While the end of the game was clearly the most physical, the Pittsburgh Steelers sensed a tone from the Cleveland Browns throughout the night, one that they had been unfamiliar with in Cleveland before. The Browns were trying to be the aggressors, the bullies. And they succeeded.
That is more or less what one Steelers offensive lineman told Aditi Kinkhabwala, who appeared on 92.3 The Fan to talk about the situation. She relayed that message to the Cleveland hosts when they asked about the seemingly increased physicality from their own team.
“I was talking to an offensive lineman that night and the next day, a Steelers offensive lineman. That night we were texting, and the next day. He said, ‘they came out to bully us’”, Kinkhabwala said on the show. “I don’t know what more you need to hear from them”.
She added that “that’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a team come out and want to impose their will. And let’s go all the way back to training camp, Freddie Kitchens making that point that we want to be tough. We’re not going to back down from anyone. The Steelers have been known for being the physical bully, so obviously the Browns feel that they don’t want to just match that, they want to come out with that ‘being the aggressor as well’, and you can’t really fault them for that”.
Though they were without Olivier Vernon, the Browns’ defensive line set the physical tone, with Myles Garrett winning consistently against Alejandro Villanueva, for example, but even Vernon’s replacement was giving Matt Feiler issues. Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi made running up the middle next to impossible.
“I’ll say this for the conversation that I had with someone who was on the field”, Kinkhabwala went on. “I was told that it was not nasty up until the very end, that it was not a build-up. That it wasn’t, ‘oh my goodness, all this ticky tack’, awful, horrible things, they hate each other, they way Steelers-Bengals game were every single snap. It was at the end that everything sort of just exploded right there”.
That is consistent with every single account that I have heard or read from player or coach who was involved in the game. Everything that happened at the end of the game was something on an entirely different level.
That’s saying a lot considering multiple players left the game with concussions and one player was even ejected. For those on the field, though, that was just football. That was just mistakes being made on the path toward setting a physical tone. It worked, for the first 59 minutes. Then it blew up. But it didn’t change the outcome of the game.