Even after losing to the Cleveland Browns in the NFL playoffs, Pittsburgh Steelers star JuJu Smith-Schuster doesn't regret having supplied some fuel for one of his division rivals.
Days before the two teams crossed paths in the AFC Wild Card round, Smith-Schuster told reporters how "they’re still the same Browns teams I play every year," adding that "the Browns is the Browns."
Speaking with Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio months after the fact, the 2018 Pro Bowler said the comments motivated Cleveland "probably a lot, honestly." However, he didn't totally disavow the bulletin-board material he provided:
"At the end of the day, I said what I said. I don’t take anything back. They did come out there, they did whoop our ass. It is what it is. We lost that game. We lost early in that game in the first five, 10 minutes. We still fought. I’ll tell you one thing about our team, we still fought to the end. It wasn’t good enough. I just know the AFC North [is] just probably the hardest ... division right now to win in."
In Smith-Schuster's defense, he was merely echoing something fans around the league—including in Cleveland—had said for years.
When you haven't won a playoff game since 1994—with three winning records during that time—skepticism is inevitable. That's what made the Browns' 48-37 win so cathartic. The franchise is no longer a doormat.
Of course, Cleveland can just as easily return to being a punching bag if it's unable to build on the success it enjoyed in 2020.