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CLEVELAND AT PITTSBURGH 10 a.m., Channel 2

Steelers Not Looking Past the First Round

January 05, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH — Be prepared? The Pittsburgh Steelers would rather wing it this season.

Instead of making their travel plans prematurely -- as they did last season when they booked their Super Bowl trip, then lost in the conference title game -- the Steelers are focused only on knocking off the Cleveland Browns today in a first-round game at Heinz Field.

"Last year we were already thinking Super Bowl," said Pittsburgh receiver Plaxico Burress, whose team will play at Tennessee if it wins. "That was kind of one of the things that hurt us."

Overlooking Cleveland (9-7) could be costly, even though the Steelers (10-5-1) swept the Browns in two overtime games during the regular season. The challenge of beating a team three times in a four-month span is made even more difficult by the way the Browns have played lately.

Rookie William Green has hit his stride, rushing for 178 yards against Atlanta last Sunday, the best performance by a Cleveland running back in eight years. After gaining no more than 36 yards in any of his first nine games, he has averaged 104 in his last seven.

Pittsburgh features the league's best run defense, allowing only 85.9 yards a game, and safety Lee Flowers ridiculed the Browns earlier in the season for having the temerity to try to run against the Steelers.

"I don't think he'll be saying that this time around," cornerback Corey Fuller told the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal. "Not after watching film of the last six or seven weeks."

The last time these teams met was Nov. 3, when Pittsburgh rallied from a 14-3 deficit to win, 23-20, at Cleveland. Tim Couch was quarterback of the Browns in that game, but now he's out with a fractured right leg, and Kelly Holcomb moves into the No. 1 spot.

Holcomb, who brought the Browns from behind last week, started the first two games of the season, and the Browns scored 58 points -- but their opponents were Kansas City and Cincinnati.

The Browns were 6-2 on the road, and 11 of their games were decided in the final minute.

The Steelers are led by quarterback Tommy Maddox, the league's comeback player of the year. He will look to get the ball to his top targets, Hines Ward and Burress, whose 2,654 yards receiving are the most by any tandem this season.

Maddox, who replaced Kordell Stewart, then missed three weeks after being knocked out against Tennessee, was 7-3-1 as a starter and completed a team-record 62.1% of his passes.

The Steelers won their last three games to claim the AFC North title.

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LOGS

*--* CLEVELAND (9-7) 39 Kansas City 40 20 Cincinnati 7 31 at Tennessee(ot) 28 13 at Pittsburgh(ot) 16 21 Baltimore 26 3 at Tampa Bay 17 34 Houston 17 24 at N.Y. Jets 21 20 Pittsburgh 23 27 at Cincinnati 20 24 at New Orleans 15 6 Carolina 13 21 at Jacksonville 20 23 Indianapolis 28 14 at Baltimore 13 24 Atlanta 16

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*--* PITTSBURGH (10-5-1) 14 at New England 30 17 Oakland 30 16 Cleveland(ot) 13 29 at New Orleans 32 34 at Cincinnati 7 28 Indianapolis 10 31 at Baltimore 18 23 at Cleveland 20 34 Atlanta 34 23 at Tennessee 31 29 Cincinnati 21 25 at Jacksonville 23 6 Houston 24 30 Carolina 14 17 at Tampa Bay 7 34 Baltimore 31

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