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Throwback Thursday: Chris Fuamatu Ma'afala saves Steelers vs. Browns in 2002 playoffs

On a snowy day in the 2002 AFC Wild Card weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled off a tremendous comeback against Kelly Holcomb and the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The 2002 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers was unique, to say the least. At the apex of the Tommy Maddox era, the offense was anchored by names like Hines Ward, Jerome Bettis, Antwaan Randle El, Plaxico Burress, Amos Zereoue and Jerame Tuman. Plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and the defense wasn’t to be out done. Joey Porter, Kendrell Bell, Clark Haggans, James Farrior, Larry Foote, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Chris Hope kept the defense on lock down throughout the season.

With Maddox at quarterback, the team was able to complete an 11-5-1 record in 2003, enough to give them the AFC North title, and to host the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card Round at Heinz Field. The Steelers swept the season series with the Browns in 2002, but their first game was won 16-13 in overtime, and their second victory by a 23-20 margin. Needless to say, no one thought this game would be a walk in the park, and it wasn’t.

It was the Browns who came out of the gate and dominated the game. Behind Kelly Holcomb’s ridiculous day, throwing for 429 yards and 3 touchdowns, the Browns were leading 24-7 in the 3rd quarter after Holcomb hit Dennis Northcutt for a 15-yard touchdown pass, but Bill Cowher’s football team wasn’t about to crawl into a hole and die. Instead, they started to chip away at the lead.

After Plaxico Burress and Jerame Tuman touchdowns, it looked like the Steelers were ready to complete their comeback, but a 22-yard touchdown pass to Andre Davis gave the Browns a 33-21 lead in the 4th quarter. After Hines Ward caught a 5-yard touchdown pass to narrow the deficit, the Steelers were still trailing 33-28, and would need another score to take the lead in the game.

Thanks to a huge Northcutt drop, the Steelers were able to get the ball with a chance to take the lead.

With under a minute left in the game, the Steelers found themselves in a 2nd and goal situation, and then this happened:

The comeback was complete, and after Antwaan Randle El’s two-point conversion pass to Tuman, it proved to be enough for the Steelers to claim the playoff win by the final score of 36-33. The win meant the Steelers were able to advance to the divisional round of the playoffs against the Tennessee Titans, but that is a game best left forgotten as it was the nightmare of DeWayne Washington’s phantom “roughing the kicker” penalty.

That is another Throwback Thursday for another time, but in the meantime, as the 2020 Steelers prepare for the Browns this Sunday at Heinz Field, always remember the last time the Browns were in the AFC Playoffs...and the Steelers sent them home on the back of Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala.

If you want to watch the entire game, shortened, check out the link below:

If you want to check out BTSC’s Retro Show podcast of this game, check it out in the player below: