VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT
PITTSBURGH -- Once again, the Cleveland Browns' inability to finish off an opponent cost them a critical victory and a huge lead in the AFC North.
Late in the fourth quarter of their game in the rivalry, Cleveland was poised for a knockout punch against the reeling Steelers.
But, sparked by backup quarterback Tommy Maddox's strong performance, the Steelers overcame a 13-6 deficit with 4 minutes, 14 seconds remaining, and a blocked field goal in overtime, for a 16-13 victory Sunday at Heinz Field.
"It wasn't pretty, but we're gonna take it because we were that close to being 0-3," said Steelers receiver Hines Ward who caught nine passes for 104 yards.
Todd Peterson's second field goal attempt of the overtime, a 31-yarder that came one play after Browns lineman Alvin McKinley blocked a 24-yard try, closed Pittsburgh (1-2) to within a half-game of the Browns (2-2).
"It was a classic finish," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said.
Two plays into overtime, the Browns appeared to have their third victory sealed when linebacker Andra Davis picked off Maddox at the Pittsburgh 34.
But on fourth down, Browns kicker Phil Dawson tried a 45-yarder that was tipped at the line by Steelers defender Lee Flowers then bounced off the goal post.
"Everything felt great," Dawson said. "I hit the ball really well -- 45 yards after it gets tipped and to still make it there, that must have been a pretty good hit."
Given another chance, Maddox completed five passes to set up the strange finish.
On second down from the Cleveland 6, the Steelers sent Peterson. After McKinley's block, the ball rebounded to Peterson at the Cleveland 12. He was hit by the Browns' Anthony Henry, and John Fiala recovered at the 13.
"I didn't even think about the fact that if I just fall on the ball on the ground, we get to kick again," Peterson said. "I don't know if it's competitive nature but I got the ball and I saw a little green."
Peterson's ensuing kick was true, giving the Browns their second heart-breaking loss in four games.
"When your football team spills their guts and plays as hard as they can with an awful lot of devotion, [that] makes losing that much more difficult," Browns coach Butch Davis said.
Browns running back Jamel White rushed for 105 yards on 16 carries while the Steelers' Jerome Bettis was held to just 24 yards on 14 tries.
Browns quarterback Tim Couch (16-of-29 for 144 yards) matched Steelers starter Kordell Stewart (15-of-25 for 143).
The difference was Maddox.
"It was great to get in there and have a blast, especially to go in a situation [where you] have a two-minute [drill and] four wide receivers," said Maddox of the shift to a no-huddle, spread formation.
"That is what Tommy Maddox's strength is," Cowher said. "With them having a couple of defensive backs down, they were hurting."
Browns starting cornerbacks Corey Fuller (hamstring) and Daylon McCutcheon (eye) were out before the fourth quarter.
Couch said the Steelers defenders also deserved credit for not collapsing.
"They were the No. 1 defense in the league last year and they have [most of] the same players," Couch said.
Browns linebacker Earl Holmes, who left Pittsburgh in the off-season as a free agent, said, "Sometimes, the best team [doesn't] win. We had the game won -- it's just a matter of capitalizing on their mistakes."