Kevin Gorman: Knocking wood on Big Ben, byes and the Browns

November 12, 2018

Ramon Foster is sitting on his stool, talking about Big Ben, byes and the Browns, when a question makes the Pittsburgh Steelers left guard lean forward and tap twice on his wooden locker stall.

Foster doesn’t want to hear about whether the possibility of a bye in October is a bad omen for the Steelers, as it’s the month in which Ben Roethlisberger has a 38-12 record, has posted his highest completion percentage (66.81) and passer rating (100.4) and thrown the most touchdowns (92) and fewest interceptions (40) in his career.

So the last thing Foster wants to hear about is how Roethlisberger is 10-0 at Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns, who visit the Steelers on Sunday.

“History doesn’t mean anything. You’ve got to learn from it,” Foster said, rolling his eyes and tapping twice again on his locker stall. “It’s bigger for them than anything. To say that Ben’s 10-0 at home against them, they’re probably going to read into that and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to do everything we can to beat him.’ ”

At this point, I should’ve known better to mention that the offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack the past two games, especially what with the Browns boasting one of the NFL’s top pass rushers in defensive end Myles Garrett.

“You keep saying all these ... you sound like the announcers on ‘Sunday Night Football’ talking about Tucker,” Foster said, referring to Fox’s Chris Myers noting Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker had never missed an extra-point attempt in his career just seconds before Tucker missed his first in a 24-23 loss to New Orleans.

“Come on, bro! Goodness, I’m tired of knocking on wood here.”

Superstitious as that sounds -- knock on wood -- the Steelers know the next two games could determine their playoff fate, so they aren’t about to allow anyone to jinx their season. Before the Steelers can worry about their visit to the Baltimore Ravens next week, they have to do something we take for granted but they failed to do in the opener.

Beat the Browns.

The Steelers started the season with a 21-21 tie at Cleveland, a dubious debut against a team that went winless last season. Despite a 21-2 career record against the Browns, Roethlisberger completed 23 of 41 passes for 335 yards and a touchdown but also had three interceptions and lost a fumble.

The offense went punt-punt-interception on its first three drives that game, so it’s no surprise Roethlisberger offered this recipe for coming back from a bye: “Try to start fast. The last couple weeks, we have been doing that. We’ve been playing well offensively. But we can’t take a half to get going. We have to get going early.”

The Steelers started fast against and finished strong in a 41-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 7 and again in the last-minute, 28-21 victory at the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 14. The biggest concern was whether the bye would mess with their momentum.

“I think it can be disruptive, if you let it be,” said Roethlisberger, who is 28-8 as a starter against AFC North opponents at Heinz Field. “You always want one about midway through the season. This is about as early as you want one. For us, it’s a time to get ourselves ready to go and make a big push for the second half.”

The bye was beneficial, as the Browns lost by a field goal in overtime, the Ravens lost by a point in regulation and the Bengals were blown out. Suddenly, the Steelers went from worst to first in the AFC North without even playing a game.

“Going into the bye with a win is what it’s ultimately about,” Foster said. “It’s not about the momentum of it. You’ve got to check yourself going into a game like this. The best thing about this year’s bye is it’s an AFC North opponent. ... This has added incentive.”

So does Big Ben.

With a victory, Roethlisberger can tie Terry Bradshaw, who was 11-0 against the Browns. They are two of only four NFL quarterbacks with an undefeated record in 10 or more home games against any one opponent since 1970, the others being Troy Aikman (10-0 against the Cardinals) and Brett Favre (18-0 against the Lions).

That stat comes straight from the Steelers, so save your superstitions.

Then again, I better knock on wood before Foster knocks me out.

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