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Slim Pickens?: Steelers hoping to contain WR in the rematch

Friday, December 18, 1998

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens, Carl Pickens.

"That was so long ago, but, obviously, it's something that sticks in your mind, the way that game [Oct. 11] turned out." Dewayne Washington, Steelers cornerback (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette) 

Twelve times that Oct. 11 afternoon, the Cincinnati receiver caught passes against the Steelers, dissected the Steelers, frustrated the Steelers. Then he made his 13th and last catch, the one they remember best.

You bet they remember.

The Steelers' defensive coaches have been replaying that game-winning pass on their Three Rivers Stadium office screens all week. But they didn't need to.

"You don't forget," safety Darren Perry said.

Drop back nine weeks, to Cincinnati's Cinergy Field. Neil O'Donnell takes the snap, and 17 players stand around, expecting a clock-stopping spike. Instead, the Bengals quarterback looks toward Darnay Scott along the right sideline, where Carnell Lake has the receiver well covered. He then looks toward Pickens along the left sideline, where the shorter Dewayne Washington defends. The Bengals quarterback lofts a pass their way.

Flag. Catch. Touchdown, as Pickens sidesteps the fallen Washington at the goal line. Pickens glares and jaws and taunts the beaten cornerback, who was also called for interference on the pass.

You bet Washington remembers.

    Related article:

Steelers Notebook: Kirkland, Steed snubs for Pro Bowl assailed


The odd thing is, he claims it doesn't bother him.

"Not really," he said yesterday with a smile.

What about the taunts? "That's part of the game. If I had gotten the pass, I probably would have done the same thing."

So if you're looking for a revenge motive, a cornerback lying in wait, you might as well pull an O'Donnell and look elsewhere.

"I don't get caught up in that," Washington said.

The object for Sunday's Bengals-Steelers rematch at Three Rivers is to not let the ball get into Pickens' hands so much.

The lanky, 6-foot-2 receiver, who is three inches taller than Washington, went up and grabbed a 50-yard pass over him on fourth-and-12 with 1:12 remaining, when the Bengals had no timeouts and seemingly no hope. Then he went up over Washington and grabbed that 25-yard game-winner with 20 seconds-left. That was the last game Cincinnati won.

Cincinnati's Carl Pickens hauls in the now infamous - in Pittsburgh, anyway - Neil O'Donnell fake-spike pass to beat the Steelers Oct. 11 at Cinergy Field in Cincinnati. Defending on the play: Dewayne Washington. (Tony Tribble, Associated Press) 

In all, Pickens caught 13 passes for 204 yards that afternoon. Those statistics not only were career highs for Pickens - who with 79 receptions for 1,054 yards and six touchdowns - but they represent the best single-game performance by an NFL receiver this season.

.The 204 yards were the most by an NFL receiver this season. Only the Steelers' Courtney Hawkins, with 15 receptions against Tennessee Nov. 1, has more catches in a game.

No one in the Steelers' offices has been allowed to forget Pickens, Pickens, Pickens.

"We've studied the film from the last game," Perry said. "They did some things to hurt us. And that play was up there."

"He's somebody we have to make sure we pay attention to," Lake added. "Our thing is, we take a lot of pride in what we do on defense, and we're going to try our best to make sure that doesn't happen again."

Pickens ranks third in the AFC in receiving with 77 catches for 971 yards and five touchdowns, but much about him and the Bengals has changed since the last time these teams met. The Bengals have lost nine games, gone through three quarterback changes and listened to Pickens, their all-time leading receiver, express his desire to leave.

One week ago today, the free-agent-to-be proclaimed: "I don't want to come back." He has endured a 35-75 Bengals record in his seven seasons, and he hopes to take the last year of his four-year, $11-million contract and get out of the Queen City.

The Bengals could designate him their franchise player, meaning they could offer him the average of the top-five receivers' salaries and retain the right to match any other offer. In that event, Pickens said, he would sit out the 1999 season rather than play in Cincinnati.

Pickens was reunited last week with quarterback Jeff Blake, who became the new Bengals starter after O'Donnell went on injured reserve because of a broken hand and Paul Justin got the offense to go nowhere. Even though he and Blake connected on their 43rd NFL touchdown together, Pickens caught only four passes for 18 yards in a humbling loss at Indianapolis. He watched the final quarter from the sideline as youngsters Willie Jackson (three catches), Stepfret Williams (three) and Scott (six) received the bulk of the work.

The Steelers remember, though. They know all about Pickens and his capabilities. Washington, likewise, has been there before, defending against Pickens with Minnesota in a 1995 game when the receiver caught a half-dozen balls.

"Of course, it's not a happy memory, getting beaten for a touchdown that wins the game," Washington said of their confrontation in October. "But that's the nature of the position. Those things are going to happen.

"That was so long ago, but, obviously, it's something that sticks in your mind, the way that game turned out. We're really going to get geared up and try to contain him this time. I say 'contain' instead of 'shut down' because they're going to get him the ball."

Just not 13 times this Sunday, if the Steelers can help it.

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