PITTSBURGH (AP)—Tim Couch played like he never has before in the place the Cleveland Browns almost never win. Even worse for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tommy Maddox kept playing exactly like he’s been playing.
Couch threw for two touchdowns and ran for another before halftime, and the Browns took advantage of three turnovers by Maddox to end a six-game losing streak to their biggest rivals, beating the Steelers 33-13 Sunday night.
In essentially a must-win game, the Browns (2-3) shook off the absence of injured quarterback Kelly Holcomb and two tough losses in Pittsburgh a year ago to beat the Steelers (2-3) for only the third time in 16 games.
Browns coach Butch Davis finally beat the Steelers for the first time in six attempts as Cleveland—coming off a 21-14 loss at home to Cincinnati—won in Pittsburgh for only the sixth time in 33 tries since 1970.
Davis could tell during practice the Browns were ready, saying, “We won tonight, but I’m not convinced the game wasn’t won earlier in the week, when the players decided to win.”
Maddox led both of the Steelers’ comeback wins against the Browns last season, including a 36-33 playoff victory in which Pittsburgh trailed 24-7 late in the third quarter. But his own mistakes prevented him from mounting a rally this time, and so did the Browns’ excellent coverage against Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. The AFC’s top receiving duo had only three catches between them, and Maddox was lifted after going 11-of-24 for 136 yards.
Maddox became agitated when asked if he still has confidence in himself, saying, “Of course I do. You want me to go jump off a cliff? Yeah, I’ve got confidence in myself and my teammates. It’s only five games into the season, it’s not the gloom and doom everybody says it is,”
History says they might be in trouble. The Steelers are 2-3 for the fourth time in five seasons; they recovered to go to the playoffs last season, but didn’t in 2000 or 1999.
The pivotal play may have come early in the third quarter, when cornerback Daylon McCutcheon stepped in front of a Maddox pass intended for Jerame Tuman and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown and a 30-10 Browns’ lead.
All of a sudden, Touchdown Tommy has become Turnover Tommy. Of Maddox’s eight interceptions, three have been returned for touchdowns and a fourth was returned to the 1, leading to another touchdown.
“I have to give it to our defensive coordinator (Dave Campo),” McCutcheon said. “I don’t know what he saw, but he just felt they were going to run a play like that. The pass rush got in his face and he threw a bad ball—but not a bad ball for me.”
Cleveland’s offense was the NFL’s third worst statistically going into the game and Pittsburgh’s defense was the second best, but it looked the other way around as Couch won his sixth consecutive road start.
Couch, who was 20-of-25 for 208 yards, completed three passes of 18 yards or longer on the Browns’ opening 81-yard drive, including one to Quincy Morgan for 32 yards, before finding Andre Davis wide open over the middle for a 6-yard touchdown.
Davis called it Couch’s best game ever, saying, “He made some really good decisions.”
Maddox, whose two interceptions led to Tennessee touchdowns the week before in a 30-13 loss, then was stripped of the ball by Courtney Brown on Pittsburgh’s third play, leading to Phil Dawson’s 19-yard field goal and the 10-0 lead.
The last two weeks, Couch and the Titans’ Steve McNair have combined to go 35-of-41 for 377 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception against the Steelers in Heinz Field.
“It was a poor display of football,” said coach Bill Cowher, who nevertheless said he doesn’t expect to change quarterbacks. “We’re not playing very well right now.”
Ward had catches of 30 and 25 yards that led to Jerome Bettis’ 1-yard run, Pittsburgh’s only touchdown, but the Browns answered with a 78-yard drive just before halftime. With the Browns down to one play before they would have tried a field goal, Couch scrambled to his right, found an open lane and scored from the 9 with just 6 seconds left before halftime. Couch’s touchdown run was only the second of his career and his first since his rookie season in 1999.
Once the Browns got a big lead, they kept giving the ball to William Green, who ran for 115 yards on 33 carries. He was held to 30 yards on 25 carries inthe playoff game in January.
Maddox has thrown 19 interceptions in his last 13 starts. … Steelers LT Marvel Smith (shoulder) was pulled on the first series and didn’t return. He sat out the Titans game with the same injury. … Couch was 16-of-17 in the first half. … Holcomb passed for 429 yards in the playoff game. … TheSteelers won all three games against Cleveland by three points last season.