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Heinz Field no picnic for Browns

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — The Browns have been pitiful in Pittsburgh — for half a century.

Whether playing in old Three Rivers Stadium or at Heinz Field, with its tricky winds and rowdy, towel-twirling fans, most of Cleveland’s trips down the Turnpike and across the Pennsylvania state line over the past five decades have not ended well.

The Browns are 6-41 in visits to the Steel City since 1970.

That haunted history of failure isn’t scaring Baker Mayfield.

“We are not worried about the past,” said the Browns quarterback, who is dealing with bruised ribs. “We are worried about right now.”

Off to their best start in 26 years, the Browns (4-1) carry a 16-game losing streak into Pittsburgh for Sunday’s matchup against the unbeaten Steelers (4-0), who will be seeing sensational defensive end Myles Garrett in person for the first time since he clobbered quarterback Mason Rudolph over the head with a swung helmet last November.

Garrett’s appearance only adds spice to a rivalry not needing any extra salt. Although it’s been lopsided for a while, there’s plenty of history and bad blood between the cities and their fans.

The Browns are one of the NFL’s surprise teams this season. The Steelers are, well, the Steelers. They’re 4-0 for the first time since 1979.

Although he’s an absurd 23-2-1 in his career against Cleveland, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows better than to overlook the Browns.

“A lot of those guys — I looked at their roster today, they only have two guys that have 10 years of experience in the league,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not like these guys have been playing us for years and years and years and worrying about how many times the Steelers have won.

“That’s not what it’s about. It’s a new season, new teams, and they’re a really good football team.”

This will be the first taste of Browns-Steelers for tight end Austin Hooper after coming to Cleveland from Atlanta, where he experienced another of the NFL’s nastier rivalries.

“Falcons-Saints,” he said. “That would be a good one. You get all the fans in New Orleans fresh off Bourbon Street in there.”

Of course, there will be only 5,500 fans — and not the usual 68,000 — on hand on Sunday because of COVID-19 restrictions, and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t sure if that would benefit Garrett and his teammates.

“It is hard for me to say,” he said. “I do know this: in our building, I heard all 12,000 of them.”

Injuries mounting

Mayfield’s injured ribs aren’t the only concern this week for the Browns.

Star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was sent home feeling ill on Thursday as coach Kevin Stefanski said the team acted out of caution because of COVID-19 concerns while preparing for this week’s matchup against the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers.

Stefanski said Beckham did not test positive for the coronavirus. He took another test before leaving the team’s facility and the Browns will find out those results today.

Beckham has been a major factor in Cleveland being 4-1 for the first time since 1994. He has 21 catches for 294 yards in three games, and the polarizing three-time Pro Bowler has stated numerous times that he’s as healthy and confident as he’s been in years.

The Browns are already missing star running back Nick Chubb because of a sprained right knee. In addition to the injuries to Mayfield, Chubb and Beckham’s illness, wide receiver Jarvis Landry has been limited this week with hip and rib problems. Landry crawled off the field after taking a wicked hit to the side early in last week’s win. Along with Mayfield and Beckham, safeties Ronnie Harrison (concussion) and Karl Joseph (hamstring) are both uncertain for Sunday.

The Browns’ long losing skid at Heinz extends back to 2003, when quarterback Tim Couch had one of his finest moments in an orange helmet while leading Cleveland to a 33-13 win.

It’s been putrid in Pittsburgh since as the Browns have dropped 16 straight and gone 2-18 overall in their archrival’s hostile home since returning as an expansion team in 1999.

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