Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns take big step forward in beating Steelers

browns beat steelers 1Who were those guys in the orange helmets on Sunday and what have they done with the real Cleveland Browns?

We’re sure that thought was going through the minds of a few Browns fans during Cleveland’s 31-10 beating of the Pittsburgh Steelers – and we know it was on the minds of the Steelers as they waited for the “same old Browns” to show up only to be bitterly disappointed.

The win was the biggest by the Browns over Steelers since the season-opener in 1989 and the biggest home win since 1987. The Browns have now outscored the Steelers, 55-13, in the last six quarters between the two teams.

“I don’t think anyone walked into this game on our team fearing playing Pittsburgh,” Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer said after the win. “I don’t know if that’s the mentality that has been around here for a long time, but it’s definitely something that’s growing. And you just got to continue to go out and build on that.

“I know how much it means for these players to beat Pittsburgh. They haven’t had great luck against them for the past however many years. To beat those guys and the fashion we did it, feels really good.”

It was a day that saw the Browns continue their transformation into a real NFL team and one that, come season’s end, we may look back on as a defining moment in the 2014 NFL season.

The win helps the Browns avoid an 0-3 start in the AFC North division and gives the team its first winning streak in more than a year. It also sets them up for a potential run as over the next three weeks they face Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay, teams that currently have a combined winning percentage of .059. If the Browns can keep up their current winning ways, they could walk into Cincinnati on Nov. 6 with first place on the line.

Who would have bet on that just a couple of weeks ago?

There were plenty of winners on Sunday – none from Pittsburgh, of course – starting with quarterback Brian Hoyer.

While Hoyer was only eight-of-17 on the day, his 51-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Cameron helped break the game open in the second quarter. When the Browns needed a play Hoyer was there once again for them, as he completed five play-action passes for 179 yards and the touchdown to Cameron, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

With each passing week, Hoyer’s gamble to bet on himself in this, his contract year, looks more and more like a winner. If Hoyer keeps playing like this through the end of the year his price tag is only going to go up, especially in a quarterback-starved league. And with no team being more quarterback-starved than the Browns, the front office could be facing a huge decision on what to do with Hoyer, not to mention the fan pressure to resign a hometown player that is quickly becoming a fan favorite.

“I don’t think I need to say more than I’m from Cleveland and this is where I want to be, but I’m also a competitor,” Hoyer said on Monday. “I want to be somewhere where I’m playing.”

browns beat steelers 2The running game continues to impress, as the Browns had 158 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. In two meetings with the Steelers, the Browns have rushed for 349 yards and five touchdowns – or roughly the entire output of last season’s rushing attack.

Outside of Hoyer, the biggest winners from the day may have been the defense, which kept the Browns in the game during what could have been a disastrous first quarter.

While the offense was totaling minus-eight yards in the opening quarter, the Steelers drove down to the Browns three-yard line only to be held to a field goal. After a quick three-and-out, the Steelers took over once again and made it all the way to the 17-yard line before botching a field goal attempt.

From that point on, the Browns forced the Steelers to punt five times, had an interception and forced a turnover on downs, while the offense went on a 31-point scoring run.

“It was a long time coming,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden said. “For us to finally put a whole game together, it was great. We’ve been doing well in certain parts of games and in certain halves, but we just wanted to come out here and get an identity for our defense of what we wanted to be, and I think everybody just did a really good job making tackles, making plays, and staying into the game, for the entire game.”

As fun as Sunday was, this being Cleveland everything good must come with a price. In this case, it was injuries to center Alex Mack and defensive lineman Armonty Bryant.

Bryant is out for the year after tearing ligaments in his knee and Mack is out for at least six to 10 weeks with a fractured fibula, but more likely he is done for the year as well.

If the Browns can get the rest of their defensive line healthy – Phil Taylor, Billy Winn and Ahtyba Rubin all were out on Sunday – they should have enough depth to get by without Bryant. Mack, on the other hand, may be harder to replace, although John Greco did a nice job filling at center against the Steelers.

browns beat steelers 3While the growing injury list is cause for concern, the way the coaching staff has handled things so far leaves us confident that they will find the right answer. After all, who would be willing to bet against them after what we just witnessed on Sunday?

“Even our fans don’t know quite how to react,” head coach Mike Pettine said Sunday night. “It’s uncharted territory for them, and for us. But they were great for us today. When we walked on the field before the game, there was a buzz we all noticed, an anticipation. The place was rocking. Just like I said to the team last night about the crowd and how it can help us: ‘We control the volume in the stadium, based on how we play.’ ”

There is still time for this season to go off the rails, especially if the Browns bumble their way through the next three weeks.

But after what we all witnessed on Sunday, anything seems possible from what has become the NFL’s impossible team.

(Photos courtesy of The Plain Dealer and clevelandbrowns.com)

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