PITTSBURGH - The last time the Cleveland Browns swept the Steelers in a single season was with Bernie Kosar at quarterback in 1988.
There's no truth to the rumor that new Browns CEO Joe Banner tried contacting Kosar this week to see if he could suit up for today's game between the rivals at Heinz Field. Instead, Browns coach Pat Shurmur will go with third-string quarterback Thad Lewis, who has never taken a snap in a regular-season game.
Unless Lewis has some Kosar magic in his game, the sweep-less streak will extend to a quarter of a century in what is a meaningless game for both teams. The Steelers, whose playoff hopes ended last week with a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, will have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, which usually assures a victory. Roethlisberger missed the first meeting between the teams with an injury, and the Browns took advantage to post a 20-14 win in Cleveland.
The best that Browns coaches can do is make things simple for Lewis, which could mean a steady diet of runs by Montario Hardesty, who will replace injured running back Trent Richardson. Lewis replaces the injured Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy.
"It's a tall mountain, but a guy like Thad, who's been in this system, has played in the preseason and we watch him every day," offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. "He's running the card team, but he gets to sit in all those meetings. He does run a portion of practice our run-game portion of practice at times down with (offensive line coach) George Warhop and (running backs coach) Gary Brown. It's not daunting to him. I think he's actually kind of looking forward to maybe the opportunity to play."
It's unusual for the Steelers to enter the final game of a regular season with nothing on the line. Normally their only concern at this time of the season is improving their homefield position in the playoffs.
That's what happens when injuries strike. Roethlisberger isn't the only key player to miss time. Running back Rashard Mendenhall has been in and out of the lineup. The offensive line has been decimated by injuries. The defensive side has also been hard hit, including safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin doesn't think motivation will be a problem.
"This is a football game," Tomlin said. "They're going to have the scoreboard on obviously. They're going to kick the ball off and they're going to snap it. If you're a competitor, you need to be prepared to compete. I believe that our guys are, and I believe that they will."
There's no secret that changes will happen for the Browns after the game. Shurmur isn't expected to return. General manager Tom Heckert could also be gone within a few days.
It might not be fair, but there will always be change with a new owner in charge and another losing season.
"A lot of people don't get a fair shake in this business, whether it be the quarterbacks or the regime," receiver Joshua Cribbs said. "They came in during the lockout and now the owner decides to sell the team. It's unfortunate the way the nature of the business is. I'll tell you one thing we're geared up to win this last game and give it our best shot. This win against Pittsburgh will do a lot for the city, and it might do a lot for the coaching staff as well."
Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron's way of handling uncertainty is to not think about it.
"I don't overly worry about the future," Jauron said. "My mom used to talk about it a great deal. She always thought worry was not worth the effort quite frankly because there's not a whole lot you can do about certain things. Worry about the things you can control and forget those you can't."
Childress put another spin on the subject.
"We don't even spend time worrying about it," Childress said. "What will end up happening is what will end up happening. I know since the Mayan calendar has proved to be false, I think we'll make it to next Monday, and we'll make it to next Tuesday and next Wednesday. What will be, will be. "