Keeping their big, third-quarter lead this time, the Browns got a bit of revenge -- and quarterback Tim Couch got to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field -- exactly nine months after the fact on national TV.
Having one of the best overall games of his career, Couch passed for two touchdowns and ran for another in leading the Browns to a convincing, 33-13 win on Oct. 5, 2003 on Sunday Night Football.
The Browns led the Steelers, 24-7, in the third quarter of the 2002 AFC wild-card playoffs on Jan. 5, 2002 at Pittsburgh, but ended up losing, 36-33. Couch missed the game after suffering a broken bone in his leg six days before in the regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons.
But Couch showed no lasting effects of that injury. He did almost everything right, hitting 20 of 25 passes for 208 yards with the two scores and one interception for a quarterback rating of 111.3. He wasn’t touched on his nine-yard rollout for a touchdown.
The victory was the Browns’ second in three games and upped their record to 2-3. The Steelers also stood at 2-3 after losing their second straight and third in four games.
Just like the playoff game, the Browns jumped on the Steelers right away, leading 10-0 after one quarter on Couch’s six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Andre Davis and Phil Dawson’s 19-yard field goal.
A high-scoring second quarter left the Browns in front, 23-10, at halftime.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring with Jeff Reed’s 30-yard field goal.
The Browns made it 16-3 when Couch passed nine yards to wide receiver Kevin Johnson for a touchdown.
That was followed by Jerome Bettis’ one-yard scoring run.
Couch’s touchdown run with just 13 seconds left closed the first-half scoring.
Then it was the Browns defense’s turn, as cornerback Daylon McCutcheon made his lone interception of the season a memorable one, stepping in front of a Tommy Maddox pass and racing 75 yards untouched down the sideline for a touchdown with 9:46 remaining in the third quarter.
That ballooned the lead to 30-10, but, after what had happened in the playoff game, neither the Browns nor their fans were breathing easy. When the lead was reduced to 17, 30-13, on Reed’s 37-yard field goal with 2:45 left in the third quarter, the Browns -- eerily so -- were right where they had been nine months before.
But they made sure there was not a repeat of that by locking down defensively the rest of the night.
Dawson’s 22-yard field goal with 9:33 remaining in the game made it 33-13, then, on Pittsburgh’s second play after the ensuing kickoff, free safety Earl Little sealed the victory with another interception.
Maddox, the hero of the comback playoff victory, was held to 11-of-24 passing for 136 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.
For the Browns, William Green complemented Couch’s performance by rushing for 115 yards in 33 attempts. Wide receiver Dennis Northcutt had five receptions for 58 yards.