Playing In Pittsburgh And Baltimore Has Been Nightmarish For The Browns
By Steven King
With two Super Bowl victories apiece since the 2000 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have ruled first the AFC Central and now its successor, the AFC North. With 12 losing records in the 14 seasons of the expansion era that started in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have usually been at the other end of those divisions.
As such, then, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Pittsburgh and Baltimore have been tough places for the Browns to play in that time. And against the Steelers, it’s been difficult for the Browns to win on the road long before the new millennium began.
Cleveland is 3-11 all-time against the Ravens in Baltimore and has dropped five straight dating to 2008. The Browns are 21-39 against the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the regular season and 21-41 overall after playoff defeats following the 1994 and 2002 seasons. They’ve lost nine in a row going back to 2004.
Let’s take a closer look at both road series:
Baltimore – The Browns’ last road win over the Ravens came in 2007 – 33-30 in overtime – on a Phil Dawson field goal. His ping-pong field goal as time expired in regulation was finally ruled good, forcing OT.
When Cleveland won two straight in Baltimore – 27-17 in 2001 to sweep the season series and 14-13 in 2002 en route to squeaking into the playoffs – it appeared as if the team was set. But it hasn’t worked out that way.
In 2003, RB Jamal Lewis – who would later play for the Browns – did his best Jim Brown imitation in rushing for a then-NFL record 295 yards in a 33-13 rout, and the Ravens have just kept rolling from there. Baltimore’s last three home victories over Cleveland have been close games – 24-17, 20-14 and 23-16 from 2010-12, respectively – but close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades. A win is a win is a win. The margin of victory does not factor into the equation.
Going forward, if new coach Rob Chudzinski’s club is going to make up ground on the Ravens, who wanted to talk to him about their coaching job following the 2007 season before eventually hiring John Harbaugh, then it is going to have to do better than just getting close. He’ll get his first crack at altering that trend on Sept. 15 at Baltimore when Cleveland opens the road portion of its season.
Pittsburgh – The series with the Steelers is five decades older than the one with the Ravens. It goes back to 1950 when Cleveland entered the NFL from the All-America Football Conference.
The Browns lost their first 16 games at Three Rivers Stadium, hence the term “The Three Rivers Jinx,” until finally winning 27-24 in 1986 on their way to the AFC Championship Game. There’s good reason for the length of those struggles; beginning in 1972, Pittsburgh became one of the dominant teams in football. As such, a lot of clubs – not just the Browns -- were losing at Three Rivers.
The highlight for Cleveland at Three Rivers came when it captured won four straight from 1986-89, including a 51-0 whitewashing in 1989 that still stands as Pittsburgh’s most lopsided home defeat ever. Younger fans will remember 1999 when, after losing 43-0 to the Steelers at Cleveland in the season opener, then-coach Chris Palmer’s team won 16-15 on Dawson’s 39-yard field goal as time expired.
But those games were the exception, not the rule. From 1970-2000 – the life of the stadium – the Browns were just 5-24 at Three Rivers, including playoffs. The lone victory in 12 tries at Heinz Field occurred in 2003 on Sunday Night Football when QB Tim Couch played perhpas the best game of his career in a 33-13 laugher.
So from 1970 to the present, including playoffs, the Browns are just 6-36 (.143) in Pittsburgh.
Although Cleveland dominated the early part of the series, going 15-5 at Pittsburgh from 1950-69, the Steelers did have their moments.
Pittsburgh’s first home triumph over the Browns came in 1954 at Forbes Field. Cleveland was on its way to the first of two straight NFL championships and the Steelers were headed nowhere, but Pittsburgh won anyway by a whopping 55-27 count. That’s still tied for the third-most points the Browns have ever given up in a regular-season game. The Steelers won in Pittsburgh 14-10 in 1960, 9-7 in 1963 and 16-6 in 1966, each time dealing Cleveland a devastating blow to its postseason hopes.
Hall of Fame RB Jim Brown has said that while the New York Giants were the best team overall and had the best and smartest defense he faced during his time with the Browns from 1957-65, it was the Steelers who featured the most physical defense.
And, as it has turned out, the Steelers have also been the most dominant against the Browns at home over the long haul, especially since 1970. It was in 1969 when Chuck Noll, a native Clevelander and a former Browns messenger guard/linebacker from 1953-59, took over as the coach.
Perhaps Cleveland fans should blame the Pro Football Hall of Famer for the turnaround, and call him a traitor.