Cleveland at Pittsburgh preview

PITTSBURGH, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The AFC's oldest rivals meet in the playoffs for only the second time Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Cleveland Browns.

The first one was played at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium in January 1995 when both were members of the AFC Central and that turned out to be the last postseason game for Cleveland, which was relocated and renamed the Baltimore Ravens in 1996.


The Browns were eventually reborn in 1999 and their first playoff game will take place at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field in the wild card round. Both teams are now members of the AFC North.

Whether it be the old Browns or the new Browns, Steelers Coach Bill Cowher is hoping for the same result. Eight years ago, the Steelers advanced in the playoffs with a 29-9 victory over a Cleveland team coached by Bill Belichick.


"I think it's appropriate that we were the first team that the Browns played when they came back to open their new stadium and here we are the first team that they play in the playoffs since being re-established," Cowher said.

Cowher has won seven division titles in 11 years with the Steelers, but reached the Super Bowl just once and the AFC championship game four times.

Butch Davis left national college power Miami to take over as Browns coach in 2001 and needed just two seasons to make the playoffs.

But Davis and the Browns lost each of the two meetings with the Steelers by three points this season - 16-13 in overtime at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29 and 23-20 in Cleveland on Nov. 3.

In the most recent game, the Steelers rallied from a 14-3 first-quarter deficit with 20 unanswered points. Pittsburgh dominated the game statistically, totaling 25 first downs to nine for Cleveland, more than doubling the Browns in yardage, 391-193 and controlling the ball for 42 minutes.

Tommy Maddox passed for 239 yards and two touchdowns, including a 20-yarder to Hines Ward, and Todd Peterson kicked three field goals for the Steelers. Tim Couch threw for two touchdowns and Dennis Northcutt scored on an 87-yard punt return for Cleveland.


While Pittsburgh's Amos Zereoue rushed for 111 yards on 29 carries, the Steelers held Cleveland's William Green and Jamel White to 29 yards on 10 carries.

In the first meeting, Peterson kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime to give Pittsburgh the win. Alvin McKinley blocked Peterson's field goal attempt on second down, but it was recovered behind the line of scrimmage by the Steelers, giving Peterson another opportunity.

The Browns had a chance to win the game in overtime after an interception by rookie linebacker Andra Davis at the Pittsburgh 34. But after three straight running plays, Phil Dawson missed a 43-yard field goal attempt that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

That was the game in which Cowher benched Kordell Stewart in the fourth quarter in favor of Maddox, who immediately directed a seven-play, 77-yard scoring drive with the game-tying 10-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter.

This will be the first playoff start for Maddox, who has the advantage of throwing to Ward and Burress, who combined for 29 catches and 336 yards in the two games against Cleveland this season.

The Browns will not have Couch, who suffered a broken leg in last week's 24-16 win over Atlanta. Kelly Holcomb, who threw for a career-high 326 yards in a season-opening loss to Kansas City, will get the playoff start for Cleveland.


"He just needs to throw and get back in sync with the receivers," Davis said. "If you're ever going to go anywhere in the playoffs you better have two good quarterbacks. Maybe the first part of the season (when Holcomb started two games for the injured Couch) was a blessing in disguise. He helped us and the team got a chance to see what he could do."

But Cleveland's success on Sunday may be determined by the production they get from Green, who rushed for 726 yards in his last seven games.

Middle linebacker Earl Holmes and right defensive tackle Orpheus Roye are two former Steelers that have had a major impact on Cleveland's defense. Holmes stopped Warrick Dunn on a 4th-and-goal at the Cleveland 1 with 23 seconds left in the Browns' win over Atlanta.

Holmes started 79 games in six years with the Steelers and was the team's leading tackler over the previous three seasons, but was waived for salary cap purposes.

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