Wed Nov 13 2:03pm ET
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
In this Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Steelers play at the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Nov. 14. (AP Photo/Don Wright, File)
In this Oct. 27, 2019, file photo, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield passes during an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, in Foxborough, Mass. The Pittsburgh Steelers play at the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Nov. 14. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson, File)
CLEVELAND (AP) Separated by roughly 130 miles and six Super Bowl titles, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have a hostile, historic rivalry resuscitated from being heavily one-sided to much more competitive the past few years.
The hatred has never waned.
''It's a big game. It's Browns vs. Steelers,'' said Cleveland running back and native Kareem Hunt, who is about to get his first on-field taste of the long-running football feud. ''I've been watching this my whole life.''
The Steelers and Browns are getting together again Thursday night for the 135th time, renewing their deep disdain for each other in front of a national TV audience in what have been unexpected seasons for both teams.
The Steelers have salvaged theirs.
Cleveland has work to do.
''Everything's at stake, man,'' said Browns cornerback T.J. Carrie. ''We have no more time to waste.''
Their margin for error expunged by a flurry of penalties, turnovers, questionable plays calls by rookie coach Freddie Kitchens in several disappointing early season losses, the Browns (3-6) will try to keep their faint playoff hopes flickering against the Steelers (5-4).
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, leaned on its championship pedigree to regroup after moving on from Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and then losing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2 to injury. Led by a ball-hawking defense, the Steelers have wiped out a 1-4 start.
''We are still scratching and clawing to make this thing happen and to keep winning games and keep stacking victories and let the chips fall where they may,'' said second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph, who has settled in after replacing Big Ben. ''We are not in the position where we can take anyone lightly.''
Talent and commercial endorsements haven't been nearly enough in Cleveland. The NFL's most publicized team in the preseason has failed to live up to expectations.
However, the Browns, who stopped a four-game skid with their first home win of the season Sunday over Buffalo, have a soft schedule ahead and haven't given up on ending the league's longest playoff drought going back to 2002.
Another loss would all but end their chances.
The key for Cleveland will be ball security. The Steelers are second in the league with 26 takeaways, the most for a Pittsburgh team through nine games since 1987.
''They are making a lot of plays right now,'' said Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, who hasn't thrown a pick in two games after having a league-high 12 through seven.
During their winning streak, the Steelers have forced 14 turnovers, with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick returning two for touchdowns. Fitzpatrick came over in a trade from Miami and already has five interceptions and a fumble recovery in seven games.
Browns guard Joel Bitonio isn't surprised by the Steelers' surge. It's who they are.
''I know a lot of people probably tried to write `em off at the beginning of the year when they lost all those guys and had the injury to Ben,'' he said. ''But they fight. ... They rallied around their defense and their culture and said, `Hey, we're not giving up on this season.' It's really been impressive to see.''
Mayfield and Rudolph have history. They played each other three times in college, with Mayfield leading Oklahoma to a 3-0 mark against Rudolph's Oklahoma State squad in a rivalry known as ''Bedlam.''
In their last meeting, Mayfield passed for 598 yards and five touchdowns and Rudolph had 448 and five TDs in a 62-52 loss to the Sooners.
Rudolph isn't looking for revenge or at the past.
''You want to win every game you can and do your rival games hurt more when you lose? For sure. You wouldn't be human if you said otherwise,'' Rudolph said. ''We are trying to push the mud off us from the earlier September run we had.''
Now that Hunt is back from an eight-game suspension, the Browns are likely to pair him often in the backfield with Nick Chubb, who is closing in on 1,000 yards.
Both backs can run and catch, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin knows his defense can't focus on one or the other.
''They have big-time weapons,'' he said. ''Obviously, the two-back set is something that they did a week ago with a great deal of success. ... They are very multiple. That is one of the things that is challenging about them. Our hands are going to be full.''
SHOULDERING THE LOAD
Steelers running back James Conner is expected to play after missing two games with a sprained shoulder suffered against Miami on Oct. 28. Conner will wear larger shoulder pads for extra protection.
Pittsburgh's running game has languished much of the season. The Steelers are 27th in yards rushing, 28th in yards per carry. Those numbers need to change if Pittsburgh wants to take pressure off Rudolph.
''Having James back will be big for us, especially with the confidence that he'll have coming into it,'' tight end Vance McDonald said.
Conner lit up the Browns last season, piling up 404 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
Steelers cornerback Joe Haden remembers his days with the Browns fondly even though they didn't have a single winning season during his tenure.
''It's always going to be a little special because I spent seven years there,'' said Haden, drafted by Cleveland with the No. 7 overall pick in 2010 and cut in 2017. ''That's not going to go away. I just want to win a little more. I don't know if that's possible.''
The 30-year-old has revived his career in Pittsburgh, signing a contract extension in August.
Philadelphia Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery was actively shopped after the team guaranteed his 2020 salary last season. Jeffery found out that he was on the market and was troubled by the mixed messages he had received from the team, a source close to the receiver said.
Fantasy Spin: Jeffery is now 30 and has been riddled by injuries his entire career. He hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2014, and he has very minimal upside as a WR5.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins averaged 96 yards receiving in three playoff contests in 2019 after averaging 51.8 receiving yards in 13 regular-season outings.
Indianapolis Colts RB Marlon Mack managed only three catches (four targets) for 14 yards in his final six games after producing 11 catches (13 targets) for 68 yards in his first eight outings.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne signed his one-year tender on Monday. Bourne had 30 receptions on 44 targets for 358 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 16 games (zero starts) for the team in 2019. There is plenty of opportunity for Bourne and others to start in three-receiver sets in 2020 behind Deebo Samuel. With nine touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Niners, the 24-year-old has proven to be a nice red-zone presence for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but it remains to be seen if he can become a consistent starting option. There will be plenty of competition at the receiver position in San Fran, and they're also likely to address the position in the draft.
Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said that the team has "had internal discussions" about an extension for running back Christian McCaffrey. The stud running back is heading into the final year of his rookie deal, but the Panthers may wait and have him play on the fifth-year team option in 2021 before signing him to a long-term extension. Whether or not McCaffrey is playing with a new deal or not, he should be the No. 1 overall fantasy selection this fall. The 23-year-old former eighth overall pick ran the ball 287 times for a career-high 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also catching 116 passes for 1,005 yards and another four scores.
Updating a previous report, free-agent S D.J. Swearinger (Saints) officially signed with the New Orleans Saints Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent WR Emmanuel Sanders (49ers) officially signed with the New Orleans Saints Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Fantasy Spin: Sanders is joining one of the top offenses in the NFL and should see a solid amount of targets in 2020. He can be a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver in fantasy leagues.
Updating previous reports, free-agent TE Richard Rodgers (Eagles) and CB Ronald Darby (Eagles) officially signed with the Washington Redskins Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Benson Mayowa (Raiders) officially signed with the Seattle Seahawks Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating previous reports, free-agent FB Anthony Sherman (Chiefs) and DT Mike Pennel (Chiefs) officially re-signed with the Kansas City Chiefs Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contracts were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DT Jordan Phillips (Bills) officially signed with the Arizona Cardinals Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent WR Geronimo Allison (Packers) officially signed with the Detroit Lions Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent RB Todd Gurley (Rams) officially signed with the Atlanta Falcons Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Fantasy Spin: Gurley will be the main running back for the Falcons next season and likely will be a weekly starting option in most fantasy leagues.
Miami Dolphins restricted free-agent LB Vince Biegel signed his one-year tender offer Monday, April 6. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent DE Cassius Marsh (Cardinals) officially signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent CB Rashaan Melvin (Lions) officially signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Updating a previous report, free-agent LB Patrick Onwuasor (Ravens) officially signed with the New York Jets Monday, April 6. Official terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey could be a candidate for a contract extension in the near future, according to general manager Marty Hurney.
Fantasy Spin: McCaffrey is one of the top players in the NFL and should receive a lucrative extension at some point. He likely will be the first overall pick in most fantasy leagues in 2020.
Free-agent DT Carl Davis (Jaguars) re-signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars Monday, April 6. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (elbow) said his recovery is going fine and that he believes he would have been able to participate in some offseason workouts.
Fantasy Spin: Roethlisberger miss most of the 2019 season because of elbow surgery but appears to be on track for training camp and the 2020 season. He has played well over the last few seasons and could be a low-end No. 1 quarterback in fantasy leagues.