Browns' game goes to the dogs, 29-9 Home field more than just an edge for Steelers, 49ers

January 08, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- On a major highway leading from Cleveland into Pittsburgh, there were many signs discouraging the Dawg Pound from coming to town.

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Tim McKyer wanted to display a new one last night.

"This one is more appropriate: How about 'Cleveland Dawgs roll over'?" McKyer asked.

Was that roll over or rolled over? The Pittsburgh Steelers turned one of the NFL's most bitter rivalries into a cakewalk, routing the Cleveland Browns, 29-9, yesterday before 58,185 at Three Rivers Stadium.

Pittsburgh (13-4) will be host for the AFC championship game next Sunday against the winner of today's Miami Dolphins-San Diego Chargers playoff game. Cleveland finished its season at 12-6, including three losses to Pittsburgh.

In those first two games, Pittsburgh won by a total of 17 points and the Browns said the Steelers were lucky. Yesterday, there was no luck, only a Pittsburgh team that scored on its first three possessions, forcing the Browns to rely on the erratic arm and fragile psyche of quarterback Vinny Testaverde.

Testaverde completed 13 of 31 passes for 144 yards. Cleveland's touchdown, a 20-yard pass from Testaverde to Keenan McCardell, didn't come until nearly six minutes remained in the game.

"They said before we were lucky," said Pittsburgh defensive end Ray Seals. "Well, what are they going to say now?

"They never respected us, always bad-mouthed us. Imagine that, them saying they were going to come into our house and beat us?" said Seals, laughing.

Cleveland had lost its previous five games at Three Rivers, and Browns coach Bill Belichick was so superstitious that he moved his team to a different hotel from where the team stayed three weeks ago when the Browns lost, 17-7, to the Steelers.

But the Browns got the same kind of treatment from the Steelers and their fans. Small planes flew overhead with obscene banners about the Browns. Those Terrible Towels, famous from the 1970s Super Bowl teams, were whipped out again, but this time carried Seals and fellow end Brentson Buckner, who spiked them in front of the Browns during player introductions.

Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell continued to play well since his return from ankle and hip injuries on Dec. 4, Pittsburgh's offensive line was overpowering, and the Steelers defense was superb.

"I think we have found the formula for success, and we're on to something special here," said Steelers outside linebacker Greg Lloyd. "We're peaking at the right time."

Tackles John Jackson and Leon Searcy, guards Justin Strzelczyk and Duval Love and center Dermontti Dawson opened hugh holes for the running backs. Barry Foster, Bam Morris and John L. Williams combined for more 236 yards.

Searcy and Strzelczyk did an excellent job of stopping Pepper Johnson and Carl Banks, two of Cleveland's top linebackers.

And when the running game is going well, O'Donnell complements it. The former University of Maryland standout completed 16 of 23 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. O'Donnell had a hot first half, completing nine of 11 passes for 123 yards.

Pittsburgh finished with 424 total yards and doubled Cleveland's time of possession, controlling the ball for 42:27.

"It was one of the finest first halves I've ever seen," said O'Donnell, in his fifth year. "Everything was clicking."

It was never more evident than on the Steelers' first touchdown drive, which started late in the first quarter. Foster ran five times for 36 yards. O'Donnell threw three times for 27, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Green that produced a 10-0 Steelers lead.

Then on Pittsburgh's next possession, the Steelers used a two-tight-end formation and ran the ball every time on a six-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 26-yard run up the middle by Williams with 9:03 left in the half.

But the real heartbreaker came when McKyer picked off Testaverde at the 26 and returned it 9 yards to the Cleveland 6 with 36 seconds left in the half. Three plays later, O'Donnell threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Yancey Thigpen for a 24-3 lead at the half.

"I think Timmy McKyer's interception was a big play, too, because we hit a big pass right before that and they stripped the ball off Ernie Mills," said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher.

"I don't think it was a complete domination, but we hit a couple of big plays early, converted a couple of third downs. I was surprised we were up so much at halftime."

From that point on, it was Pittsburgh wondering if it will it play Miami or San Diego. Cleveland tried to use a hurry-up offense in the second half, but to no avail. The Browns had trouble running their regular offense in the first half when they dropped four passes.

"They controlled us from start to finish, and I think they're headed to 'The Show' ," said Johnson. "It was embarrassing how they handled us. We've got to appreciate the season we had. But every time we turned around, we just kept running into the 'Steel Curtain' "

The Steelers are on a roll. They're already predicting a Pittsburgh-San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl.

"I don't want to talk about that yet," said Lloyd. "I just want to play here next week. Against who, I don't care. Then after that, we'll talk about the you-know-who against you-know-who showdown."

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