By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: If there’s any cure for the hangover some fear the Browns could experience after falling last weekend in a pivotal showdown, it just might be the intense emotions the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers evoke.
“You could use the word hate,” Browns defensive end Ahtyba Rubin said Friday when asked about his feelings for the Steelers. “A lot of people around here would use that word.”
The Browns (4-6) will fight for their playoff lives Sunday when they face the Steelers (4-6) in frigid temperatures and possible snow at FirstEnergy Stadium. Memories of the 2012 regular-season finale that featured a few skirmishes between the two teams are still fresh in the Browns’ minds.
“It’s the Steelers,” Rubin said. “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.”
Added free safety Tashaun Gipson: “I think this is going to be the most intense game for us this year. I think Baltimore the first week we played them in Week 2 was pretty chippy. I think it’s going to be that times two.”
Although the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) are in position to run away with the division crown after thrashing the Browns 41-20 last weekend, the Browns and Steelers are among seven four-win teams chasing the 5-5 New York Jets and Miami Dolphins in the race for the AFC’s second and final wild-card berth.
“This game is very crucial,” Rubin said. “This game is like our season. If we don’t pull out a win right here, I don’t know. This is very, very, very important to us, and we’re going to do everything we’ve got to do and try to do to get a win here.”
Whichever team loses will be dismissed from the playoff discussion, barring a miraculous five-game winning streak to end the season. The Browns will visit the Steelers for another regular-season finale Dec. 29.
“I think every game from here on out is really a fight for a season,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “It starts with this one, and it’s Steelers Week. That in itself is a huge thing for us and a huge thing for this city.”
Since 1999, the Browns are 5-24 against the Steelers, including a playoff game during the 2002 season. Many fans believe the rivalry is dead because the series has been lopsided for so long.
“If people say that, they need to go to the games and really feel what it’s like because when you’re at those games against the Steelers, that’s probably the most wild it gets,” Cameron said. “The energy is very high. People talk about it all week. The hatred that the Cleveland fans have for the Steelers fans, it’s a great game, I think it’s a great venue, and the rivalry is definitely heated.”
Last season, the Browns snapped a four-game losing streak to the Steelers with a 20-14 win Nov. 25 at home, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s 15-1 against Cleveland, was sidelined with rib and shoulder injuries. With Roethlisberger back for the Dec. 30 finale, the Steelers prevailed 24-10, spoiling the Browns’ chances of earning a season sweep for the first time since 1988.
“I think hate is a strong word, but I really do dislike them,” nose tackle Phil Taylor said. “This game means a lot.”
Taylor contributed to the ugliness of last year’s finale. 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, Taylor blindsided 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.
“I wasn’t necessarily making a statement,” Taylor said. “I was just playing through the whistle.”
Taylor said some of the Steelers “tried to go after” him. He won’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.”
Rubin and defensive end 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.
“Words get exchanged in those divisional games,” Winn said. “And guys get going.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said he spoke to the team about playing “on that edge” while also maintaining composure. Still, running back Willis McGahee said, “I expect it to be nasty.”
In other words, the rivalry is alive and well in the players’ minds. More fans will buy it if the Browns prevail. With wins earlier this season over the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, the Browns have a shot to beat each of their three AFC North foes in the same year for the first time since they returned in 1999.
“Coaches and players who have been around this rivalry, they mean business,” inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “I usually have my best games against them. On the physical aspect, you know you have to bring your lunch pail, you have to bring your big-boy pants and it’s going to be a dogfight.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.