The Browns are going with a fresh look tonight in Pittsburgh, wearing white helmets to match the white jerseys and pants for the first time since the early 1950s.
Their defense has a new aggressive, confident attitude under cocky coordinator Jim Schwartz.
They’re hoping for a different result after taking the bus ride down the turnpike.
“We’re just going to Pittsburgh to play a game at 8 o’clock or whatever the time it is and we’re not worrying about all the history behind that, all these curses or records we’re trying to break,” defensive end Myles Garrett said Saturday. “We just want to be 1-0 at the end of the week. We’re not worried about anything else.”
The Browns shouldn’t be focused on the past. Not only can nothing be done to change it, it’s not pretty.
The Browns have won only two games in Pittsburgh since Acrisure Stadium opened in 2001 — in 2003 and the 2020 wild card game with only family and friends in attendance due to the pandemic. That’s 20 years since a win in the regular season and with a packed house singing “Renegade” and waving Terrible Towels.
“Oh, dang, I didn’t know that,” said safety Grant Delpit, who was all over the field in the opening win against the Bengals. “But it’s a new year.
“Obviously they’ve had our number, I guess, for a few years now. So going there, take care of business, we’re not too worried about that. They have a great team, great coaches, crazy fans, so it’s going to be a heck of an atmosphere.”
The Browns have a prime opportunity to make positive history in primetime.
They could go 2-0 for the first time since 1993. Both wins would be against AFC North rivals, giving them the chance to get an early leg up in the division. They could also snap the Steelers’ streak of 20 straight homes wins on Monday night.
The oddsmakers like their chances, with the Browns a 2.5-point favorite. They haven’t been favored in Pittsburgh since the 1989 opener, which they won 51-0.
The setting is special.
“It’s ‘Monday Night Football’ in Pittsburgh. What’s better than that?” linebackers coach Jason Tarver said. “You know you’re going to get your best from every human that steps on that field. Players, coaches, officials, everyone.”
The Browns are riding high after the dominant 24-3 decision over the Bengals. The Steelers are desperate to bounce back after a 30-7 home loss to the 49ers.
The first two weeks don’t define a season but can have a lasting impact. Since the NFL expanded the postseason in 1990, teams that start 2-0 have made the playoffs 63.8 percent of the time. Teams that went 1-1 have qualified 41.8 percent of the time. It’s about 10 percent after 0-2 starts.
“Two divisional teams, one at home, one on the road. It’d be huge for us,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said of going 2-0.
The stats will take a backseat when the game begins.
“I know a little bit about this history from my three years here before, and this is a very important game for our defense, for our team, for our organization and for our city,” Schwartz said.
Watson is 0-2 vs. the Steelers, both at Pittsburgh, including the ugly 28-14 loss in the finale last year in which he was sacked seven times, intercepted twice and fumbled once. He’s more confident after the six starts last season knocked off the rust of a 700-day layoff and an entire offseason focused on football.
He struggled in the sloppy conditions last week but still ran and threw for touchdowns at key moments. He’s hoping for better weather to showcase his talent.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for us to be able to go out there and show the world what we got and what we can be,” Watson said. “It’s definitely going to be a tough task and I think we have the team that can go in there and do it.”
In their new duds.
“The unis are fresh, they’re pretty clean and it’s another excitement for us to just go out there and perform,” he said.
The Browns are trying to balance appreciating the importance of the rivalry without getting bogged down by the lack of recent success, particularly in Pittsburgh.
“We have a lot of respect for what they’ve done. But none of that is going to mean anything on Monday night,” Schwartz said. “It’s going to be the two teams this year. These guys.
“Let me know if Mean Joe (Greene) and Jack Lambert are playing, because if we need a plan for Franco Harris or Lynn Swann or John Stallworth or Terry Bradshaw, we’ll get that ready. But those guys aren’t playing. This is a new year. So what’s happened in the past, that doesn’t mean anything to this game.”
But the memories remain fresh and relevant. Bubba Ventrone grew up in Pittsburgh as a Steelers fan, was a special teams ace for the Browns from 2009-12 and returned this year as special teams coordinator. He planned to share his personal story of the rivalry with the players.
“It’s a great environment to play in,” he said. “As a kid I was a Steelers fan and then once I became an NFL player I quickly became not a Steelers fan.
“Obviously we know that it was a tremendous rival back then. I do remember Eric Metcalf taking those two punts back (for touchdowns in 1993). So I do remember that scarring me as a kid and now I can embrace that now that I’m a part of this organization.”