Although the Browns reached the playoffs this season, it is hard to say that they were close to making the Super Bowl. Considering they snuck into the playoffs as the AFC’s second wild card team and starting quarterback Tim Couch broke his leg in the regular season finale, it was hard to see them making a deep run. But with all that said, Cleveland was one play away in the Wild Card round from moving on.
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Browns backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb was making his fourth career start against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. And subsequently, he had one of the best games of his career.
Led by Holcomb’s strong first half, the Browns took a 17-7 lead into halftime. Cleveland extended their lead to 17 after halftime, and were driving down the field once again to put the game into doubt.
However, Holcomb threw an interception and the Steelers were able to cut the lead down to 10. Holcomb responded by leading the Browns back down the field, with Phil Dawson capping off the drive with a field goal to give Cleveland a 27-14 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
But during the fourth quarter, the Browns defense could not slow down the Steelers. Pitssburgh cut the lead to five with three minutes remaining in the game. As the Browns tried to wind down the clock, Holcomb threw a pass to a wide open Dennis Northcutt, who was having a career-defining game on third down.
However, Northcutt dropped the pass that could have ended the game, and forced the Browns to punt. Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox then drove down the field and helped the Steelers score the game-winning touchdown.
Holcomb completed 26 of 43 passes for 429 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He was fearless despite starting in the biggest game of his career. Had Northcutt not dropped the pass and the Browns defeated the Steelers, who knows how far Holcomb could have led the Browns.
The Steelers ended up losing in the next round to the Tennessee Titans, 34-31. If Cleveland had made it to Tennessee, there is a decent chance they could have made it to the AFC Championship, considering they had defeated the Titans already in the regular season.
It is hypothetical at this point, but could Kelly Holcomb have led the Browns to their first AFC Championship Game since 1989? It is hard to say, but it was a possibility that could have put the Browns one more game away from the “Big Game,” the Super Bowl.