just one step at a time, though."

Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said the ending of the previous meeting between these teams -- which resulted in a fracas that left Myles Garrett suspended for the rest of the season, multiple others suspended and even more fined -- should serve as an important learning lesson for a roster that skews young. His message to the players about controlling their emotions has been simple -- "It's either you or the team, make a decision." -- and he's confident that composure and discipline won't hinder the team's goal of securing another, pivotal AFC North victory.

"We want to be tough and we want to play smart. That is because that is what usually wins football games. That entails a lot of different things, and that is just one aspect of it," Kitchens said. "You kind of have to put it all together to be successful. Sometimes when you have younger guys, it takes them a little time to put it together. I think we are starting to see some of those examples that they can focus and concentrate just on the task at hand. That is it."