Only in Cleveland does a win against the archrival Steelers result in people wondering if it just wasn’t a good enough performance.
In truth, last Sunday’s 20-14 victory over the Steelers was, at times, an ugly affair. At least, that was the case for the Browns’ offense. Despite the defense forcing seven turnovers (the eighth was on the last play of the game), the Browns managed to score only 17 points off of them. They were only 3-of-16 on third-down conversions, gained only 3.2 yards per carry, and had fewer total yards than the Steelers (238 to Pittsburgh’s 242).
It should be noted that this was against the league’s best defense, which gives up only 257 yards per game. Even though the Steelers’ defense is aging and ailing, it still has the talent to shut down just about anybody. For the Browns to do anything against it is a sure sign of progress.
But this win was mostly the product of a dominating defense that punished the Steelers for putting together a patchwork offensive line and playing third-string QB Charlie Batch.
The Browns held the Steelers to only 49 rushing yards and one conversion on third down. Batch threw three interceptions, and the Browns recovered five of Pittsburgh’s eight fumbles. The Browns’ defense is as healthy as it has been all year, and it’s starting to show; this was easily the unit’s most dominating performance (as it likely should have been).
Yet, the major focus of this game for many people continues to be its “ugly” qualities, or how the offensive showing on both sides was simply too horrendous to ignore.
What should have been expected?
If the Browns were going to finally win a game against the Steelers — the perpetual bully to the Browns’ high school nerd — there was only one way to do it.
The Steelers have made a living off of winning gritty, grind-it-out games. Just look at their actual rivalry with the Ravens. Save for the rare blowout, each matchup with the Ravens ends up looking like a heavyweight fight, with each side exchanging punishing blows. Finesse has no place in those games, so why should it throughout the rest of the AFC North?
Only in Cleveland would a win be scrutinized so much to the point that one would think it was just another loss.
This time, it’s not worth another two or three levels of inspection. The Browns pulled out a win against a good team — a hurting team, but a good one nonetheless — and can begin the seemingly fantastical quest for a two-game winning streak.
Do you think the best teams in the league care about how many “ugly” wins they accumulate on the way to the playoffs or the Super Bowl? Blowing out a team by 30 points and eking one out despite a struggling offense always end up being the same thing. All that matters — all that should ever matter — is that they count as victories.
Those are things the Browns could use a lot more of, and by any means necessary.