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.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard's 'eyes should light up' at the opportunity to play with QB Tom Brady, according to head coach Bruce Arians. 'You have a quarterback who throws to the tight end, go earn it and get balls thrown to you,' Arians said.
Fantasy Spin: Despite playing four more games than he did in 2018, Howard finished with fewer yards and just one touchdown last year. The drop in production wasn't a surprise given the fact that Arians' system typically isn't kind to tight ends, but the arrival of Brady could change that in a big way. Howard is definitely worth grabbing as a TE1, and there is a chance he finishes as a top-five fantasy option at the position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones could face new competition for snaps on third down next season, according to head coach Bruce Arians. 'We'd love to have a pass-catching back,' Arians said.
Fantasy Spin: Jones rebounded in 2019 after a dreadful rookie campaign, tallying 1,031 yards from scrimmage and catching 31 passes. He should still handle most of the work on early downs, but if Jones isn't on the field in passing situations, it is going to limit his ceiling, especially with Tom Brady now under center. He's best viewed as a flex option for the time being.
Free-agent TE Blake Bell (Chiefs) agreed to terms with the Dallas Cowboys on a one-year deal worth $1.7 million with $450,000 guaranteed, according to a source.
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen had a league-high 7.2 percent of his pass attempts dropped last season.
Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield had a league-high 20 passes batted down at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2019.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins enjoyed a league-high average of 2.7 seconds in the pocket in 2019.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson executed a league-high 173 run-pass option (RPO) plays in 2019 - 65 more than second-place Kyler Murray (108). Jackson also ranked third in play-action pass attempts with 163.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes was hurried 54 times in 2019 - a significant drop from a league-high 121 times in 2018.
Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was hit while passing a league-high 66 times last season - tied with New York Giants QB Daniel Jones for the most in the NFL.
Atlanta Falcons RB Todd Gurley was charged with the dropped pass on a league-high 14.3 percent of his targets in 2019 as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Denver Broncos RB Phillip Lindsay (12.5) and Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook (11.1) were the only other qualified running backs with a drop rate of higher than nine percent.
Denver Broncos WR Courtland Sutton led all receivers with 12 broken tackles on receptions in 2019. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson, former Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins and Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp tied for second among receivers with nine.
New England Patriots WR Julian Edelman was charged with a league-high 13 drops in 2019 - five more than he had in 2018.
New York Jets RB Le'Veon Bell (1.2) averaged 1.2 yards before contact per attempt in 2019 - tied with Benny Snell for the worst mark in the league among qualified rushers last season.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette finished fifth in the league among qualified rushers in fewest yards before contact per attempt (1.4) in 2019. Meanwhile, his three yards after contact per attempt was good for the third-best mark in the league.
San Francisco 49ers RBs Raheem Mostert (3.5) and Matt Breida (3.3) ranked first and second, respectively, in the league among running backs in average yards before contact per attempt last season.
Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was charged with a 'bad throw' on a league-high 21.2 percent of his passes in 2019.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady was charged with 116 'bad throws' in 2019, six fewer than league leader Jameis Winston - his predecessor in Tampa Bay.
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo was 'on target' - defined as a throw that would have hit the receiver - on 80.7 percent of his passes in 2019 - the fourth-highest mark in the league.