AFC PLAYOFFS Nothing new for Browns, Steelers



Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher is 6-2 against the Browns since 1999.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
Most Cleveland Browns fans have forgotten as much as they can about the team's dismal 5-27 record as an expansion team in 1999 and 2000.
What the Pittsburgh Steelers can't forget is how the weak Browns twice cost them playoff berths.
And there's nothing the Browns would like more than to end the Steelers' postseason for a third time with a victory Sunday at Heinz Field in their wild-card game.
After squeaking into the playoffs last Sunday with a hard-fought victory over the Atlanta Falcons and help from the New York Jets, Browns coach Butch Davis likes the idea of playing familiar faces.
"Sometimes, in a playoff situation, if you are playing someone you haven't played, [it's trouble], especially if you didn't play them the year before," Davis said.
Since the Browns returned to the NFL four seasons ago, Bill Cowher's Steelers are 6-2 against Cleveland.
Plenty of history
The Steelers welcomed the Browns back to the NFL in September 1999 with a 43-0 spanking at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Eight weeks later, the Steelers were 5-3 and in contention for the AFC Central Division when the Browns stunned sold-out Three Rivers Stadium with a last-second 16-15 victory.
Browns kicker Phil Dawson ran onto the field and booted the winning points as time expired. The Steelers went on to lose six straight and finished 6-10, the worst season in Cowher's 11 years in Pittsburgh.
In 2000, the Steelers were driving late in the fourth-quarter for a game-tying field goal when quarterback Kent Graham took a sack when his team had no timeouts remaining.
Steelers kicker Kris Brown rushed onto the field, but time expired before the ball could be snapped. That loss contributed to the Steelers' 0-3 start. They finished 9-7, missing a wild-card seed by one game.
Since then, the Steelers have won five straight against the Browns, including a 16-13 overtime win at Heinz Field on Sept. 29 and a 23-20 victory at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Nov. 10.
Changes
Many things have changed since the Browns defeated the Steelers in September 2000.
The main difference is the coach on the Browns sidelines. Although Davis has an 0-4 record against Pittsburgh, he guided the Browns to a 5-2 record after the last Steelers game to earn the AFC's second wild-card berth.
"Pittsburgh is extraordinarily talented and they are well-coached," Davis said. "I think [that] having four games against them you have a better idea what to expect out of them."
In the 32 games Davis has coached in Cleveland, 19 have been decided in the final minute of play. The Browns' record in those games is 9-10.
"We'll have our hands full," Cowher said. "They're 6-2 on the road."
The main changes in the Browns offense are the emergence of rookie running back William Green and the loss of quarterback Tim Couch to a broken leg last Sunday.
Against the Falcons, Green rushed for 178 yards on 27 carries, including a 64-yard touchdown late in the game.
"Certainly, William Green has emerged to be a very good running back," Cowher said. "Prior to us playing them, he hadn't run much."
Cowher said the Browns didn't seem to miss a beat when Kelly Holcomb took over for Couch and engineered Sunday's win.
"They're probably not all that different," Cowher said of Couch and Holcomb. "You get a sense that the team has a lot of confidence in him."
The Steelers won four of their five final games to clinch the title, but Cowher said the Browns are swimming in optimism.
"It feels like we haven't played these guys in a while and they're probably a lot more confident than when we played them," Cowher said.
Adversity
The Steelers have their own changes to consider. Linebacker Kendrell Bell, who reinjured his ankle in Sunday's 34-31 win over the Baltimore Ravens, again did not practice Thursday and is questionable.
Cornerback Chad Scott, who sat out the Ravens game with a broken thumb, also is questionable.
And running back Jerome Bettis, who also skipped the Ravens game with a knee injury, is probable, but Cowher wouldn't say how he plans to use his running tandem of Bettis, Amos Zereoue and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala.
williams@vindy.com

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