Browns Lose Ugly to Steelers

<I>David's report appears courtesy of the Ravenna Record-Courier</I><BR><BR>Christmas came early to the Steelers as the Browns gift-wrapped a 13-6 victory for Bill Cowher's gang. Whether courteously refusing to score from a first-and-goal or giving the ball away upon request, the Browns were the perfect hosts this afternoon. David recaps the "gruesome" affair...

CLEVELAND - Five turnovers. An embarrassing Six points on four red-zone trips, including just three points on two possessions inside the Pittsburgh Steelers' 10-yard line. A holding call negating a touchdown on an electrifying 74-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Add that list of gruesome facts together and it's not hard to figure out why the Cleveland Browns lost 13-6 to the arch rivals Steelers Sunday afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

"I'm very disappointed and angry at the fact that we got the ball inside the 10-yard line as many times as we did and didn't put more points on the board," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "You're not going to beat a Pittsburgh team, and I don't give a darn what their record is, unless you score touchdowns. When you get down there and knock on the door, you have to come away with seven points."

The Steelers record, by the way, is now an unimpressive 4-7, the same as the Browns, who now find themselves two games behind Baltimore and Cincinnati in the AFC North Division standings and likely in needing of winning at least four of their final five games to have even outside shot of making the playoffs.

Don't count on that unlikely scenario if the Browns continue the sloppy brand of play that undermined what actually should have been an easy victory.

The Browns out-gained the Steelers 303 yards to just 168. Their defense shut down the Steelers and quarterback Tommy Maddox, who completed just 9-of-24 passes for 73 yards. Their offense, meanwhile, moved the ball seemingly at will between the 20's, but just couldn't find a way to stick to reach the end zone.

James Jackson, who was charged with two fumbles, tried to put the blame on his shoulders, saying "there was no ‘we' about this. This was pretty much a ‘me' thing. The defense played well. We moved the ball well, and I just turned the ball over."

It was a nice gesture by the Browns running back, but there was plenty of blame to go around. If not for Jackson, who ran for 94 yards on 25 attempts and caught five more passes for 49 yards, the Browns day would probably have been even more frustrating.

Kelly Holcomb played an even bigger role in the Browns offensive failure, throwing two second-half interceptions - the first spoiling a third-quarter drive that reached the Steelers 6, and the last sealing the Browns fate with 1:41 remaining in the game.

Steelers safety Brent Alexander was the first to pick off Holcomb, and it couldn't have been easier. Under heavy pressure from blitzing linebacker James Farrior on third-and-goal, Holcomb tried to force a pass to Andre Davis, who was double covered at the goal line. Alexander grabbed the ball out of the air, and if he didn't, the Steelers other safety, Troy Polamalu, probably would have.

"I can't do that," said Holcomb, who completed 25-of-44 passes for 234 yards. "I have to throw the ball away. I tried to force it. We had been moving the ball up and down the field, and I figured we had to get six points."

Chad Scott spoiled the Browns hopes for a game-tying touchdown in the closing minutes, jumping a slant route to Andre King for the other easy interception at the Steelers 39.

Holcomb was also at least partly to blame for the first fumble charged to Jackson - a miscommunication on the exchange of a handoff with 9:32 remaining on the second-quarter clock and the Browns leading 6-0.

It was the first of two second-quarter gaffes deep in the Browns end that allowed the Steelers to take a 10-6 lead into the half.

Just five plays after Jackson lost the handoff, Maddox tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Bruener

With 4:23 remaining in the half, it was running back Jamel White's turn to add to the turnover parade, fumbling the football on a glancing blow by Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell at the Browns 22. Seven plays later, Jeff Reed booted a 23-yard field goal for the 10-6 advantage.

Bell delivered a few third-quarter blows that were anything but glancing to foil the Browns best scoring opportunity of the day. On a second-and-goal from the Steelers 1, Bell made a leaping, helmet-to-helmet stop on Jackson's lunge for the goal line. He then wrapped Jackson for no gain on a third-down try from the 1.

That led to the Browns gambling on 4th-and-1, calling a double-reverse that saw Holcomb hand off to Quincy Morgan on an end around, who then handed to Dennis Northcutt. The play was designed to have Northcutt run for the left corner of the end zone, but penetration by Polamalu forced the speedy wide receiver to turn up the field between the hash marks. Northcutt was tripped up by Scott, and ladded just short of the goal line.

Davis challenged the call, claiming Scott had not touched Northcutt and therefor was never down by contact, but referee Walt Coleman upheld the ruling on the field. Northcutt later admitted that Scott did trip him up.

"When I cut it up upfield, I thought I was going to get in," said Northcutt. "I didn't get in. (Scott) came up and made a good play. He had me at my feet, and I thought I might have got the ball to the goal line before I was down."

That failure at the 1-yard line combined with Maddox's forced interception kept the Browns from scoring in the third quarter despite controlling the ball for more than 11 minutes on two third quarter drives. The Browns had first downs at the Steelers 6-yard line on both possessions.

If not for similar failures in the first quarter, the Browns may never have felt the need to gamble in the third quarter. The Browns settled for a 27-yard field goal by Phil Dawson on an opening drive that included a first down at the Steelers 7.

Later in the first quarter, the Browns drove to the Steelers 16 before kicking a 31-yard field goal 10 seconds into the second quarter for their 6-0 lead.

The Browns also squandered their first big special-teams return of the season when a holding penalty against Roosevelt Williams nullified touchdown on a 74-yard punt return by Northcutt.

"We had a lot of opportunities, and we just didn't get the job done," said Northcutt. "We had five turnovers, didn't get in the end zone and still had a chance to win the game. All we had to do was score one touchdown. Come on man, you can't do that."


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