Steelers leave Cleveland behind, 20-17 Pittsburgh's last drive runs out clock, rivalry that dates to 1950

Browns tie from 14 down

Turnovers on first two plays dig hole

November 27, 1995|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- The so-called greatest rivalry in the National Football League still had an old flavor.

Numerous cookouts in the parking lots. Arguments. Fights. Dog faces and helmets. More than 67,000 fans were at Cleveland Stadium yesterday, some clad in orange and brown, the others in Pittsburgh yellow and black.

But this series ain't what it used to be because the Cleveland Browns are expected to become the Baltimore Browns, and the famed Dawg Pound has lost some of its bite.

If this was one for the road, then the Pittsburgh Steelers left town with a 20-17 victory over Cleveland in one of the league's most celebrated rivalries, which began in 1950.

The Browns (4-8) put up a gallant fight overcoming an early 14-point deficit, but couldn't stop the Steelers (8-4) during their last, 14-play drive, which used up the final 8:52 of the game.

The drive preserved a lead Pittsburgh gained on Norm Johnson's 27-yard field goal with 14:53 left in the game.

"We had our opportunities," said Cleveland quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who made his first start in five games. "Sure, this is frustrating. We had it in our grasp and attempted to go get it and take it, but you have to give credit to Pittsburgh.

"They came back and made plays when they had to, and they ran the clock out when they needed to do that," he said.

The Browns didn't have to worry about fan support, even though there were 11,243 no-shows, no pre-game introductions for the Browns and plenty of signs ridiculing owner Art Modell. This was still the Steelers, remember, and Testaverde gave the fans something to cheer about when he scored on a 1-yard rollout around right end to tie the score at 17 with 7:01 left in the third quarter.

But the Browns' offense had no rhythm after that score, the result of a 16-play, 73-yard drive. Their two remaining drives ended with an interception with 12:43 left and at the Cleveland 30 before the Steelers took over to run out the clock.

"We couldn't stop them when we had to," said Browns defensive end Anthony Pleasant. "They came out in that drive and shoved it down our throats. We couldn't get our will back. We were tired and got burned out as the game went on."

Cleveland's defense, which gave up 318 yards, was on the field for nearly 12 minutes in the first quarter. Testaverde threw the first of two interceptions on his first pass of the game when he overthrew receiver Andre Rison and cornerback Willie Williams returned it to the Browns' 24 to set up a 33-yard field goal by Johnson.

It was the start of a mediocre day for Testaverde, who completed 20 of 33 passes for 178 yards, but also missed receivers or threw into double coverage several times.

Testaverde was the focus during the post-game news conference. He didn't know until minutes before the game that he was going to start. He had soreness in his throwing shoulder that caused him to miss practice Thursday.

Testaverde on his shoulder: "The shoulder is much better now. I can't blame it for not getting the job done."

Testaverde on not knowing if he was going to start: "You just try to do the best that you can under the circumstances. I wish the shoulder wasn't as serious as it was. I would have liked to have practiced, to have been better prepared. I wished I had some of those passes back I threw today."

Testaverde wasn't the only Cleveland player to get off to a bad start. Browns running back Leroy Hoard fumbled on the first play of the team's second possession, and Pittsburgh recovered at the Cleveland 37.

O'Donnell threw a 25-yard pass to Yancey Thigpen on the next play, and then 12 yards over the middle to tight end Mark Bruener. Touchdown.

So, in the first nine minutes of the game, Cleveland had possession for 29 seconds with two turnovers. It's no wonder the crowd cheered wildly when Hoard ran up the middle for 5 yards on the team's third offensive play.

"We dug ourselves a big hole," said cornerback Antonio Langham. "You push and push and push, then either you have to overtake them early in the second half, or you fade down the stretch."

Testaverde led the Browns to Matt Stover's 44-yard field goal and threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jackson in the closing 10 minutes of the second period to pull within 17-10 at the half, but Pittsburgh exploited Cleveland's weaknesses for the remainder of the game.

Pittsburgh retained possession with passes over the middle, which Cleveland cornerbacks never figured out how to stop. The Steelers also baffled the Browns by using a five-receiver set, getting mismatches with linebackers.

Cleveland still doesn't have a game-breaking running back, and the old legs of running back Earnest Byner (27 yards rushing) and the battered body of Hoard (49 yards) aren't enough to complement Testaverde's average arm.

"This year has been a disappointing season. I don't think there is any other way to put it," said Browns coach Bill Belichick.

It became even more disappointing with the loss to Pittsburgh, the fifth straight to the Steelers and the fifth consecutive home defeat this year.

"It may be the end, and it would have been great to go out whipping them one last time," Langham said. "But I guess it was not meant to be. A lot of things have been that way this year."

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