Another season, another meaningless season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Unfortunately for the Cleveland Browns, this finale has all the makings of 2008.
Oh, what promise 2008 had in store for the Browns. Coming off a 10-6 season, the Browns were primetime darlings and every pundit’s “sexy pick.”
Then, the games started, the losses and injuries piled up and the Browns limped into the season finale at Pittsburgh.
Bruce Gradkowski got the start for the Browns that day. And you thought Brandon Weeden’s debut last September was bad. Gradkowski finished 5-for-16 passing for 18 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Needless to say, the Steelers won 31-0.
The Steelers finished the regular season 12-4 that season and eventually won the Super Bowl title that February.
Yeah, I tried to block that out of my memory, too. Damn, Google.
Four seasons later, the Browns and Steelers limp into the season finale at Pittsburgh. For the Browns, quarterbacks Brandon Weeden or Colt McCoy will not play. It is the same story for running back Trent Richardson.
Things are so bad, the Browns promoted quarterback Thad Lewis from the practice squad. He received reps with the first team offense this week and will start for the Browns.
The team also signed quarterback Josh Johnson, who hasn’t been on a team since training camp to backup Lewis.
“If I get the start it will be wonderful,” Lewis said. “I will be living out a childhood dream. Right now, I’m just taking it all in, enjoying it while I can in practice taking the reps. If my number gets called it will be amazing.”
The last time we saw Lewis, he became a Great Lakes Classic legend. Lewis engineered the game-winning 11-play, 65-yard drive in the season’s first preseason game at Detroit. Lewis finished 5-for-8 passing for 90 yards.
Of course that was against the Detroit Lions backups’ backups.
Almost five months later, the vaunted Steelers defense is waiting. Unlike in 2008, the Steelers enter the game losers of three consecutive and five of their last six, which also included a 20-14 loss at Cleveland on Nov. 25.
Ben Roethlisberger, who has made a career beating the Browns, did not play in the first game and during this three-game swoon he has thrown four interceptions. Three of those four interceptions cost Pittsburgh a win at Dallas and a win at home against Cincinnati last week.
“I wouldn’t say he’s not on top of his game. I’ve still seen the same plays that you see him make where it looks like the play is dead, he extends it and finds a receiver,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “Anytime Ben is out there you know he can make a big play. A big play either way could be the difference and he always has that ability to make that play if he’s out there.”
Roethlisberger will be without his favorite target, tight end Heath Miller (knee), while his favorite deep target, Mike Wallace (hip), is not expected to play.
That should favor the reeling Browns defense, which has allowed 72 points, 647 passing yards and 240 rushing yards the past two weeks.
It is hard to expect the Browns’ defense will force eight turnovers again in the rematch. Turnovers would be helpful if the Browns want this game to be close.
Regardless of the outcome, four more quarters of pure football remains. Then, in what has become an annual tradition in Berea, a wild offseason awaits.