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NFL

Familiarity feels right to Browns

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

PITTSBURGH -- They are eight-point underdogs and have lost five in a row to Pittsburgh. Virtually nobody expected them to be here at the expense of such supposed Super Bowl contenders as Denver, Miami and New England.

So what makes the Browns think they can beat the Steelers in today's wild-card at Heinz Field and advance in the AFC playoffs?

Simple, receiver Kevin Johnson says: "We're playing a team we know we can beat."

Confidence is rooted in the tightness of two regular-season meetings. Plus, the Browns now have a formidable running option. Rookie William Green played against the Steelers, but they never got a taste of the stiff-arming, tackle-busting breakaway threat who averaged 103 yards rushing the past seven games and whose 178-yard, two-touchdown performance Sunday against the Falcons made this matchup possible.

Even without a running game to honor, the Steelers still went through overtime to win the first Cleveland game and overcome a 14-3 deficit to win the other.

"They know it's going to be a tough football game," Cleveland safety Earl Little said. "When they saw we made the playoffs, they were probably like, 'We've got to play these guys again?' Because we've played them the toughest of anybody."

SECOND CHANCE: Four months after his 31st birthday and 19 months after the Steelers plucked him out of the recycle bin of quarterbacks, Tommy Maddox will start today.

It will be the first NFL playoff start of his career, which began in 1992. He replaced John Elway in Denver's 42-24 wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Raiders on Jan. 9, 1994, but Elway was injured and the game was long lost.

"That was a while back," Maddox said, smiling.

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