This Sunday will mark the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first game against the Cleveland Browns while they actually have a winning record in 13 years. That goes back to Mike Tomlin’s first season on the job in 2007, when a 6-2 Steelers team hosted and defeated a 5-3 Browns team led by Rob Chudzinski.
Pittsburgh comes into this game 4-0. The Browns are 4-1. But it’s also the first time the two will see each other with Myles Garrett back on the field. The Pro Bowl edge defender served a six-game suspension to close out the 2019 season after he struck Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph over the head with a helmet during an altercation at the end of a contest in the middle of last season.
There was a lot of bad blood from Steelers players, understandably, following that incident. And as you might recall, the Browns never quite got over it, either, with then-head coach Freddie Kitchens actually being seen wearing a ‘Pittsburgh started it’ t-shirt.
Earlier today, Tomlin was asked what message he would have for his team this week about avoiding distractions such as side storylines like this one. “There really is no message. My day-to-day existence relays that message”, he told reporters.
“There’s a lot on the table in reference to this game in terms of stakes. They’re a 4-1 team, we’re trying to remain undefeated. We’re not looking for that low-hanging fruit or reality TV storylines and so forth. This is a big game here in 2020”.
Right now, the AFC North is the best division in the league, in terms of record, with three four-win teams, including one undefeated team in the Steelers. At least one team, and likely two, will be five-win teams after this upcoming week.
In other words, this is a close race, and the focus has to be at the task at hand, which is securing victory. A key element of doing that is minimizing the impact that Garrett can have on the game, but beyond that, he has to be treated like any other player on the field.
During his initial suspension appeal, it was reported that Garrett argued Rudolph used a racial slur during their altercation. He later confirmed that he believes this is what he heard, but more recently, on the eve of the start of the 2020 season, he also said that he would like to talk to Rudolph and bury the hatchet. It doesn’t appear as though any such conversation has taken place.
Of course, barring injury, Rudolph won’t be on the field on Sunday, though you know the broadcast will have a camera on him several times throughout the game simply because of the Garrett incident a year ago.
This is about Ben Roethlisberger and his progress toward the highest-scoring season of his career. It’s about the Steelers staying undefeated and taking another step toward a seventh Lombardi Trophy. Garrett is merely an obstacle toward that goal, one of many.