CLEVELAND – Win one for coach Eric Mangini.
Get revenge on Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison for knocking out Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi in October.
Deny the Steelers the AFC North title.
The Browns have plenty of extra motivation for today’s season finale – but don’t need it.
“I think it does a disservice to the rivalry,” said kicker Phil Dawson, who could be playing his final game with the Browns. “It means something just to beat the Steelers and that’s something we haven’t done a lot of. They’ve been very successful against us and we have an opportunity to change that (today), and it’s really that simple.”
The Steelers (11-4) can clinch the division with a win. Baltimore (11-4) needs a win over the Bengals and an upset by the Browns to take the North. Both have clinched at least a wild-card spot.
“We don’t care what it means for them, it’s more for us,” Massaquoi said. “It’s our rivalry game. No matter what the situation is, you’re always going to get juiced up for this game.”
Mangini made similar statements during the week, usually when asked about his uncertain future with the team. He needs a win in the finale to avoid going 5-11 in both his seasons in Cleveland. He expects to meet with president Mike Holmgren on Monday, and Holmgren will decide if Mangini returns for a third season.
“I’m excited about the game,” Mangini said. “The future will come quick enough.”
The Browns started their four-game winning streak to end 2009 with an upset of the Steelers.
It snapped a 12-game losing streak in the rivalry that’s become lopsided. The Steelers have won 13 of 14, 19 of 21 and 20 of 24 since 1999.
The dominance may have diminished the rivalry in the eyes of some Steelers fans, but not among the Browns faithful. Cribbs thinks a “meaningless” win today would mean plenty.
“It would be like all’s forgiven,” he said. “That’s what Pittsburgh is for our fans. They don’t care what we do all the other games.”
Cribbs and Massaquoi downplayed the revenge factor even though Harrison gave them concussions with huge hits in Pittsburgh’s 28-10 win in October. He was fined for the helmet-to-helmet shot on Massaquoi.
“I gotta just concentrate on doing my job, trying to do good for my team,” Cribbs said. “I can’t be worried about one guy.”
Harrison also delivered rookie quarterback Colt McCoy’s welcome-to-the-NFL moment. On the first series of his debut, McCoy delivered a perfect throw to Evan Moore on the sideline while absorbing a straight-on shot from Harrison.
“I thought that showed a lot,” Mangini said.
McCoy went 23-for-33 for 281 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. If he finishes the game today, he’ll be the only quarterback under Mangini to start and finish consecutive games against a division rival.
“It does help because he does have familiarity with their scheme, he’s played against it, he’s seen the speed with which they bring their pressures,” Mangini said. “I thought he did a great job especially considering it was his first time, and having that experience will help him.
“It resonates because he’s experienced it, he’s seen it, you’re talking about it together and there are things that you can then build off of.”
McCoy, 2-5 as a starter, had made steady progress until throwing three interceptions last week in a 20-10 loss to the Ravens. But he leads NFL rookies with a 63.5 completion percentage, and his 81.9 rating is tops for a rookie with more than two starts. St. Louis’ Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick, has a 78.0 rating.
“I think the kid really grew up fast,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said of McCoy. “When he first got here, he was struggling. His arm strength didn’t look like what it does now, it looked like he was having a hard time adapting to the pro game. And I think now the kid really has a little moxie to him.
“I think he’s a winner and I think he will prove that in the time to come.”
McCoy said the strides he’s made since the first Pittsburgh game were obvious when he watched the film last week.
“I watched myself and thought, ‘Man, I’ve come a long ways from that. I’m playing a lot better,’” he said. “There are still a lot of things that I can improve on and work on.”
The Steelers will bookend the treacherous defenses McCoy’s faced in his first season. Pittsburgh leads the league in scoring defense (14.9), is second in yardage (280.3), first against the rush (64.1), 14th against the pass (216.2), tied for first in sacks (44) and tied for second with a plus-14 turnover ratio.
“They’re veterans, they’re crafty and I think they’re a defense who creates turnovers and finds ways to win,” McCoy said. “I think the No. 1 thing for us this week is to handle what they do upfront and protect the football. I think if we do those two things, we give ourselves a chance.”
The task will be even tougher if Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu plays. He missed the last two games with an ankle injury but practiced Friday and was listed as questionable. He has six interceptions and does many of the same things as Ravens safety Ed Reed, who picked off McCoy twice.
“You have got to put a big fluorescent light on his number and stay away from him,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said of Polamalu. “Don’t go near the guy, because he’s awesome.”
However McCoy handles Polamalu and whatever the outcome of the game, the focus will quickly turn back to the future of Mangini and his coaching staff.
“I would love to see Coach Mangini back,” safety Abram Elam said. “I’d love to be a part of a team with him here.”
“We’re the Cleveland Browns and we’re going to go in here and beat the (heck) out of these guys,” Ryan said. “We know we’re from Cleveland, we know how big of a game it is and we’re going to get in there and get after their (behinds). That’s all we’ve really got to say.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• WHO: Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh
• TIME: 1 p.m.
• WHERE: Cleveland Browns Stadium
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WMMS 100.7-FM, WTAM 1100-AM