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Browns will 'stick to what got us here' in preparation for 1st playoff game

Cleveland’s mental preparation and game plan construction won’t change now that the playoffs have arrived 

The first game of the Browns' first playoff berth since 2002 couldn't come on a much bigger stage.

The setting is Sunday Night Football. The opponent is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The world will watch as the Browns make their long-awaited return to the NFL's biggest tournament.

But the Browns aren't getting caught in the moment. They know what's at stake — the franchise hasn't won a playoff game since 1994 — and they plan on approaching Sunday the same way they approached all their games this season: with a "1-0" mentality.

"The guys get it," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Those 14 teams that are in it want to win a Super Bowl. In order to do that, you have to get in the tournament first. That is what yesterday was — they punched their ticket, and now we're going to focus on this game."

Stefanski has helped promote an even-keeled approach among the team all season. Players and coaches have rarely opted to discuss anything that lies beyond the next game. They've been humble, cautious but confident that if they keep their sights narrowed to a week-by-week focus, they'll be in the best condition to win each week.

Now, that mentality is the only one that will work in the playoffs. The rest of the season will be defined by the next game on the schedule, but that's nothing new for the Browns. That's how they've viewed every game, no matter the opponent.

"We just have to study everything," defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said. "We have to be prepared. It's a playoff game. It's win or go home. We're going to look at everything and find a way."

Check out photos of the Steelers against the Browns

For the Browns, this week might even feel like the second round of the playoffs.

As they prepared for Week 17, several players and coaches mentioned the "win or go home" mentality that flowed through team meetings and practice. They wanted to grasp all the incentives that a win Sunday would bring — a playoff berth, a win over a divisional rival and capitalizing on having control of their own destiny.

It worked. The Browns executed a winning game plan against the Steelers, who lacked some of their top players but still presented stiff challenges. 

QB Ben Roethlisberger, C Maurkice Pouncey, LB T.J. Watt and DT Cameron Heyward weren't even with the team Sunday as coach Mike Tomlin rested key guys for the playoffs, but Pittsburgh still used its full brass of talented wide receivers and running backs. Tomlin, of course, is still one of the brightest coaching minds in the NFL. 

The task was never going to be easy for the Browns, so they went into the week with the mindset that the playoffs had already begun.

"The urgency definitely was there last week," Stefanski said. "It's a similar situation this week. They get that. I don't think I need to remind them of what is at stake."

The Browns certainly don't lack players and coaches with playoff experience, either. A large chunk of the starters who began their careers with another team know what it's like to play in a playoff game, and the same is true with nearly all of the coaches. 

So, what's different about a playoff game? The answer is, well, very little. The preparation level still will be the same, even though the Browns have already played the Steelers twice this season. They'll still go back and watch the tape. They'll still analyze each player. They'll still construct another individual, unique game plan they believe will lead to a win.

The weekly routine won't change, either. That's why previous playoff experience won't carry much of a competitive advantage on either side. 

"I hope (the week) is not too different," Stefanski said. "I hope Wednesday feels like Wednesday. I hope we are on the field, having the normal rhythm of our week and getting the preparations in. That is what we are going to try and double down on is making sure we stick to what got us here from a preparation standpoint."

The job is far from over for the Browns, and they know it. That's why they're not changing a thing in how they approach this week, both game preparation and mental standpoints.

Their formula to win football games has worked 11 times this season, and there's plenty of confidence it'll work for a 12th.

"It's a one-game season," Stefanski said, "and we have to do everything we can to prepare to play a really good football team again."