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Memorable Matchup: A wild, wild card game

Posted Dec 27, 2013

A look at a classic matchup in Pittsburgh in the Steelers-Browns rivalry.


Photo Gallery: Steelers-Browns Wild-Card Game

January 5, 2003
at Heinz Field
Steelers 36, Browns 33
AFC Wild Card Playoff Game


The Steelers won the AFC North and were rewarded with an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Heinz Field on a snowy day. And they got a fired up Browns team, who got into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, to kick off the postseason.

The Browns wasted no time showing the Steelers they weren’t going to make it easy. After winning the toss, Kelly Holcomb took the Browns on an opening drive that would cover 80 yards on four plays in 1:16 and finish with a one-yard touchdown run by William Green.

The Browns extended their lead to 14-0 thanks to taking advantage of an opportunity. Antwaan Randle El muffed a punt, and Browns defensive back Chris Akins recovered at the Steelers 32-yard line. Holcomb quickly got the Browns back on the board with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Dennis Northcutt.

As the Steelers were driving on their next possession, Tommy Maddox was intercepted by Daylon McCutcheon and he returned 13 yards to the Browns 31 yard line.

An antsy Heinz Field crowd was looking for some signs of life from the Steelers, and got just that when Randle El made up for his earlier mistake by returning a punt 66 yards for a touchdown, bringing the energy back and pulling the Steelers to within a touchdown at 14-7.

The Browns added a 31-yard Phil Dawson field goal, sending the Browns in at halftime up 17-7.

Things were looking bleak in the third quarter when Northcutt caught his second touchdown pass of the game, a 15-yarder from Holcomb for a 24-7 lead. The Steelers offense finally got in the end zone when Plaxico Burress caught a six-yard touchdown pass from Maddox.

In the fourth quarter Dawson hit his second field goal of the afternoon for a 27-14 lead, but the Steelers cut into the lead when Jerame Tuman caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Maddox. The Browns fought right back, going up 33-21 when Andre Davis caught a 22-yard pass from Holcomb.

With their chance to advance in the playoffs starting to slip away, the Steelers wouldn’t be denied. Maddox hit Hines Ward for a five yard touchdown with just 3:06 to play to cut the lead to 33-28.

The defense held the Browns on their next possession, forcing a three-and-out without even a minute going off the clock and giving the Steelers one last chance with 2:35 to play from their own 39 yard line.

Maddox hit Burress for 24 yards, then Ward for 10 and back to Burress for 17 yards. Ward pulled in a seven-yard reception to give the Steelers the ball at the three-yard line. Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala took it up the middle on the delay, and the Steelers added a two point conversion on a pass from Randle El to Tuman, to secure the 36-33 win with just 54 seconds left in the game.

The win sent the Steelers to the AFC Divisional Playoff game which they lost to Tennessee, 34-31, in overtime. 

“When we got down like we did it didn’t look good to say the least,” said Steelers President Art Rooney II. “To come back the way we did, it was one of the greatest comebacks we ever had in a playoff game. I don’t know that many people in the stadium were expecting us to comeback.

“I remember the touchdown that Ma’afala scored. It was a play nobody was expecting. It was a fun game all the way around, a lot of scoring and an unusual game for us as far as how much scoring there was.”

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