Quinn prepared for chance to play rival Steelers

Published 4:53 am Wednesday, December 9, 2009

BEREA — Like so many Ohio kids raised on football, Brady Quinn developed a strong distaste for everything Pittsburgh Steelers.

Growing up a die-hard Browns fan, Cleveland’s quarterback learned from an early age that those neighbors from Pennsylvania wearing black and gold were the enemy, Iron City villains to be despised and beaten whenever possible. Quinn’s heroes wore brown and orange.

So which of the Steelers did he hate most? Jerome Bettis? Rod Woodson? Greg Lloyd? Bill Cowher?

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“I don’t know,” Quinn said on Tuesday. “I wasn’t really fond of any of them. That’s usually how it works.”

Quinn, who has been showing signs he could blossom into a solid NFL starter, will face Cleveland’s bitter — and much better — rival for the first time as a pro when the Browns (1-11) host the suddenly stumbling Steelers (6-6) on Thursday night.

When the teams met on Oct. 18 at Heinz Field, Quinn watched from the sideline as the Steelers won their 12th straight over the Browns, 27-14. He had lost his starting job to Derek Anderson a few weeks earlier, benched after two starts by coach Eric Mangini.

Quinn has been back under center for five starts, and it’s his turn to try and end the Steelers’ utter dominance over the Browns — 18 wins in 19 games since 2000. Cleveland hasn’t beaten Pittsburgh since Oct. 5, 2003, when Tim Couch directed the Browns to a 33-13 win.

Since then, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Anderson and Bruce Gradkowski — who directed Oakland to a comeback win over Pittsburgh last week — all have failed to knock off the Steelers.

Quinn’s up. But is he up to it?

He’s coming off a three-touchdown, 271-yard performance against San Diego, Quinn’s second impressive outing in his last three games. After throwing one TD pass and five interceptions in his first three starts, he has seven TDs and not a single pick in his past three.

Quinn has thrown 126 consecutive passes without an interception, the second-longest active streak in the league.

“I’m just trying to make good decisions, trying to take care of the football,” he said. “It always gives us a chance to win. The only statistic that really matters is wins and losses. We’re still searching for that win.”

Quinn is 0-7 as a starter this season and 1-9 in his stop-and-start pro career. He says he feels more comfortable than at any time in three years and believes he can develop into the quarterback Cleveland banked on getting when they selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft.

“I hope so,” he said. “That’s the intent. I’ve always felt that was my ability and everything. I just have to continue to grow and mature and learn and get better.”

Mangini was impressed with Quinn’s ability to handle San Diego’s defense, which like Pittsburgh’s, blitzes from every angle. While there have been questions about the QB’s arm strength, Quinn’s football IQ has never been challenged.

“I thought he did a nice job IDing (identifying) where the pressure was coming from,” Mangini said. “He changed some of the protection calls on the line of scrimmage to get us to a point where we had the numbers to pick it up and that opened up some things.

“The one thing about him is he’ll study it, he’ll pick up some things from the first game even though he wasn’t playing and there’s also going to be some variations of things that are unique to us.”

Pittsburgh has dropped four straight games for the first time since 2003, placing the defending Super Bowl champions in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Opponents have been successful in spreading out the Steelers defense with four- and five-receiver sets. With Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu sidelined with knee injuries, teams have found a soft spot in the middle of the field that’s not been there before.

Quinn isn’t counting on Polamalu’s absence to aid the Browns, who have lost 10 straight home games.

“Clearly not having him on the field takes something away from them, but Tyrone Carter does a great job filling in for that spot,” Quinn said. “Believe me, they’ll be ready to go.”

He’s prepared, too.

And in what has been an unusually rough season in a decade of rough seasons in Cleveland, nothing would warm the hearts of Browns fans more than a victory over the hated Steelers.

“I don’t want to put too much on this game,” Quinn said. “It’s a big game for us because it’s the next one. Obviously, it’s a rivalry game. We know what Pittsburgh brings to the table and all of the success they’ve had. It’s a big game for us, but it is just the next game for us.”