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Steelers Steelers Report: 10/6/03

Monday, October 06, 2003

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

LOOKING AHEAD

Steelers vs. Broncos, 4:15 p.m. Invesco Field at Mile High, Denver. TV: KDKA. Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and Steelers Radio Network.

WHO’S HURTING

Marvel Smith, Steelers LT, reinjured his shoulder on the team’s second play of the game and left after the third play. That shoulder caused him to miss the previous game. He was replaced by Oliver Ross.

Quincy Morgan, Browns WR, left in the third quarter with a sprained knee and did not return.

NEWS & NOTES

It is becoming a rarity to see an opposing quarterback throw an incomplete pass against the Steelers. Last week, Titans QB Steve McNair was 15 of 16 against them with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Last night, Browns QB Tim Couch was nearly as accurate, completing 20 of 25 for 208 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Early in the third quarter, he was 17 of 18, at which point opposing quarterbacks were 35 of 37 against the Steelers, including Bengals QB Jon Kitna’s final three passes Sept. 21. Quarterbacks were 53 of 88 against the Steelers in the first three games. “We’re not going to panic,” Steelers SS Mike Logan said. “We’re not going to let them get to where everyone comes out and plays well against us. We’re not going to let this snowball. We just need to regroup and adjust.” One clear sign that the Browns came into Heinz Field intent on picking on the Steelers’ secondary was this comment from Couch: “I thought, all week long, if we could get them blocked, we’d be able to do some things downfield.”

Couch had been 2-5 in his career against the Steelers, but he was the dominant player last night in turning in the best completion ratio of his career. He stood tall in the pocket, checked off receivers and showed mobility when pressured. Above all, he displayed a precise touch with long passes, allowing his targets to take his throws in stride. Browns coach Butch Davis called it the best he has seen Couch: “I can’t say enough about Tim’s performance.” Still, Davis would not name Couch his starter for next week. Couch lost his starting job in the preseason to Kelly Holcomb, but he has been No. 1 since Holcomb was injured Sept. 21 against the 49ers. Holcomb should be ready for next week. Couch was asked if he felt he should be the starter. “I really don’t know,” he replied. “I’m just going to go with what they tell me. Right now, I’m the backup.”

Steelers WR Hines Ward’s 30-yard reception with 5:07 left in the second quarter marked the first time he touched the ball or that a pass was intended for him. Ward finished with two catches for 55 yards, both coming on the same drive. Ward was asked if he was surprised to have been used so sparingly. “Surprised? I don’t know,” he replied. “I’m going to give the effort, but if the ball’s not coming to me ... ” Ward was asked other questions on the matter and avoided the subject. He did offer a backing of beleaguered Steelers QB Tommy Maddox: “He’s our leader, our team captain. We need to rally around him.”

Another missing element of the Steelers’ offense -- only going back well beyond last night -- was RB Jerome Bettis, who ran three times for 8 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown. For the season, he has 30 carries for 94 yards and two of the team’s four rushing touchdowns. Starter Amos Zereoue carried 13 times for 38 yards, a 2.9-yard average, and was booed heavily late in the game. Zereoue’s average per carry for the season is 3.6 yards. Bettis, as well as Ward, declined to criticize the amount of participation he is being allowed: “I don’t know. I’m just a football player. They’re the coaches. ... It’s frustrating for me because I want us to win. I want to see us get out of this.”

Steelers coach Bill Cowher found fault with the work of the referees: “I’ve seen better officiated games.” The Steelers were penalized 10 times for 62 yards, the Browns twice for 10 yards.

The fans began booing the Steelers as early as the second quarter, and that grew in the final two. Logan acknowledged the players were not numb to the treatment: “Yeah, we heard the boos. That’s part of football. I’m a fan of this team, too. They’re definitely frustrated, but we are, too.”

The Steelers had an apparent 59-yard, punt-return touchdown by WR Antwaan Randle El negated by a penalty. LB Clark Haggans was flagged for blocking Browns LB Barry Gardner in the back.

Down, 30-10, with 2:56 left in the third quarter, with fourth-and-15 at the Browns’ 20, the Steelers opted to send PK Jeff Reed out for a field goal. He made it from 37 yards, but the decision still drew boos.

Rivalry? What rivalry? Davis, asked if it means more to beat the Steelers than another team: “Anytime you beat a team in the division, it’s big.”

The Browns wore orange pants for the second time this season and the second time since 1983. They lost this season’s home opener in those pants to the Colts, 9-6. The previous time they wore them -- coincidence or not -- was a 30-17 victory against the Steelers Dec. 18,1983, at Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium.

Styx performed the national anthem, with lead singer Tommy Shaw adding acoustic guitar, drawing a loud roar from the crowd. Just after that, the band’s classic, “Renegade,” was played to the crowd with a special video of Steelers highlights. The band was accompanied on the field by former Steelers LB Kevin Greene, who travels with them regularly.

INACTIVE LISTS

Steelers: TE Jay Riemersma (shoulder), RB Dante Brown, WR Freddie Milons, OT Mathias Nkwenti, G Keydrick Vincent, DT Chris Hoke and LB Alonzo Jackson. TE Jerame Tuman started in place of Riemersma.

Browns: QB Kelly Holcomb (leg, ankle), TE Aaron Shea (shoulder), CB Michael Lehan (hamstring), WR C.J. Jones, G Enoch DeMar, DE Tyrone Rogers, DT Antonio Garay and CB Roosevelt Williams.

FOR THE RECORD

RB Jerome Bettis’ touchdown run in the second quarter gave him 318 career points, tying him for seventh place on the Steelers’ all-time list with Lynn Swann.

The crowd of 64,595 was the largest at Heinz Field for a regular-season game, second-largest overall.

NUMBERS

The Steelers are 3-2 against the Browns in Pittsburgh since Cleveland re-entered the NFL in 1999.

The Browns’ offensive output of 33 points was more than double their previous high for the season. In their first four games, they scored six, 13, 13 and 14 points.

Steelers QB Tommy Maddox has thrown 19 interceptions and 15 touchdowns in his past 12 games dating to last season.

The Steelers went 1 for 3 in producing touchdowns once inside the red zone -- at the opponent’s 20 or closer -- bringing their season conversion rate to 6 of 17.

The Browns’ touchdown on their opening drive marked the first time this season the Steelers did not produce the first points of a game.

Browns DE Courtney Brown’s sack of Maddox on the Steelers’ first possession was his seventh in six career games against them. He knocked the ball from Maddox’s hand and recovered the fumble.

Browns WR Kevin Johnson has caught a pass in 69 consecutive games.

The Browns have won the past six road games started by QB Tim Couch.

The Browns’ margin of victory was their largest since a 42-14 rout of the Rams in Los Angeles Dec. 26, 1993.

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