CLEVELAND: Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson would be fine if he never shook another Pittsburgh Steeler’s hand.
That was virtually what happened Sunday, when the rival Steelers were so disgusted with their eight-turnover performance in the Browns’ 20-14 victory that most of them headed straight for the locker room.
It marked the Browns’ second triumph in the past 18 games against the AFC North foe and just the fifth victory over the Steelers in 28 games since the Browns franchise returned in 1999.
“After the game, a lot of guys didn’t want to shake our hand and I’m OK with that,” Jackson said.
“They don’t respect us. Why would they? They’ve beat up on us in the past. You try to tell guys that haven’t been in this rivalry, ‘They don’t like us. And we don’t like them.’ We got one today and half their team walked off. I didn’t expect anything different.”
Those headed east on the Ohio Turnpike might throw this one out because the Steelers were without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, sidelined with a rib and shoulder injury, and were down to third-stringer Charlie Batch. They were also missing Troy Polamalu, who deserves the strong in strong safety perhaps more than anyone in the game today.
But the Browns are looking for a springboard to the future. A rare victory over the Steelers won’t allow them to dive into the deep end, but it will teach them the kind of intensity and physicality needed to play with the big boys.
Plus, there’s nothing like seeing every fan in Cleveland Browns Stadium on his or her feet screaming on the final play — for you.
Twenty-three players on the Browns’ roster, including 17 rookies, are 1-0 against the Steelers. They don’t know how lucky they are. They don’t know what it’s like to get demoralized 31-0 or 34-7 or 41-9 as Jackson has. Jackson’s only other victory over Pittsburgh came in December 2009 — one coach and five quarterbacks ago.
“If they don’t get it by now, I don’t know what to tell you,” Jackson said. “We went into last week saying, ‘Words won’t be able to describe what this rivalry is all about, you have to go through it and see how physical it is.’ Even the special teams guys. When you walk away from this game, your body feels it.”
The youngsters may be hurting, but left tackle Joe Thomas thought naivete worked to the Browns’ advantage, especially when quarterback Brandon Weeden threw a pick six 71 seconds into the game.
“A lot of these guys have never played the Steelers before. There’s never a thought in the back of their minds of ‘Here we go again,’ ” Thomas said. “One of the advantages of having a young team is they don’t have the history that this team has between the Steelers in the last 10 years.”
Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson will feel the rivalry today. After rushing for 85 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown, he called the Steelers “probably the hardest-hitting team I’ve played against.”
He also saw how the Steelers dissed the Browns afterward. That went on well into the evening, with former Pittsburgh star running back Jerome Bettis tweeting, “The only thing worse than losing is losing to the Cleveland Browns!!”
“James Harrison came over and spoke to me, that’s big,” Richardson said of the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker from Coventry and Kent State. “A lot of the Steelers went to the locker room. But he was man enough to come up to me and tell me good game. I said, ‘Thank you, man’ and ‘You all have a good football team.’ He told me just to keep playing.”
That was about as amicable as it gets. Playing the Steelers is all about Butch Davis’s “snot bubbles” and Harrison’s bone-rattling shots and personal fouls and Terrible Towels. The Steelers and Browns spend 5,400 seconds in each other’s faces twice a year and the absence of Polamalu and Roethlisberger didn’t change that.
“Pregame I saw a lot of Steelers fans and that ticked me off,” Browns receiver Josh Cribbs said. “So when I came in, I was like, ‘Get out of here.’ I was holding up the Browns helmet, like ‘Go back across the border.’
“It meant a lot for this organization and the team and the city. When we beat Pittsburgh, the rookies are finally getting to see it. They were like ‘Wow, we’ve won a game before and it wasn’t like this.’ When we beat Cincinnati it wasn’t this exciting. They’re starting to get the gist of the rivalry. I want to beat them when all of the guys on their team are healthy. That would mean more to me.”
Jackson wanted more, too. As much as he appreciated the victory, he was more concerned with taking the same intensity to Oakland to play the Raiders on Sunday. He wasn’t sure the outcome would erase the sting of other losses to the Steelers.
“I want to say yes, but I won’t agree with that until we get to the playoffs,” Jackson said. “I love to beat those guys. But now it’s over … the only thing that matters to me are the wins and getting to that postseason.
“We’re so close in these last few weeks, we’re a play away from possibly winning. It was a good feeling to get over that hump for now. But we’ve got a few more games. I don’t have a doubt that we can’t win out.”
What happened on Sunday didn’t save coach Pat Shurmur’s job or put the Browns in the playoff hunt. It was the highlight of a 3-8 season, a sad reflection of how disappointing it has been.
But the bruising battle seemed more than just another building block in the youngsters’ toy boxes. Now they have a black-and-blueprint of what it takes to beat the Steelers.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.