PITTSBURGH - It felt like a Shakespearean tragedy. After Romeo Crennel lost to an archrival that has tormented him for four seasons, he must face his boss today to see if he is still the coach of the Browns.
Are the number of losses in his tenure, the number of losses against the Steelers, and the number of losses in a nightmare season an insurmountable obstacle?
"They might be," Crennel conceded following a closed-door meeting with his team following a 31-0 loss to the Steelers yesterday. "Who knows? Right now, it's my job, and I plan to keep the job.
"This is an end to a very disappointing season for the Cleveland Browns. We didn't expect the season to go the way it went, but it did. You lose quarterbacks, you lose tight ends - all of those things impacted us. We still have enough ability that we can be competitive in the division and in the league if we have everybody healthy."
It's not just another Monday morning quarterback he faces. Owner Randy Lerner has scheduled the meeting to evaluate his status. Crennel, who is under contract through 2011, is 24-40 in four seasons and is winless against the Steelers.
Last season, his team tied the Steelers with a 10-6 mark but missed the playoffs on tie-breakers. This season, the Browns were 4-12 and never in the hunt. They failed to score an offensive touchdown in their last six games, and they were down to their fourth quarterback of the season yesterday - Toledo graduate and Pittsburgh-area native Bruce Gradkowski, who was signed Dec. 2 under emergency circumstances.
Gradkowski was up against a defense that feasts on opposing quarterbacks, and he had a long afternoon in front of his father, mother, brothers, cousins, and friends in the stands. After the first possession when he completed two passes for 17 yards, Gradkowski was 3-of-14 for a net of one yard thereafter. He was sacked three times and intercepted twice, including once by Tyrone Carter that provided the game's final score.
"That's the No. 1 defense in the NFL. They give you tough looks," said Gradkowski, who lost a game here two years ago when he was the starting quarterback for Tampa Bay.
"No excuses. There's a lot of good guys around here. We just have to build on it. I'm looking forward to next year," he added. Then he managed a weak smile by saying, "Now I have to go face my family."
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of The Greatest Game Ever Played, but the Browns were a battered and bruised bunch who sounded like they just wanted to get back home and lick some wounds.
"It's been a touch year for everybody," said linebacker Willie McGinest, who may have played his last game for the Browns. "Our bodies are beat up, swollen, scarred. We just need to rest up."
The one bright spot - if you can call it that - was the 94 yards gained by running back Jamal Lewis, the most the Steelers have yielded to an opponent this season. That total pushed him over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
What was once the NFL's version of the blood feud between the Hatfields and McCoys has become one-sided in Pittsburgh's favor.
The Browns have been swept for the fifth straight season, the longest such streak on either side of a rivalry that began in 1950. The Browns have lost 17 of the last 18 meetings, and they trail the all-time regular season series 55-57. Since the merger in 1970, the Browns have lost 26 of the last 32 meetings in Steeler country.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Robert Dvorchak is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.