The Steelers and Browns games in 2019 were filled with drama after the first meeting between the teams ended in a brawl in Cleveland.
Browns defensive lineman Myles Garrett hit Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph over the head with his helmet, sparking a brawl that saw three players end up suspended and over a half a million dollars in fines doled out by the NFL.
Garrett then accused Rudolph of using a racial slur, which set off a back-and-forth through the media between the teams that included then-Browns coach Freddie Kitchens wearing a “Pittsburgh Started It” t-shirt.
When the teams met a few weeks later in Pittsburgh, third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges led the Steelers past a Garrett-less Browns team, and there were no overflowing emotions from either side. But the Steelers finished the 2019 season at 8-8 and the Browns slid to 6-10 before Kitchens was fired.
This season, the stakes are higher in advance of the teams’ first meeting in 2020 on Sunday at Heinz Field. The Steelers are unbeaten at 4-0 and stand alone atop the AFC North. Cleveland has a strong 4-1 record through five games, but thanks to an early defeat at one-loss Baltimore, the Browns enter Sunday’s contest in third place in the division.
“This week, we are faced with a significant challenge, one that we are excited about, because man, we love being in the kitchen” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday. “AFC North ball is in the kitchen. It’s hot in the North. We’ve got an AFC North home game against the Cleveland Browns, a team that’s won four in a row.”
Even though it will the first time that Garrett returns to the gridiron in a game between the clubs, Tomlin wants the importance of the game between this year’s teams to be the focus, not retribution for the past.
“There’s a lot on the table in reference to this game in terms of stakes,” Tomlin said. “They’re a 4-1 team. We’re trying to remain undefeated. We’re not looking for that low-hanging fruit or that reality TV storyline and so forth. This is a big game in 2020.”
It’s the biggest game between the teams in quite some time, with the Browns realistically challenging for postseason spot for the first time since they started out 7-4 in the 2014 season before losing five straight to close the campaign.