When the Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2009, it sparked a four-game winning streak and saved a coach’s job.
My, how history repeats itself.
In 2009, it was Eric Mangini on the ledge as he auditioned for the then-new Browns president, Mike Holmgren. Mangini upset the Steelers on a cold Thursday night and rode the momentum to additional victories over the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders.
Mangini’s escape act to close the season raised the Browns overall record to 5-11 (which seemed like a miracle after starting 1-11) and earned him another year as the Browns’ head coach.
This time, it’s Pat Shurmur hoping to impress a new owner and team president, with a 2-8 record, facing a winnable game against an aging and injured Steelers team.
Now, winning this one game can’t save Shurmur’s job outright, but losing it may send him packing before the season’s out. If you look down the line, though, you’ll notice those same Chiefs and Raiders teams on the schedule after the Steelers.
Those two teams hold a combined record of 4-16 and feature one of only two teams in the entire league whose record is worse than the Browns’.
A three-game winning streak is not out of the question here (admittedly, the most absurd thing I’ve written all year), and if Shurmur can pull it off, would that be enough to save his job?
Let’s fast forward and pretend he does indeed win his next three games:
- Then Pat Shurmur would have defeated his new owner’s former team in the first meeting since Haslam assumed ownership of the Browns.
- He would have scored two wins in the AFC North, the Browns’ most in five years.
- The Browns’ overall record in Week 14 would be 5-8, equaling Mangini’s win totals in 2009 and 2010.
- It would also make the Browns winners in four of their last seven games after opening the season 0-5.
- Shurmur would have three games remaining to get to six total wins, and if he accomplishes that, all of a sudden he’s tied for the third-most successful season in the expansion era’s 12 years.
- And most importantly, he would have give his roster of 27 rookies a taste of the sweetest NFL pie there is: a victory in Cleveland against the Steelers.
Are we getting ahead of ourselves here? Most certainly, but that last point cannot be ignored.
When the Browns defeated the Steelers in 2009, all of the players were struck by the fans’ euphoric reaction. That team was 2-11, and yet, it was as if they had just won Cleveland’s Super Bowl.
Inspired, they went on to win their final three games. Just ask Josh Cribbs:
“This is our rival right here,” Cribbs told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after [the 2009] victory over the Steelers. “This is the team that our fans will forgive us for this season. . . . All they wanted for Christmas is for us to beat this team. We didn’t have a good winning season. This is as much as we can do for own fans and our team. We practiced hard, we played hard to beat this team, and we did it.”
No matter how it happens, hanging one on the Steelers will build support for Shurmur in the stands and momentum in his locker room for the stretch run, with a favorable schedule to back it up.
Winning streaks always start at one.