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11-20-2006, 12:16 AM
Monday, November 20, 2006

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



CLEVELAND -- The beaten and battered Steelers kickoff team was gouged again yesterday when Joshua Cribbs ran one back 92 yards for a Cleveland touchdown in the fourth quarter.

It's not that their foes have a great average on returns -- 24.4 yards, a half-yard more than the Steelers average on their kickoff returns.

They just seem to give up big ones at the wrong time.

In the fourth quarter yesterday, rookie Santonio Holmes had just scored his first NFL touchdown and the Steelers' first touchdown of the game to cut Cleveland's lead to three points when Cribbs quickly erased that effort.

"They switched up what they were doing and trapped guys inside," said Sean Morey, one of the Steelers' two special teams captains. "A couple of guys, myself included, got caught up inside. But the guy's a good returner. There's a reason why he's had such a successful season so far."

The Steelers also discovered some success in kick returning. Morey was placed back deep a week ago against New Orleans when coach Bill Cowher decided to take Holmes off the job. He put Morey there primarily to block for Najeh Davenport.

But Morey, who had just seven kickoff returns in his career before last week (all in 2003 for the Eagles), found the Saints and Browns trying to kick to him instead. So, he returned one 76 yards yesterday to Cleveland's 18.

It's the longest kickoff return of the season for the Steelers and Morey leads the team with a 34.5-yard average on four returns.

"If they want to kick to me, that's fine,'' Morey said. "I don't get many opportunities. I figured I might as well do something with it.''


Short but sweet


Willie Parker did not have his best game rushing with 46 yards on 16 carries. But he did score two touchdowns -- on a 1-yard run and the winning score on a 4-yard reception with 32 seconds left.

That left him with 12 touchdowns, just three from tying Louis Lipps' team record set in 1985.

"I'm not going to sit here and dwell on the touchdowns. I'm just trying to do what it takes to win games," Parker said.

Part of the reason for his newfound scoring prowess is the fact that without Jerome Bettis Parker has stayed in the game in goal-line situations.

"I love being on short yardage,'' Parker said.


Trash-talking, Part I


Cleveland receiver Braylon Edwards boasted last week that "We're coming for the Steelers, that's point-blank, period," and yesterday he stood by his words.

Edwards caught seven passes for 137 yards and came away unimpressed with the Steelers.

"They're not good. What does it say? They're 3-6, we're 3-6. The hell with the Steelers. They're not doing anything right now. They beat us, now they're 4-6. They still have a losing record, just like us."

Steelers linebacker Joey Porter kissed off Edwards' performance in the overall scheme of yesterday's game.

"You have to win to back it up. They still lost," Porter said. "You can go out there and talk. If you lose, your answers don't mean nothing. Personally, he had a good game but they lost. So I don't see how he backed it up. They lost."

Porter showed up for the second consecutive game wearing fatigues.

"Every week, different fatigue," he said. "I can't change now."

Edwards spent late Saturday afternoon and early Sunday evening watching his Michigan Wolverines lose to Ohio State, then returned to Cleveland via a hired helicopter.

Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, who also played at Michigan, watched the first quarter on a portable TV on the bus trip from Pittsburgh. The thought of getting on a helicopter was never an option for Foote.

"I ain't getting in one of them,'' Foote said.


Trash-talking, Part II


Browns tight end Kellen Winslow has been called a lot of things -- flattering and otherwise -- during his career in the NFL and at the University of Miami, but Huckleberry? That was Porter's term for him after the game yesterday.

"I know I've got my Huckleberry now. I don't need to look for one the next time we play Cleveland. All I have to do is look for No. 80."

Winslow had engaged Porter in a pregame shouting match as the teams warmed up.

"My first thought was, 'Whoa! Who's this guy? What is he doing talking to me like that?' " Porter said. "But it was good. I need that. It got my rage going."

Porter added that Winslow was "humble" after catching four passes for 36 yards in the Browns' loss. "He came up to me and told me he respected my game."

Said Winslow of the pregame antics: "Sometimes, you have to stand up to the bully. I was just standing up to the bully."


Good plays for nothing


Browns cornerback Daven Holly, a Clairton High School graduate, intercepted two passes and returned one 57 yards for a touchdown, but was not satisfied with his game.

"I'm here to win football games," he said. "I can get three or four interceptions and return them all to the house and it really means nothing. I'd rather be celebrating with a victory and it be loud and happy because we beat Pittsburgh."


Cowher's critique


Cowher made a point to talk with Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye after the game and his words made an impression.

"He told me, 'You've made great strides since the last time we played,' " Frye said. "He said, 'You look like a totally different quarterback. Keep working hard, you're going to be a great player.'

"It means a lot to me coming from him, a Super Bowl coach. He's a defensive-minded coach. To hear him say that, it makes you feel as good as you can after losing to the Steelers."


Quick hits


The Steelers had the ball for 12 minutes and two seconds of the final quarter. ... Cornerback Bryant McFadden started in place of Deshea Townsend, who played in the nickel and dime defenses for the Steelers. Townsend was listed as questionable with an ankle injury. ... Wide receiver Hines Ward left briefly in the fourth quarter with a bruised knee and was helped into the locker room while leaning on Dr. Joseph Maroon. Cowher said he believes Ward will be OK. ... Linebacker Clark Haggans reinjured an ankle in the game but never left the field because of it. ... RB Najeh Davenport left the game for good in the third with a groin injury. Ike Taylor replaced him on kickoff returns.


Inactives


Steelers: Brian St. Pierre (QB), WR Willie Reid, RB Duce Staley, C Marvin Philip, G Chris Kemoeatu, OT Willie Colon, DE Rodney Bailey, LB Marquis Cooper.

Browns: Ken Dorsey (QB), DB Justin Hamilton, CB Leigh Bodden, RB Reuben Droughns, OL Isaac Sowells, OL Fred Matua, OL Nat Dorsey, WR Travis Wilson.



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(Staff writers Ron Cook and Bob Smizik contributed to this report. Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com. )