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12-09-2011, 06:30 AM
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Squandered opportunities haunt Browns

By Ralph N. Paulk
Friday, December 9, 2011

For much of the past 12 years, Cleveland has floundered while trying to reel in the Steelers since the Browns returned to the NFL.

Something, it seems, always goes wrong when the Browns appear on the right track. Mostly, they are haunted by poor draft picks - including quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Tim Couch.

After spinning their wheels for a decade trying to build an explosive offense, general manager Mike Holmgren conceded to the old adage that defense wins championships. So, he plucked defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard with the team's first- and second-round picks.

On a cold Thursday night at Heinz Field, the Browns' young rookie linemen held their own against the Steelers in a 14-3 defeat.

They didn't dominate. They didn't set the world afire.

More importantly, they didn't back down when the Steelers shoved them into a corner with a chance to put the Browns away. They summoned the kind of gutsy reserve usually missing in losing to the Steelers - a stretch of Steelers dominance that now totals 15 wins in 16 games.

"Personally, I wanted this game," former Steelers defensive tackle Scott Paxson said. "I still have a lot of friends over there, but deep down I wanted this one tonight.

"We played well. We didn't play well enough to win."

The Browns, it seemed, were about to write another chapter of a familiar storyline until they stood up late in the third quarter. For much of this season, they have been devoid of any momentum-shifting plays - even with the Steelers seemingly vulnerable with a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger laboring in and out of the huddle.

But when the Steelers put the Browns on their backs inside the 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Sheard and Taylor stared them down during a goal-line stand.

Linebacker Chris Gocong stuffed Rashard Mendenhall three times inside the Cleveland 1-yard line. Then, free safety Mike Adams intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger floater to turn back the Steelers' next drive and give the Browns an improbable chance at a victory.

Again, when things were going swimmingly, the Browns couldn't make a play that mattered. The Browns, aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker James Harrison, advanced into the red zone, but quarterback Colt McCoy was intercepted by cornerback William Gay in the end zone.

"We had a chance to make plays we should have made," said rookie offensive tackle Jason Pinkston, a Pitt product. "We need to get better and move on.

"It was a little pressure, but it's on us to get it done. They didn't do anything special with their pass rush. It came down to us doing a better job."

The Steelers, plagued by mistakes - including three penalties on reserve guard Chris Kemoeatu - finally put the Browns away in the waning minutes when wide receiver Antonio Brown sprinted away from three Cleveland defensive backs for a 79-yard touchdown catch with 2:52 to go.

"That's been the story with us all season," a dejected Paxson said. "But we have to keep fighting and keep swinging. I believe good things lie ahead because we're right there.

"We were even closer this week. We just didn't come away with a victory."

Ralph N. Paulk can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923 .

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