CLEVELAND -- The easy thing to do when writing about the Cleveland Browns after yet another loss to the Steelers is pile on the ridicule. It would be oh, so simple to point out the haplessness of the Browns in games against the Steelers, a team that is far and away their biggest rival.
After all, this 10-6 victory by the Steelers last night at Cleveland Browns Stadium was their 10th in a row over the Browns. It also was their 16th in the past 17 games.
This is a rivalry that defies the widely held belief that parity rules the NFL. It might hold command for 30 other teams, but for the Steelers and the Browns lopsidedness rules the day.
So why not jump on the Browns?
Because this one was different. Unlike so many of the recent games -- the Steelers had won the previous four by a 22-point margin -- the Browns showed up for this one.
After this defeat, the Browns could walk off the field with their heads up.
Not that it made it any easier for them.
After losing the opener to Dallas they needed this game. A loss would put them two games behind the Steelers in the AFC North Division. Their chances of making the playoffs in these circumstance weren't hopeless -- but close to it.
The team had talked the good talk during the week attempting to ready itself for the Steelers.
Running back Jamal Lewis, a longtime Steelers nemeses from his days with the Baltimore Ravens, rallied his team mid-week with these words:
"If anybody in this locker room can't get up for a game like this, you're not meant to play this game. As a kid, this is what you dream about. What could make it better than being at night with the lights on and on national television?'"
Linebacker Andra Davis, 1-12 in his career against the Steelers, said, "I'm just tired of losing to those guys, period. We need this real bad."
The talking worked. The Browns were ready. They just weren't good enough. Their offense wasn't up to handling the Steelers' defense.
Lewis could not find room to run. He gained 38 yards on 19 carries. Quarterback Derek Anderson threw two interceptions, one of which was especially costly. The Browns gained only 208 yards.
Coach Romeo Crennel had a crucial decision to make late in the game and it was one of those damned-if-you do, damned-if-you-don't situations.
Trailing, 10-3, the Browns had moved 60 yards from their 20 to the Steelers' 20 and had a fourth-and-7 with 3:21 remaining.
Should he kick a field goal, pretty much a sure thing with Phil Dawson, to move his team within four points but still in need of a touchdown to win? Or should he go for the first down, not close to a sure thing against the Steelers defense, and eventually get a touchdown to tie the score?
Crennel kicked to cut the Steelers lead to four.
"I thought that gave us the best chance to win with the way our defense was playing," he said. "If we stop them and we could go down and score [a touchdown] we win the game."
It seemed like a gamble worth taking, especially with the Browns still having three timeouts remaining. But the Cleveland defense, which played exceedingly well all game and limited the Steelers to 281 yards, wasn't up to this final challenge.
After Willie Parker, who gained 105 tough yards on 28 carries, was stopped for no gain, Ben Roethlisberger, scrambling away from the rush, threw a 19-yard completion to Heath Miller.
Then the burden fell to Parker, who was up to the challenge. He carried five consecutive times, with the last Cleveland timeout used after the first of the five, for 24 yards. Parker failed to get a first down on his final carry, thus turning the ball over to Cleveland but in running the clock down to 26 seconds, he had secured the victory.
"We played hard," Crennel said. "I think it was one of the best games we've played against Pittsburgh in a long time. But we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and turnovers."
A crucial turnover came late in the first half, when it looked like the Browns would get at least three points and possibly seven to tie the score.
With eight seconds remaining in the half, the Browns called a timeout. Crennel wanted one more play -- a pass to the end zone. If that didn't work, they would have time for a field goal.
But Anderson threw short of the end zone and it was intercepted by Troy Polamalu.
"The choice he [Anderson] made wasn't the best for us," Crennel said.
There is some consolation for the Browns. They don't have to play the Steelers until the final game of the season.
Bob Smizik can be reached at email@example.com . First Published September 15, 2008 5:45 AM