There is nothing the Steelers can do on Sunday to atone for what happened the last time they faced the Cleveland Browns.
They can score on the first possession for the third time in four games and it won’t erase what happened on the first play of the game nearly 10 months ago at Heinz Field.
Even if they beat the Browns and pass them in the AFC North standings, it won’t take away the sting of the embarrassing defeat in last season’s wild card game.
The Steelers might be able to find some measure of motivation for their game in Cleveland, but it should have nothing to do with revenge or payback for their 48-37 playoff loss to the Browns in January. It will have more to do with where they stand in the division and their ability to continue their modest win streak after a bye week.
“They whopped our ass at our home and sent us home,” tight end Eric Ebron said. “If you can’t get motivated for that, you shouldn’t be playing football.”
Perhaps, but there is no making up for the embarrassing manner in which the Browns handed the Steelers another early exit from the postseason. While that defeat has been difficult for some players to forget, coach Mike Tomlin said he is not about to use that game to motivate his players for this meeting. Nor should he. To do so would any trivialize the magnitude of that playoff defeat.
“I’m sure it comes up in some form or fashion, but not as a rallying cry or not as a focus of a meeting,” Tomlin said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “There are a lot of variables that are 2021 that should have our attention. We’ve got a lot riding on this game.
“Last year’s game means nothing to Najee (Harris), it means nothing to KG [Kendrick Green], it means nothing to Dan Moore, it means nothing to Pat (Freiermuth). You’ve just got to acknowledge that, in the game of football, things change year in and year out and seemingly low-hanging fruit is often times irrelevant to some of the people in the room. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about old stories or old news.”
Still, the debacle that played out at Heinz Field on Jan. 10 has been difficult to forget.
It began on the very first play when center Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over Ben Roethlisberger’s head and Browns safety Karl Joseph recovered in the end zone for a 7-0 lead. It continued on the next possession when Roethlisberger was intercepted, leading to a Jarvis Landry touchdown. And it turned into a full-fledged flameout when the Browns scored two more times in the first quarter, taking a 28-0 lead en route to a 35-10 halftime advantage.