Elway Still Haunting the Browns via Maddox

PITTSBURGH - Even in retirement, John Elway continues to haunt the Cleveland Browns in playoff games.<p> Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox invoked memories of Elway's past playoff successes against Cleveland when he directed the Steelers to an improbable 36-33 come-from-behind victory over the Browns Sunday in an AFC Wild Card game at Heinz Field.<p>

Maddox brought the Steelers back from the dead, leading them on a pair of long touchdown drives in the game's final 10 minutes as the Steelers rallied from 12-point deficit to win.

"I was very fortunate early in my career to play behind John Elway," Maddox said. "I got to see all the things he was able to do in games that I didn't think we had a chance to win. I think that you just have a mentality that if you just keep fighting, good things will happen."

Unless, of course, you happen to be a fan of the Browns.

Maddox played the first two seasons of his storybook career in Denver behind Elway, who is widely considered the greatest comeback quarterback in NFL history. And it was against the Browns that Elway first earned that reputation, leading Denver past Cleveland in overtime, 23-20, in the 1986 AFC title game that will forever be known for the 98-yard game-tying TD drive Elway directed in the game's final five minutes.

He again broke Cleveland's heart the following season, leading Denver to a 38-33 win over the Browns in another AFC Championship game, this time throwing the go-ahead TD pass with just over four minutes to play. That touchdown set the stage for Ernest Byner's fumble at the goal line with 1:05 to play, sealing Denver's victory and leaving Cleveland fans cursing Elway.

But as devastating as those losses were to Cleveland, none of them occurred in the fashion of the Steelers' win Sunday.

Only one minute into Sunday's game, Cleveland led 7-0. With just over 2 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Browns took a 24-7 lead. Heck, eight seconds into the fourth quarter, the Browns owned a 27-14 advantage after a Phil Dawson field goal. And the Browns would continue to hold the lead in the game until Maddox directed the Steelers on a 61-yard scoring drive capped off by Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala's 3-yard TD run with 54 seconds remaining in the game.

It was just another comeback in the career of Maddox, who was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year last week.

"He came out after halftime, he brought the whole team up and he told them what we were going to do," said wide receiver Terance Mathis. "And we went out and did it."

Maddox said his halftime speech, with the Steelers trailing 17-7, was simply him being the leader of this team.

"That's part of being the quarterback," said Maddox. "I wanted them to see in my eyes that we still had a chance to win. I was just telling them that we're going to get this thing done."

"I just told them that if anyone didn't believe we could win, they could go ahead back to the locker room because we were going to find a way to win this game."

This team believed deeply in Maddox's ability to lead it back from the brink because he had done it so often this season. Sunday's game was the fourth time this season that Maddox directed the Steelers to a win in a game in which they trailed in the fourth quarter. But while the other three comebacks were good, Sunday's was one even Elway would have been happy to call his own.

"I hope so," Maddox said. "I would hope that he would be proud of it. I can honestly say that I thought about him on the sidelines one time. It was a privilege to play behind him. I learned a lot from him. It was exciting. I have seen him pull games out that we had no business winning."

"Somehow we were able to find a way to win today."

Just like Elway.

--Dale Lolley

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