Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor will be a marked man when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit FirstEnergy Stadium at 1 p.m. Sunday for a showdown between two 4-6 AFC North rivals fighting to remain alive in the hunt for a wild-card berth.
The Browns’ 24-10 loss to the Steelers in the 2012 regular-season finale for both teams got nasty, and Taylor was at the center of the chaos.
The 6-foot-3, 335-pound Taylor blindsided Steelers offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum with a filthy forearm smash early in the third quarter that knocked him out of the game with a concussion and drew a $7,875 fine from the NFL. Beachum didn’t say much about the incident, but fellow offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert essentially told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that justice would be served against Taylor.
“It is no motivation once he gets on the field,” Gilbert said, adding that he also had an incident with Taylor. “He knows what it is, and it is business. It is smash mouth football, and there’s no talking. It is what it is. We are aware of it, but football is football, and I am pretty sure he is going to get his. It was a dirty play, and he put it on film. Once it is on film, it is out there.”
Taylor delivered the blow after former Steelers guard Doug Legursky, who’s now with the Buffalo Bills, dived into the legs of Browns linebacker Craig Robertson late in the second quarter.
“I wasn’t necessarily making a statement,” Taylor said Friday. “I was just playing through the whistle.”
Taylor said some of the Steelers “tried to go after” him, and he wouldn’t be surprised if they attempt the same Sunday.
“They can try what they want,” Taylor said. “But I’m not going to let them get me out of my game.”
Browns defensive ends Ahtyba Rubin and Billy Winn received personal-foul penalties later in the third quarter for scuffling with several Steelers players following a point-after attempt. Legursky emerged from the skirmish without a helmet.
So no one would be surprised if the Browns and Steelers heat things up in the bitter cold Sunday by getting into some more exchanges after the whistle.
“You could use the word hate,” Rubin said Friday when asked about his feelings for the Steelers. “A lot of people around here would use that word.
“It’s the Steelers. Everybody’s amped up. The fans are amped up. They’re playing dirty. We’re playing dirty. It’s just that type of game, and it’s going to be that type of weather, too. We’ve just got to bring our hard hat and come to work.”
Ready or not?
Following a 41-20 loss Sunday to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, Browns strong safety T.J. Ward was asked if the defeat meant the Bengals (7-4) are at another level and the Browns are still working to get there.
“We’re not ready,” Ward told ESPN.com. “We’re not ready.”
On Wednesday, Ward conceded he was frustrated in the heat of the moment after the game, but he didn’t back down from his original statement.
“We just weren’t ready at that time,” Ward said. “Too many mistakes in little areas. We weren’t ready that day. We weren’t ready to play, and it showed.”
The Browns still need to prove they can rise to the occasion when the lights are bright on the big stage. Their playoff lives will be on the line Sunday against the Steelers, so will they be ready for their next big moment?
“I think time will definitely tell,” Ward said. “We’re still a young team and we have to mature. We can’t let little mistakes and things keep rolling like we did against Cincinnati because you can’t win like that. We weren’t ready to play that day. I know we will improve this week, and you won’t see the same team you saw last week.”
Expected lineup change
Second-year inside linebacker Tank Carder is expected to start in place of Craig Robertson Sunday against the Steelers. Robertson sat out practice all week after suffering a sprained right knee against the Bengals.
Robertson has only one start on his NFL resume, the regular-season finale last year against the Steelers.
“It helps a lot with confidence,” Carder said of his previous start. “It’s the whole season. To get one season under your belt in the NFL helps your confidence tremendously.
“I think I can play. I think I’m a decent player. Hat’s off to Craig. He’s a hell of a football player. If it comes to where I have to go in, hopefully we have no drop-off at all, and I can cover any of those guys.”
Carder will likely be asked to cover two-time Pro Bowl tight end Heath Miller.
“He’s a good player,” Carder said. “He has good hands. He runs good routes. He’s a good blocker. He’s an all-around good tight end.”
Shooting for 1,000
Despite missing two games this season because of a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has 40 catches for a team-high 751 receiving yards and four touchdowns. In other words, he’s on pace to finish this season with 1,314 receiving yards, and he said eclipsing the 1,000-yard plateau would mean a lot to him.
“Personal goals are something I definitely want to accomplish in the NFL,” Gordon said. “It's a big milestone for me. If it could happen, that would be great. But more than anything, I definitely want to get wins for this team, and I'll be happy with it. If I got 999 [yards], I could live with that just as long as we end up with a winning season and in the playoffs.”
Gordon, a second-round pick in last year’s supplemental draft, believes he is not quite worthy of being in the Pro Bowl discussion yet.
“I would definitely like to be,” Gordon said. “I think it's too early for that, honestly, but hopefully one day I can reach that goal as well.”