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Browns notebook: Courtney Brown collects hat trick on play

PITTSBURGH - Courtney Brown hit the trifecta last night for Cleveland, being credited with a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on one play to help stake the Browns to an early double-digit lead en route to a 33-13 victory over Pittsburgh.

On the Steelers' third offensive play, and with the Browns already ahead by 7-0, Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox retreated to pass on a play from his 28-yard line.

Brown rushed from left end and, despite being tied by up blocker Todd Fordham, the Steelers' tackle, Brown reached out with his left arm to strip the ball and then fell on it. Under NFL statistical rules, the play also counted as a sack.

Brown's exploits gave Cleveland the ball at the Pittsburgh 20 and Phil Dawson soon kicked a 19-yard field goal to bump the Browns' lead to 10-0 with 5:46 left in the first quarter.

It was Brown's third sack of the season and he added another before the end of the first quarter. Of his 15 career sacks, eight have come against the Steelers.

STREAK GROWS: Kevin Johnson's first reception last night, a nine-yard touchdown pass from Tim Couch with 12:44 remaining in the second quarter, was the 300th of his career and marked the 69th straight game in which he has caught a pass. That moved him into seventh place on the NFL's all-time ranking of consecutive games with a reception to start a career.

Marshall Faulk, whose streak is still active, heads the list with 138 straight games with a catch. Next in sight for Johnson is former San Diego tight end Kellen Winslow, who caught at least one pass in each of his first 73 games.

BAD STRETCH: How much has the Steelers' pass defense been struggling during the team's last three games?

When Cleveland's Couch finished the first half with 16 completions in 17 attempts, it capped a stretch during which opposing quarterbacks had completed 35 of 37 passes against Pittsburgh.

Cincinnati's Jon Kitna was successful on his last three attempts in a game on Sept. 21, and Tennessee's Steve McNair was 16 of 17 at Heinz Field on Sept. 28.

The two incompletions during that stretch came on a throw-away by Couch and on what observers say could easily have been ruled pass interference against the Steelers in the Tennessee game.

HE'S NO. 3: Earlier last week, Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb said his leg and ankle injuries were “significantly better and I think there's a chance I could play Sunday.'' Come game day, however, Holcomb was deactivated as the third quarterback behind Couch and rookie Nate Hybl.

SECOND CENTURY: Last night's game marked the 101st meeting between the Browns and the Steelers and that represents, by far, the most regular-season matchups vs. an opponent for both teams. Last night's decision left Cleveland with a 55-46 edge in the rivalry. Pittsburgh had won six straight.

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