Steelers Set High Bar For Browns
The Cleveland Browns are 4-2 and currently in a good position to make the postseason, but the beating they took from the Pittsburgh Steelers serves as a harsh reminder how difficult it is to be an overnight success.
The Browns have beaten three bad football teams, as they should. And they need to keep taking advantage of those opportunities because at the end of the season, their ticket to the playoffs will be punched based on the standings as opposed to style points and the quality of the wins.
The Browns have also beaten the Indianapolis Colts, who like the Browns, would be in the postseason based on the standings currently. That was a quality win and it appears to have been a physically taxing game for both teams. Not only did the Browns get manhandled by the Steelers, but the Colts got off to an ugly start against the Cincinnati Bengals, going down three scores before they fought their way back to get the win.
The Browns have reason to feel good about their chances to make the playoffs given the 4-2 record, but they also have a bruised ego to serve as a reminder what they still need to achieve and what they aspire to become.
Six weeks into the season, the AFC has clearly defined tiers. The Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans have separated themselves from the pack as the upper echelon. These are the contenders that have the best chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl as it currently stands.
The next tier is where the Browns reside along with the Colts, Buffalo Bills and Las Vegas Raiders. Teams that are clearly above the lesser teams in the NFL to this point, but still have issues that prevent them from being in that top tier.
Notable about the teams in that top tier is that they aren't out of nowhere. They've had success and are trying to build on it. Save for the Steelers, they all made the postseason last year and the Steelers almost made it despite having quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges firmly anchoring down the team.
Of that second tier, only the Bills made the postseason, which helps to illustrate the value of playoff experience, even if it's just a first round loss. It shows that it's incredibly difficult to be an overnight success in the NFL.
The harsh reminder courtesy of the Steelers that the Browns aren't there yet means the Browns have to continue to get better, which starts Sunday on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals.
So far, the Browns haven't lost to inferior opponents, which is easier said than done. They need to be consistent and use these games to help them build their confidence and execution so when they face the Titans, Ravens and Steelers again, they can hopefully demonstrate some progress, at least look like they belong in the stadium.
To this point, the Browns have made progress and they need to continue despite the humbling experience in Pittsburgh. They can't afford to allow this loss, as bad as it was, to carry over and linger into their rematch with the Bengals. They need to get better and the Bengals offer them an opportunity to do just that.
In 2019, the Browns would take a step forward only to take two steps back, trip and fall down a hill hitting exposed tree roots until they until they landed on a rock at the bottom.
They beat the Baltimore Ravens in a huge win, showing what they were capable only to get blown out the following week, four games in all wrapped around a bye week. Rallying in the second half of the year, winning three in a row, they then lost four of their last five, including a humiliating loss to end the season against these same Bengals, who were playing for Joe Burrow.
The Browns cannot fall into that same trap and it starts with the Bengals. If they can beat them on the road, they move to 5-2 and get back on track. In addition to having some renewed fire to prove that the Steelers game doesn't define them, most of the players were on this team when the Bengals were 1-14 and beat them in the regular season finale.
The Browns aspire to be on the level of the Steelers and being defeated in the manner in which they were hopefully serves as added motivation to put in the work to get there. Head Coach Kevin Stefanski was saying all the right things in that regard and his players have echoed that sentiment. Now, it's time to go do it.