In the last meeting of the Pittsburgh-Cleveland rivalry, the Browns shellacked the Steelers, 48-37, on Super Wild Card Weekend. The game included 28 straight Cleveland points in the first quarter and a 35-10 halftime lead.
As much as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin tried to downplay Sunday's rematch, veteran players are still stinging.
"They whooped our (butt) at home and sent us home," tight end Eric Ebron said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "If you all can't get motivated for that, you probably shouldn't be playing football."
The shock and awe of the Steelers' playoff loss, which felt over after the first quarter, left a bad taste in the mouths of some.
"You're saying, 'Damn, what just happened, we have three quarters left in this game,'" defensive lineman Chris Wormley said. "The biggest thing was the shock value that we were down four scores, and it's the first quarter."
Added Wormley: "I've been thinking about it a lot. I know a lot of guys have been thinking about it. We're trying to right that ship this week."
Tomlin suggested Sunday's game means just as much as any other division, noting there is a long way to go in the season.
"I'm sure it comes up in some form or fashion, but not as a rallying cry or not as a focus of a meeting," Tomlin said Tuesday. "There are a lot of variables that are (exclusive to) 2021 that should have our attention.
"We have a lot riding on this game, playing a really good team in their venue."
The 3-3 Steelers sit at the bottom of the AFC North standings after back-to-back wins before their Week 7 bye. The Browns, meanwhile, are coming off a Thursday night victory to pull them to 4-3, in third place.
"We still have five games left in our division," Tomlin said. "Everybody's got a lot of divisional play left. You can waste a lot of time looking at divisional standings on weeks like this one. That story will be written with play over the upcoming months, and that's just the reality of it."
The playoff loss marked the Steelers' second consecutive defeat to the Browns after Pittsburgh rested its starters in Week 17, which allowed Cleveland to clinch its first playoff berth since 2002. Pittsburgh has not lost three straight games versus Cleveland (including playoffs) since 1986-1989 (lost seven consecutive games).
Tomlin is 10-4 in his career coming off a bye, tied for the third-best record by any team since 2007 (when he took over in Pittsburgh).
"As competitors that fires us up," he said of the matchup. "But forget about being fired up. We have to be duly prepared. We're preparing with an edge and understanding of the significance of this game. Isn't that what we signed up for: significant games, big-time competition, divisional play? It's a great way to come off a bye week."