Bombs Away

PITTSBURGH - Cleveland's Kelly Holcomb was making just the fourth start of his NFL career in Sunday's AFC Wild Card game Sunday against the Steelers.<p> But with the Steelers playing without starting cornerback Chad Scott, who was out with a broken hand, Cleveland liked the matchups it had with its receivers against Pittsburgh's secondary. So the Browns threw caution to the wind and Holcomb came out chucking the ball all over the place.<p>

What they didn't count on, however, was that the Steelers would do it better, as Pittsburgh pulled out an exciting 36-33 victory at Heinz Field.

Holcomb completed 26-of-43 passes for 429 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Steelers' quarterback Tommy Maddox nearly matched him play-for-play, completing 30-of-48 passes for 367 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Browns opened the game in a four-wide receiver set, spreading the field against the Steelers as many teams had done before this season.

"We thought they might try to do that," said Steelers safety Mike Logan, who had the team's lone interception in the game. "They made some big plays out of it, but we stopped them when it counted."

With Scott out, the Browns made backup cornerback Hank Poteat their target, beating him in the first half for an 83-yard gain by Kevin Johnson and a 32-yard TD by Dennis Northcutt. After the scoring pass to Northcutt, the Steelers moved Poteat inside to cover the slot, with Deshea Townsend and Dewayne Washington manning the outside positions.

"We felt all of our receivers could make plays on them," Holcomb said. "We thought all week that if we could pick up their blitz, we could make some things happen."

With Cleveland playing fast-break football, the Steelers were forced to match them, going to a no-huddle offense midway through the third quarter and sticking with it throughout the remainder of the game.

And unlike Steelers' teams of the past, the current version of the team is probably better suited to play that kind of football thanks to Maddox and receivers Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El.

"We were just taking what the defense was giving us and our guys executed it about as well as you can," said Steelers' offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Perhaps the biggest difference in the two offenses was the running game. The Steelers hurt the Browns in the first half with their running game and finished with 89 yards on 20 carries. The Browns, meanwhile, never established any kind of running threat and finished with 38 yards on 28 carries.

"If we would have done better in the running game, we could have done some things differently at the end," said Holcomb.

With no running game, the Browns were forced to throw the ball late in the game as they attempted to run out the clock. And with less than three minutes remaining, Holcomb threw two incompletions, stopping the clock and forcing the Browns to punt the ball back to Pittsburgh.

"We put the pressure on our defense right there and tried to get the ball back," said Steelers head coach Cowher. "(Cleveland) helped a little bit because they threw the ball twice."

--Dale Lolley

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