View Full Version : Collier: Turn your attention to Exhibit B

12-30-2010, 07:04 PM
Collier: Turn your attention to Exhibit B
Thursday, December 30, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mike Tomlin might not have delivered enough forensic evidence this week to show the Cleveland Browns have the opportunity, the motive and the capability of defacing the Steelers' playoff credentials, but then, he didn't really have to.

Anyone with functional short-term memory knows, for example, that Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, despite having as much experience as an NFL quarterback as he has as a lion tamer, ripped the Steelers defense for 281 passing yards as recently as Oct. 17.

Anyone with functional long-term memory knows, for another, that even with Brady Quinn completing only 6 of 19 throws in the glacial cold of a black winter's night in Cleveland last Dec. 10, the Browns leveled what was essentially this same construct of Steelers as easily as you'd tip a snowman.

But it's not until you fully audit the stakes of this 116th Steelers-Browns argument, the one that kicks off at 1:02 p.m. Sunday adjacent to Lake Erie, that you understand the role of veteran leadership in outcomes. In his locker room, Tomlin certainly has enough competitive character to ensure victory when victory is expected.

At least that's the theory (see Dec. 10, 2009).

"I think it has more to do with how we play collectively, how we play as a group," said Hines Ward after grimacing at the whole leadership thing. "You watch that game in Philly and I don't think that has anything to do with leadership. I think it just means you can't give up two turnovers and a fumble for a touchdown against a team you're supposed to be beatin'."

The Eagles kicked away their chance at a No. 2 seed in the playoffs the other night by playing the frozen dope for the 6-9 Minnesota Vikings, which is more or less precisely what Ward's team is hoping to avoid this weekend.

"It's time for us to start playing good football," Ward said flatly. "Last game we didn't play well; we won, anyway, but that was because Carolina was a bad team. If we play that way this week, we won't be in the playoffs long.

"It's time to put a complete game together."

The complete Steelers experience won't come down on the Browns unless it includes Troy Polamalu, whose stubborn lower leg injury will get an official go-or-no Friday, but Tomlin should forget any temptation to keep a healthy Troy out of harm's way until the postseason.

The very nature of the postseason pivots totally on the outcome of Week 17, and it's people like Polamalu who will prevent the potentiality of that turning into a kind of short-lived fringe festival, people like James Farrior, like Ryan Clark, like Casey Hampton, Chris Kemoeatu, Nick Eason, James Harrison, Heath Miller and Chris Hoke.

"The oldest guys know how much better it is to have that bye week and have a home game," Hoke said, "and a lot of guys on this team have been in the playoffs as a No. 6 seed before, and as a No. 2, and they know it's a lot easier to win two games than three."

And that's where, it says here, leadership rules, regardless of its dogged position in the abstract. Often it's nothing more or less than awareness of the forces in play, in this case, the pure desperation that might well electrify a Browns team, beginning with these potentially last desperate hours in the Cleveland career of head coach Eric Mangini.

If Mangini wins Sunday, he can go to Browns bossman Mike Holmgren and remind him that this Cleveland team beat the defending Super Bowl champion Saints by two touchdowns, the presumed Super Bowl champs-in-waiting Patriots by three, and the all-time champ of Super Bowl champion Steelers right at their postseason doorstep. He can remind Holmgren that of the Browns' 10 losses, two were by two points, one by three, one by four, one in overtime by six and one by seven.

"A lot of those guys are getting evaluated to see who's coming back next year," Hoke said. "I remember here in 2003 when we went 6-10, coach Cowher telling us that he was evaluating our performance, evaluating our effort, and that if you were not playing hard, you were not going to be back."

The Browns, of course, are in this situation commonly, and frankly, they're pretty good at it. In their past eight season finales, they're 6-2. How sweet would it be within that culture for them to end the season by shoving the Steelers onto the postseason's thinnest ice?

Given all empirical evidence, that shouldn't happen.

Given these two words, it might: Joshua Cribbs.

No one has returned more kickoffs for touchdowns against the same team as has Cribbs. I don't have to tell you what team that is.
Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author

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