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Monday, September 15, 2008
Steelers get 'one for the other thumb'

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

CLEVELAND -- Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward flashed a million-dollar smile Sunday night.

It was the type of smile that could only come after Ward and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the rival Cleveland Browns 10-6.

 
 Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward was all smiles after the Steelers Sunday night win over Cleveland.

Ward has been a member of the Steelers throughout their entire 10-game winning streak in the series against the Browns. It's hard to beat any team in any sport 10 times in a row, but the Steelers continue to find ways.

On this particular night, the Steelers got their "one for the other thumb" over Cleveland by taking a double-digit lead on the road and repelling the Browns' rallies.

Said Steelers tailback Willie Parker: "It's Cleveland. You know how much we love to beat them."

And it shows.

Despite inclement weather, receivers Ward (five catches, 59 yards, one touchdown) and Santonio Holmes (five catches, 94 yards) had their way with the Browns' secondary, all while taunting the Cleveland Browns stadium crowd from the opening kickoff.

During a timeout, the fans from the Dawgpound were barking from the end zone and Ward, Holmes and Parker urged them on.

Ward then provided the first dagger on the field in the form of an 11-yard touchdown reception that gave Pittsburgh the early lead. He immediately ran over to the Dawgpound, turned his back on them, and kicked up grass in the face of those sitting in the front row.

"I call it 'marking my territory," said Ward, smiling again and reveling in the moment. "I silenced them with that one. They weren't expecting that. I know right now if they see me in Cleveland, they will be ready to fight me all day."

Holmes then provided a second dagger with a leaping, 48-yard reception over Browns cornerback Brandon McDonald. That play led to Pittsburgh's second scoring drive, capped by a 48-yard field goal by Jeff Reed that gave the Steelers all the points they needed for the night.

"We know how ruthless that crowd is," Holmes said. "They are always into the game and you want a crowd like that, that's going to be very hostile to all the teams. That pumps up our offensive players and makes us want to make plays to silence that crowd."

Pittsburgh held on thanks to an aggressive defense and, perhaps, lack of aggression from Browns head coach Romeo Crennel. Cleveland started to gain momentum late in the third quarter and put its first points on the board with a field goal at the 1:25 mark of the third.

Down seven points, the Browns' second scoring drive presented a fourth-and-7 on the 20-yard line with 3:24 left in the game. Crennel opted to kick a field goal and play defense. But the Browns only regained possession with 26 seconds left and no time outs remaining, 74 yards away from paydirt.

Not helping his cause is that Crennel also opted to kick a controversial field goal late in the game last week against the Dallas Cowboys, when the team was down 21 points.

Regardless, consider Browns Stadium the Steelers' unofficial home away from home. Pittsburgh (2-0) has won eight straight in Cleveland, dating back to the 2001 season.

Each time, Cleveland's hostile environment was tamed.

"They were talking so bad about me, and after the game I was just smiling,'' Ward said. "I got a lot of [middle] fingers and all that. But that's what football is all about. That's what you love about it. For whatever reason, we feel comfortable here... We just like playing in Cleveland."

The Browns will not see the Steelers again until the final game of the regular season. Maybe that game will mean something, maybe it won't. But Cleveland (0-2) missed out on a golden opportunity to make this a division race and individual series with the Steelers competitive again.

Instead, the Steelers once again leave Browns Stadium with big smiles on their faces.