News & Notes: Browns embrace playing spoiler role vs. Steelers – clevelandbrowns.com

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Staff Writer
The Browns won’t end the 2022 season in the playoffs, but they still have an opportunity to end the year with a bang.
A win Sunday against the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium would do just that. Pittsburgh would be knocked out of the playoffs, and the Browns would have their first season sweep against the Steelers since 1988.
Those are pretty high Week 18 stakes for a team that has had two weeks to digest the disappointment of missing out on the postseason, but as the final practice days of the season wind down, it’s clear the Browns aren’t taking the game lightly.
“It would be huge for us,” G Joel Bitonio said. “They’ve been a very, very good franchise. At least my whole career, they’ve been very good. They’ve done some good things. For us to get a second win against them in Pittsburgh, I think would be a big thing for us. We’re treating it like a very important game for us.”
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers
Tight end David Njoku (85) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Kicker Cade York (3) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide Receiver David Bell (18) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Cornerback A.J. Green (38) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Running back Nick Chubb (24) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Linebacker Deion Jones (54) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide Receiver Michael Woods II (12) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Safety Grant Delpit (22) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Kicker Cade York (3) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide Receiver Amari Cooper (2) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Safety Bubba Bolden (36) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Offensive guard Joel Bitonio (75) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Offensive tackle Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (79) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Wide receiver Mike Harley Jr. (82) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide Receiver Michael Woods II (12) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Defensive tackle Perrion Winfrey (97) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Evan Marcus during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Tight end Pharaoh Brown (84) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Safety John Johnson III (43) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Assistant Special Teams Coach Stephen Bravo-Brown during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Quarterback Kellen Mond (8) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Kicker Cade York (3) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Assistant Defensive Backs Coach Brandon Lynch during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Safety John Johnson III (43) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Defensive end Myles Garrett (95) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Linebacker Tae Davis (56) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Offensive guard Drew Forbes (70) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Offensive tackle Myron Cunningham (67) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Kicker Cade York (3) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) and Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide Receiver Jaelon Darden (16) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Linebacker Reggie Ragland (19) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Safety Bubba Bolden (36) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Defensive end Chase Winovich (69) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Offensive guard Joel Bitonio (75) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Cornerback Greg Newsome II (20) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Safety Grant Delpit (22) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Quarterback Kellen Mond (8) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Kicker Cade York (3) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Tight end Harrison Bryant (88) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Safety Grant Delpit (22) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Safety Ronnie Harrison (33) and Safety D’Anthony Bell (37) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Kicker Cade York (3) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Run Game Coordinator Ben Bloom during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Safety D’Anthony Bell (37) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Linebacker Jermaine Carter (40) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Safety Ronnie Harrison (33) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Wide Receiver Marquez Stevenson (15) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Wide Receiver David Bell (18) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Wide Receiver Michael Woods II (12) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Offensive tackle Myron Cunningham (67) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 4, 2023.
Offensive tackle Myron Cunningham (67) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. (23) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Linebacker Deion Jones (54) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Kicker Cade York (3) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Safety Grant Delpit (22) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) and Quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Defensive Coordinator Joe Woods during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Quarterback Kellen Mond (8) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 6, 2023.
Linebacker Deion Jones (54) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Tight end David Njoku (85) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
Wide Receiver David Bell (18) during practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on January 5, 2023.
The Steelers have kept their playoff hopes alive by winning five of their last six games, including three straight. Their last two wins have featured game-winning drives from rookie QB Kenny Pickett, who appears to be settling into the starting role after starting his 11th game of the season. He’s thrown four touchdowns to just one interception in his last seven starts.
When the Browns first played the Steelers this season in Week 3, Mitchell Trubisky was the QB and the Browns won 29-17. Pickett, drafted 20th overall out of Pitt by the Steelers last season, debuted the next week and threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. He had another three-interception performance in Week 7 but has thrown just two picks since then.
“A very good young player,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Athletic. Can make all of the throws. Has played well in big moments. They’re a little bit different than the last time we played them because he is just a little bit different. A really, really good young player.”
Sunday is a big game for Pickett. It’s also a crucial one for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
The Steelers haven’t had a season with a losing record since Tomlin became coach in 2007, but they’re 8-8 heading into Sunday and will be fighting to keep that streak alive.
QB Deshaun Watson has only just been introduced to the Browns-Steelers rivalry this season, and he already understands how much a win would mean for the team and fanbase.
“​​I know the Browns fans are pulling very, very hard for this win,” he said. “They want this one to finish out the year and be able to go into next season with two victories under our belt, especially against Pittsburgh.”
With their playoff hopes still alive, the Steelers still have more to play for than the Browns, but the Browns still realize how important it would be to end the season with two wins and head into the offseason with confidence that they’ve defeated a team that has long had the Browns’ number as an AFC North rival.
The Browns have three of the last five games, but before that, Pittsburgh had won 17 of the last 20.
A win Sunday would complete the sweep — and perhaps suggest the Browns are ready to keep their momentum against them.
“We know it’s going to be a big challenge, but I think we’re up for it,” Bitonio said. “We want to go out this year on a winning note and just prove to ourselves that it stinks we’re not in the playoffs, and we’re not playing for what we want, but we do have some wins under our belt in some important games.”
Players and coaches reacted with joy Thursday upon hearing positive news for Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who woke up Wednesday night for the first time since being sedated at University of Cincinnati Medical Center for two days following Monday night’s game where he suffered a cardiac rest on the field after a big hit.
Hamlin is still in critical condition, but he was able to communicate to doctors and family by writing after he woke up.
The news that Hamlin had shown improvement broke while offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt was conducting his weekly press conference. Van Pelt appeared to get emotional while he processed the update.
“It’s great news,” he said. “Great news. I’ll leave it at that.”
Players were also thrilled to hear the update after they and other players around the league anxiously awaited news on Hamlin’s status.
“We’re pulling for him very, very strong,” Watson said. “For us to be able to go to this week, of course, football, we have a job, but the whole NFL is thinking about him, and we’re going to make sure that we’re playing for him, praying for him and pulling for him. We want the best for everything to come back as best as possible.”
Not many people will likely disagree with Bitonio’s stance on Joe Thomas’ Hall of Fame candidacy.
Thomas was announced Wednesday as a finalist for the Class of 2023 on his first year on the ballot, and Bitonio, who played next to Thomas as a left guard for his final four seasons, is confident he’ll be enshrined in August.
“In my opinion, I think he’s a lock, not even biasedly,” Bitonio said. “You just look at the other candidates and all of them are great players, but what he did in his career, what he did for the City of Cleveland, the person he is and all of that combined, I think he is a lock to me to be in the Hall of Fame. It was truly, honestly, a blessing for me to come into this league and be able to play next to him for the first four years.”
Schwartz has a long history of bringing the best out of the most talented players on defensive lines
Stefanski said he’s being ‘open-minded’ about the new defensive coordinator and will assess all ways to improve the defense in 2023
Brissett reflected on his experiences from the 2022 season
Ragland was the Browns’ leading tackler last week just three weeks after he was signed to the active roster
Watson knows the Browns need to find more ways to score in the final two games of the regular season
Clowney was back at practice for the first time since suffering a concussion in Week 15
With the playoffs out of the picture, the Browns realize the importance of still finishing the season on a positive note and grabbing two wins
Pocic will start his first game since Week 11
Cooper is close to his sixth 1,000-yard season of his career
Landry transformed the culture in the Browns’ locker room in his four seasons in Cleveland before joining the Saints last offseason
The Browns saw Watson take another step forward for his second win in his last three games
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