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Game Preview: Is it 2008 all over again for the Browns?

Dec 29, 2012 -- 7:00pm


By Tony Grossi

What: Browns (5-10) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8), 1 p.m., in Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.

TV: WOIO-TV 19 with Spero Dedes and Steve Beuerlein.

The set-up: The Browns, who won the first meeting, 20-14, have a chance to sweep the season series with the Steelers for the first time since 1988. The Steelers were without QB Ben Roethlisberger in the first game. Now he’s back and he pledges to avoid having his first losing season in Pittsburgh since drafted in 2004.

Series history: Steelers lead, 64-57, counting postseason.

Historical footnote: When the Browns trudged into Heinz Field for the 2008 season finale, everyone knew that the terms of GM Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel were up. Everyone, it turned out, except Savage. He was preparing to launch a coaching search after told by owner Randy Lerner to prepare a short list of candidates. The day before the final game, Savage was on a college scouting trip and had a phone conversation with Lerner. During the call, Lerner fired him. Stunned, Savage continued on to Pittsburgh the next day and watched the Browns sleep-walk through a 31-0 loss to the Steelers. Emergency call-up Bruce Gradkowski became the fourth quarterback to start a game for the Browns in the season. He was 5 of 16 for 18 yards and two interceptions in posting a miniscule passer rating of 1.0. Savage returned to Cleveland by car. The next day, Lerner fired Crennel, too.

Steelers update: Their 20-14 loss to the Browns in Cleveland on Nov. 25 ultimately paved their demise. It was their fifth loss to the Browns since 1999 and each time the Steelers failed to make the playoffs. Roethlisberger missed that game with rib and shoulder injuries. He’s back now, but he has lost his last three games. Injuries have undermined their season. The offensive line has been shaky, the running backs have been a joke (four backs fumbled six times against the Browns) and the receivers haven’t been as explosive as in the past. The defense somehow maintains the No. 1 overall ranking, but sacks and turnovers are way down for a Dick LeBeau unit.

Browns update: With a two-year record of 9-22, this is certainly the last game for coach Pat Shurmur. Ironically enough, he will have to call on the one quarterback he hand-picked as Browns coach – Thad Lewis. Injuries to Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy have forced in the third-string Lewis, whom Shurmur noticed in his one season as St. Louis offensive coordinator and brought to Cleveland. Also out are Trent Richardson and Sheldon Brown. After winning three games in a row to spur conversation of his possible return, Shurmur’s team has suffered losses of 38-21 to Washington and 34-12 to Denver to lock up the franchise’s ninth season of double digit losses in 10 years.

Injury report: Browns – CB Sheldon Brown (concussion), TE Jordan Cameron (concussion), QB Colt McCoy (shoulder), RB Trent Richardson (ankle) and QB Brandon Weeden (shoulder) are out; DT Ishmaa’ili Kitchen (calf) is questionable. Steelers – OT Mike Adams (ankle), CB Chris Brown (ankle), LB Marshall McFadden (abdomen) and WR Mike Wallace (hip) are out;

Our take: It would take a miracle for Lewis to orchestrate a victory over the Steelers in his first appearance in an NFL regular-season game. The Steelers are still angry about losing to the Browns last month and want to avoid their first losing season since 2003.

Prediction: Steelers, 31-3.

Record: 10-5.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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