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Browns Browns Archive The Year This Week Didn't Suck: Week 5
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

Browns Steelers 2003As we struggle to survive another season with the new-era Browns, one way we can try to get through it (besides alcohol or heavy medication) is to look back at the best individual weeks of the Browns’ new era to remember times in recent memory when this particular week didn’t suck.

Y’know what the Steelers do to the Browns every time they play?

Completely dominate the game from the pregame show and make their opponent look physically handicapped, thereby creating an exhibition of bleak, meaningless football that makes all who watch it want to lay down and cry?

It’s a biannual tradition we’ve come to know as well as the summer and winter solstices. We no longer question it, complain about it, or expect anything different. We just accept it and take the necessary steps to survive.

But believe it or not, there was a game - indeed, since the Browns’ bloody rebirth - when the Browns did all of those things to the Steelers. There was an electric autumn night when the Browns stormed into Heinz Field, made the earth open up just like in The Dark Knight Rises, and then giggled with glee as the Steelers fell into the yawning chasm one-by-one.

By Week 5 of the 2003 season, the Browns - fresh off their only playoff season of the new era - had already let us down, bumbling to an all-too-familiar 1-3 start, including a mind-numbingly frustrating home loss to a winless Cincinnati team the week before.

Even worse, our latest great white hope at quarterback, Kelly Holcomb, was out for a month with a “teeny-weeny” leg fracture, and we were stuck with gangly, beaten-down Tim Couch, whose career was no longer circling the drain, but was most of the way down.

So 1-4 seemed like the only possible outcome of a trip to Pittsburgh for a Sunday-night encounter with the Steelers - their first since the Browns had blown a 17-point lead to lose their playoff meeting nine months earlier. (And that, friends, endures as the high point of the Browns’ new era.)

Picking up where they’d left off with the old edition, the Steelers were now beginning to establish more ownership of the new Browns than the Lerners, winning the previous six meetings - including a hat trick in 2002 - and establishing a trend that would last through the rest of the decade and beyond. 

But then, somewhere in the football cosmos, the wires got crossed. For on this October night, the Browns reared back and delivered a Steeler pimp-slap the likes of which we haven’t seen since.

Sporting their newly reintroduced orange pants, the Browns showed the black and gold they meant business in the opening minutes, driving 81 yards in 10 plays on the game’s first possession. Before most Steelers fans found their seats (let’s be honest, some things are just harder for them), the Browns were on the scoreboard when a surprisingly crisp and efficient Couch hit wideout Andre Davis in the end zone from six yards out.

Moments later, Courtney Brown (like Couch, also teetering on the brink of irrelevance) sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox, stripped the football, and recovered it himself to set up a field goal for a 10-0 lead. With that, we were off to the races.

Andre Davis continued his big night by returning a kickoff 69 yards to set up another score, this one when Couch connected with Kevin Johnson for a short scoring pass to make it 16-3.

Pittsburgh cut the lead to six points with its only touchdown of the night late in the second quarter, but then the Browns punched back - something they rarely, if ever, do against the Steelers. With momentum about to swing back in favor of the home team, Couch looked the way a No. 1 draft pick should look as he drove the Browns 78 yards in the final three minutes of the half and pushed the lead back to double digits on his own this time when he scrambled into the end zone from nine yards with six seconds left.

Behind fantastic quarterback play, the Browns were dominating the Steelers. (Do a Google search on that sentence and see what comes up.)

The Steelers threatened to make a game of it one more time, but the Browns - just as the Steelers always did against them - slammed the door right in their Iron City Beer-drinking faces. A third-down Maddox pass was picked off by Cleveland cornerback Daylon McCutcheon, who scampered 75 yards for a back-breaking touchdown to make it 30-10 and turn the lights out on any comeback hopes in the Steel City.

The final was 33-13, and for the first time since they’d returned, the Browns had completely dominated their arch rivals. Couch was nearly perfect, completing 20 of 25 passes for 208 yards, while inconsistent tailback William Green returned to his 2002 form, picking up 115 yards on the ground.

The Cleveland defense, meanwhile, limited Bill Cowher’s boys to just over 200 total yards and only 11 first downs while collecting three sacks and three turnovers as the Browns scored their first - and only - victory at Heinz Field.

That Monday, we walked around with puffy chests repeating a phrase we haven’t been able to say in the nine years since: “Dude, we completely owned the Steelers.” Everything about it felt like a turning point not only for the Browns’ season, but for Tim Couch’s career and for the franchise as a whole. Wrong on all counts, as it turned out, but for that one night we could savor what the Steelers had always done - and continue to do - to us.

Thus, that 2003 game stands as a lonely beacon in the raped and pillaged remains of this once-important rivalry. We cling to that victory like Linus’ blanket with a defiant pride: They may have beaten us the last 71 times we’ve played and may beat us the next 71 times we play. But we got this one. 

And you can’t take it away.

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