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AFC Playoffs | CLEVELAND-PITTSBURGH NOTES

Holcomb Impresses Steelers

January 06, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH — Should the Cleveland Browns start Kelly Holcomb ahead of Tim Couch next season?

At least one Pittsburgh player thinks so.

"They've got a real controversy on their hands when Couch comes back," linebacker Joey Porter said. "I don't care what they say. We played Couch and we played Holcomb. Couch never torched us like Holcomb did. I've never seen a guy playing in his first playoff game play with such confidence and poise. He never tried to run out of the pocket. He sat back there like he had all day to throw, and he got in a rhythm. When he got in a rhythm, he got real hot."

Holcomb, making his first start in the postseason, stepped into the starting job after Couch suffered a broken right leg in the season finale against Atlanta. Holcomb led the Browns to a come-from-behind victory in that game, and Sunday threw for 429 yards and three touchdowns.

"He made some unbelievable plays," Cleveland Coach Butch Davis said. "The game plan through the course of the week was that they were going to make a determined effort to stop William Green. Kelly did a good job of taking advantage of that."

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Cleveland receiver Dennis Northcutt led his team with six catches, but it was the one that got away that really hurt the Browns. On third-and-12 at the Cleveland 21 with 2:35 to play, Holcomb floated a beautiful pass to a wide-open Northcutt that would have gone for at least 20 yards had it not slipped through the receiver's grasp.

The Browns were forced to punt, setting up Pittsburgh's winning drive.

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Pittsburgh receivers Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El say they feel a sense of kinship with Tommy Maddox. And they should, considering all three played quarterback in college.

"It helps a lot," said Ward, who played several positions at Georgia, including quarterback. "We're all on the same page. It makes it much easier on Tommy."

Randle El, who played quarterback at Indiana, completed the conversion pass in the fourth quarter that gave Pittsburgh a 36-33 lead.

He said he would like to return to the position full-time some day.

"I know the opportunity will come along sooner or later," he said. "But that's not my focus. My focus is playing wide receiver and making plays. Eventually, I'll get a shot. I hope I get a shot here, and if it's because somebody went down or something like that I'll get a shot then.

"But I'm hoping no one gets hurt."

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