This is part three in our ten-part series chronicling the top 10 moments/stories in Cleveland sports during the 2009 Calendar year. #10 was the Indians 11 run comeback win over Tampa Bay, #9 was Cleveland State’s run to the NCAA Tournament, and now we come to the eighth top moment/story of 2009.
#8 The Browns stun the football world with their 13-6 win over their hated rival and defending Super Bowl Champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers
I’ll be the first one to admit it, I gave them almost no chance to win. The temperatures were creeping into the low teens with negative 12 wind chill. The thought of going to down to an 8:30 game to watch the defending champs take apart our 1-11 Browns with an early flight to Chicago in the morning was not exactly appeasing to me. I tried and tried to sell my tickets.
Nobody wanted them.
I offered them out to many people. No responses. Only the great co-creator of this site, Rick, took me up on my offer, and he had to drive two plus hours to get here! Now that, my friends, is dedication. As it turned out, Rick made the right call and I unfortunately, did not.
One team was battling for their playoff lives while the other was just playing for pride. You couldn’t tell which was which for all 60 minutes. From the opening kickoff, the Browns looked ready and focused. The Steelers on the other hand, acted and played as if they couldn’t wait to get out of the cold.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who had never lost to the Browns in his stellar career, was harassed all night long by Rob Ryan’s zone-blitzing defense. One would think Big Ben would be ready for this, seeing as though his own defense schemes the exact same way and he more than likely practices against it. Instead, Roethlisberger did his best Derek Anderson impersonation, not being able to get away from any of the pressure.
It started on the Steelers first offensive possession. A three and out was capped by a Corey Williams sack, the first of his two on the night. On their next posession, another three and out was ended on a corner blitz sack by the great Hank Poteat.
It was just the beginning. Five of the Browns season high eight sacks came on third downs to end Steeler drives. Everytime you looked up, the defense seemed to be making a big play. Whether it was the bigger names like Williams (who played his best game as a Brown), Eric Wright, or David Bowens, or the unsung guys like Marcus Benard (two sacks), Brian Schafering (5 tackles), and Matt Roth, the Browns defense put out their signature performance of the year.
Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, the Browns running attack did its best to keep the defense fresh to stop Big Ben and company. The star of stars was Josh Cribbs. The Pittsburgh Special Teams, which are amongst the worst in the league, didn’t pick up on the fact that you cannot kick the ball to Cribbs….ever. Cribbs has been a Steeler-killer his entire career, with three TD’s against them. Still, after their second three and out, #16 took a punt 55 yards to the Pittsburgh 8, which set up the Browns first field goal and giving them a 3-0 lead.
Not only did Cribbs own the Special Teams facet of the game, but his mastery of the Wildcat killed the Black and Gold. He ran the ball eight times for 87 yards, including a back-breaking 37 yard run that was the key play in the Browns lone TD drive, which went 74 yards, all on the ground. Chris Jennings capped it off with a 10 yard TD run.
At this point, the Browns were up 13-0 and the faithful Browns fans who braved the elements, begged for more. What they got was more defense.
As the game grew longer, Eric Mangini’s club gained confidence. While the offense sputtered, the D kept Roethlisberger and company out of the end zone. Clinging to a 13-6 lead with 6:16 left to play, the Browns needed one stop. After a 3rd down and six conversion on a Hines Ward slant, Pittsburgh was at the 50 with just over two minutes to play.
It was danger time. Being a Cleveland Sports fan means you think the worst. I thought for sure, Big Ben would rip our hearts out one more time. But on this night, the football Gods were wearing Brown and Orange.
On first down, that vaunted duo of Schaefering and Kaluka Maiava sacked Roethlisberger for a loss of nine yards. He missed Heath Miller on a deep route over the middle setting up a third and 19. Miller snagged a short pass and ran 13 yards. It all came down to a fourth and six at the Browns 39. The Steelers called a timeout with 1:48 left to set up a play. The brave fans who stayed until the end were all on their feet. Big Ben, out of the shotgun, was flushed out of the pocket. He looked over the middle to a streaking Santonio Holmes, but there was the Browns defensive captain Bowens, stepping in front of the pass and knocking it away.
The look on Mangini’s face said it all. In a year that has had so much turmoil – the Braylon Edwards incident and subsequent trade, the $1701 bottle of water, Jamal Lewis’s call out of practicing too hard, the QB flip-flops, and the losses – the head coach deserved that exuberant look. His players gave him all they had and given their fans something to cheer about. There is nothing better to a Browns fan than essentially ending the Steelers season.
That is exactly what they did on this night. It was quite a night down at the Lakefront. Too bad I wasn’t there.