In retrospect, Colt McCoy probably looks back at his NFL debut last year in Heinz Field and thinks it was part of rookie hazing.
Facing the Steelers on their turf and with James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley ready to make him want to go home to his mommy wasn't fair. It had the makings of destroying McCoy's confidence as the latest player to give quarterback a shot with the Cleveland Browns.
To McCoy's credit, he survived the game without getting hurt and with statistics that weren't all that bad. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards and one touchdown.
The "Steel Curtain" picked off two passes, which put a damper on an otherwise good performance.
McCoy will lead the 4-8 Browns into his second Heinz Field start tonight against the 9-3 Steelers. Looking back on last season's game, McCoy realizes he might not have been fully aware of what he had gotten himself into.
"Oh, yeah, absolutely," he said. "But I wouldn't have had it any other way. You go in there and play against the best. I learned a lot from that game. Now, just about a year later, we have another chance to go in there and compete on a short week. I'm excited about it."
McCoy wasn't supposed to play a single down last season, but the plan changed after ankle injuries sidelined Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. McCoy played the final eight games, finishing with a 74.5 passer rating. There were enough good performances mixed in for him to secure the starting job this season.
As the on-going evaluation process heads toward the conclusion of his second season, McCoy has to wonder if he's made strides. Publicly he says he sees improvement with each practice. Privately, no one other than a few people in the front office knows what the offseason holds for him.
"I've come a long ways," he said. "You see improvement every week. That was so long ago. We're in a totally new offense."
Nothing has changed about the Steelers defense, which again is among the best in the NFL. The Steelers still make effective use of zone blitzes and can generate pressure from Harrison and Woodley from their outside linebacker positions. Polamalu at strong safety is still a game-changer from all points on the field.
In the rematch in Cleveland on the final weekend of last season, McCoy had a brutal day. The Steelers intercepted three passes in a 41-9 win.
"Statistically and when you turn them on film they're a really good football team," McCoy said. "They've played together for a long time and they're at home. A lot of it is similar to last week (against the Baltimore Ravens). Polamalu is very similar to Ed Reed. He flies around to the football. They use him closer to the line of scrimmage against the run. You have to account for him on every play."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is saying all the right things this week. He was complimentary of McCoy's play in the game at Heinz Field last season.
"I thought he represented himself very well," Tomlin said. "He does a nice job in the pocket. He buys time for himself, and he diagnoses plays well. I think that whole process is probably moving forward."
It remains to be seen if McCoy still has the confidence he carried with him into last year's game here. At the hotel the night before the game McCoy spoke to his teammates and promised them that he would be okay. "The hay is in the barn," he said, using a country term to say that his preparation was complete.
The hay might be in the barn this week, but it might not make a difference tonight. The Steelers are expected to drop McCoy's record against AFC North Division foes to 0-8.
"Trust me, I know my record," McCoy said.