Too often lately the biggest story for the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into a game has been something other than the game about to be played. Whether or not it should have been that way is neither here nor there, but that is the reality—that the narrative shifted away from football.
That was the case as the Steelers prepared for their first postseason game since 2017, set to face their division rivals, the Cleveland Browns. It built around a comment made by veteran wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster when he was attempting to answer a question about whether or not the Browns were the same team that he has faced throughout his career.
Ultimately, his full answer was boiled down to the quote “the Browns is the Browns”, even though what it appears he was trying to convey was that they are who they are regardless of what their record is year to year, the ‘nameless, gray faces’ that head coach Mike Tomlin invokes.
Needless to say, Browns players didn’t see it that way, and among the chief agitators in response was veteran wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who was among the many Cleveland players to mock and deride Smith-Schuster after the game.
Landry, a former Pro Bowler, talked about how the remark was received in Cleveland’s locker room while appearing on the Pat McAfee Show recently. “I don’t think it was something that everybody talked about, but I know that everybody saw it and felt some type of way about it”, he said. “You didn’t have to say on game day like, ‘hey, they’re talkin shit over there’, or ‘he’s saying shit’. It was just one of those things that was understood and we knew what we had to do”.
Whatever it is that they felt they had to do was made much easier by the Steelers offense committing a series of unforced errors that began with literally the first play of the game, when center Maurkice Pouncey botched the snap of the first play, sailing it over everybody’s head, ultimately recovered by Cleveland for a touchdown.
Ben Roethlisberger would go on to throw four interceptions in the game, including one off a high pass, another off a batted pass. Of course, that doesn’t excuse the way that the Steelers’ defense played, seemingly allowing the Browns’ offense to walk right through them.
But let’s be honest here: this won’t mean anything. If the Myles Garrett incident didn’t have long-lasting repercussions, then this one dumb little comment isn’t going to be the causal of some tidal shift in the rivalry. If Cleveland starts winning, it’s because they are a good team—which they are.