Kevin Gorman: Steelers hoping Cleveland grants Christmas wish
A Christmas Day call to the Cleveland Gormans brought about a conversation that quickly turned to football and how the Pittsburgh Steelers have suddenly become the Browns’ biggest fans.
“That’s the rumor,” Cousin Mike said with a laugh. “I hope we don’t let you down.”
Oh, the cruel irony that the Steelers’ playoff hopes has come to this: The Steelers not only need to beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday at Heinz Field to win the AFC North but also need the Browns to beat the Ravens in Baltimore.
That conversation is the conundrum in Cleveland right now. Browns diehards want them to win. But true Browns fans don’t want to see the Steelers make the playoffs, either. You have to hope they harbor more hatred for Baltimore, which took their team, than the Steelers, who are 20-3-1 against the Browns under Mike Tomlin.
To properly understand this mentality, you must remember Cleveland can take a joke. The city is so accustomed to the Browns losing — they have had only two winning seasons since returning as an expansion team in 1999 — that fans celebrated the 0-16 season last year with a parade around FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Steelers have only added to the Browns’ misery.
Cleveland is 7-7-1 and hasn’t had a winning season since going 10-6 in 2007, when the Steelers had the same record but won the AFC North by virtue of sweeping the Browns. That included a 31-28 victory over the Browns, a comeback clinched on a 2-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Heath Miller. Want irony? The Steelers are coming off a 31-28 loss at New Orleans, a comeback clinched on a 2-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Michael Thomas.
The Browns haven’t been to the postseason since 2002, when they qualified as a wild card only to blow Kelly Holcomb’s 429 passing yards and a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Steelers in a 36-33 loss.
That’s not to mention the Steelers beating the Browns in the season finale the past two seasons, their “perfect” season punctuated by Corey Coleman dropping a fourth-and-2 pass late in the fourth quarter last year. Then again, the winless season earned the Browns the No. 1 overall pick, which they used to draft Baker Mayfield in hopes of ending their revolving door of quarterbacks since taking Tim Couch in ’99.
Forgive Cleveland if it isn’t feeling charitable toward Pittsburgh this holiday season.
“Every year, there’s a different narrative,” Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. “This year, I’ll be cheering for a team in Ohio again and hoping for Cleveland to do their job. We’ll be playing another team in Ohio, so it’s just crazy how year to year, different narratives get written.”
The narratives are almost as circuitous as this column. It starts with the Steelers first needing to beat the Bengals, who will attempt to play spoiler in the season finale for the second consecutive season. Cincinnati beat Baltimore on Tyler Boyd’s 49-yard touchdown catch in the final minute to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs last year. Now the Bengals can do the same to the Steelers.
Then again, if Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker hadn’t missed the first extra point of his career against the Saints, there would have been a possibility that the Steelers, Ravens and Browns all finish 8-7-1.
Instead, the Steelers have to beat the Bengals and hope the Browns can beat the Ravens, which isn’t as confusing as it sounds until you add the Hue Jackson factor into the equation.
And, yes, it’s a thing.
Since firing Jackson as their head coach on Nov. 13, the Browns are 5-2. Since hiring Jackson as a special assistant to head coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 1-5. Jackson has had such a negative impact on the teams he has coached this season (and forever, really) that it makes you wonder how in the world his Browns tied the Steelers in the opener.
The Steelers’ season has come down to counting on the Browns being better off without Jackson and the Bengals being worse with him, and that they can end this season better than they started it.
It’s not just about Steelers fans cheering on Cleveland to make this city’s Christmas wish come true while rooting against Cincinnati being the coal in their stockings.
Pittsburgh is hoping Hue won’t let us down.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.