PITTSBURGH — Sunday will mark the first time the Pittsburgh Steelers take the field against Myles Garrett since last season’s ugly helmet-swinging altercation involving the Cleveland Browns pass rusher and then-starting quarterback Mason Rudolph.
But coach Mike Tomlin and his team aren’t focused on last year’s turmoil.
“They’re a 4-1 team,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We’re trying to remain undefeated. We’re not looking for that low-hanging fruit or that reality TV storyline and so forth. This is a big game here in 2020.”
Tomlin is right. The Steelers are undefeated, while the Browns have just one loss. It’s the second-best combined win percentage (.889) in any game involving the Browns in NFL history, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“We love being in the kitchen,” Tomlin said. “AFC North ball is in the kitchen. It’s hot in the North right now.”
Last year’s series was overshadowed by the altercation in the first meeting, coming on a Thursday night, that resulted in fines and suspensions for both teams, including a two-game suspension for center Maurkice Pouncey, an indefinite suspension for Garrett that ended in February and a $50,000 fine for Rudolph.
Garrett and Rudolph wrestled on the ground for a moment after Garrett sacked Rudolph late in the game, and Rudolph pulled at Garrett’s helmet. Garrett then yanked Rudolph’s helmet off, and as teammates separated the pair, Garrett swung Rudolph’s helmet and struck the quarterback in the head.
Garrett alleged multiple times afterward that the brawl was sparked when Rudolph used a racial slur in the moment, which Rudolph, his teammates, Tomlin and the entire organization have strongly denied.
“Mason vehemently denies the report of being accused of using a racial slur during the incident,” the Steelers said in a November statement.
Garrett appealed his indefinite suspension and argued that Rudolph used the slur, but an NFL spokesman said at the time that the league “found no such evidence” that Rudolph used the slur and upheld the suspension. The fight resulted in discipline of 33 players and fines amounting to $732,422.
Despite all the drama, Tomlin said he didn’t have to give his team a special message about last year’s altercation ahead of this matchup.
“There really is no message,” he said. “My day-to-day existence kind of relays that message that you suggested. There’s a lot on the table in reference to this game, in terms of stakes.”