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Steelers Cook: Give McNair all the credit

Monday, September 25, 2000

Take your anger and set it aside. Yeah, I know, the Steelers' 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans hurts like heck and your frustration is off the charts. But get over it. Give the Cowher bashing a break. The Kordell bashing. The Rooney bashing.


This is one day you should give the other guy a little credit.

What Steve McNair did to beat the Steelers yesterday was amazing.

"Steve is a hero, man," Titans running back Eddie George said.

A pretty fair quarterback, too.

The kind of mobile, make-big-plays, do-what-it-takes-to-win quarterback you wish Kordell Stewart was.


That will be the extent of the Kordell bashing here this morning.

If you still feel the need to blame someone, blame Jason Gildon. Not for blowing the coverage on McNair's winning touchdown pass, although that was the wrong time for a big lapse. Blame him for knocking out Neil O'Donnell.

That's the way it is for the Steelers these days. They make a great defensive play and it ends up beating them.

The Titans weren't going to win this game with O'Donnell. He threw three interceptions just as he did in a certain Super Bowl you might remember. He and the Titans' offense did almost nothing after scoring 10 points on their first two drives.

Then Gildon had to go and rough up O'Donnell.

It was a nice sack, actually. It left the Titans, down 20-16, with a third-and-11 at their 36 with 2:35 left. Of greater significance, it left O'Donnell with a bloody lower lip, a sore neck and a headache.

Who could have guessed that would be the beginning of the end for the Steelers?

If you watched the last Super Bowl, you probably weren't that surprised. McNair led the Titans on a 12-play, 87-yard drive that ended at the St. Louis Rams' 1 as time ran out. That's how close they came to sending the game into overtime.

The stakes were much less yesterday, but McNair's work was just as impressive.

He didn't start because of a bruised sternum from a hit from Kansas City's Duane Clemons Sept. 10. The injury was so bad he spent two nights in the hospital. The only throwing he did during the next two weeks came during one two-minute drill Friday with the scout offense against the Titans' No. 1 defense.

That drive also went for a touchdown, by the way.

"Our concern with Steve wasn't with his ability to throw," Titans Coach Jeff Fisher said.

That was obvious when McNair threw a dart to Chris Sanders for a 22-yard gain on that third-and-11 play.

"Our concern was with his ability to take a hit," Fisher said. "But, apparently, he forget about that on the second play."

McNair scrambled for 9 yards, diving at the end in an attempt to make the first down.

"I'm thinking, 'Slide. Get down. Get down,'" Fisher said. "But that's how Steve is."

All that was left after McNair completed a 15-yard pass to Derrick Mason was the final, winning play.

First-and-10 at the Steelers' 18 with 1:31 left.

"I couldn't believe the configuration of their defense," McNair said. "I knew [tight end Erron Kinney] was one-on-one with a linebacker. I'll take Erron in that matchup any day."

Gildon was supposed to cover Kinney but ended up nowhere near him. It might have been the easiest touchdown pass of McNair's career.

"It all happened so fast," McNair said. "I didn't even know I was out there playing until we scored the touchdown."

McNair's admirers weren't just on the Titans' sideline.

"He came in and got it done regardless," Stewart said. "Guys made some great plays for him. That's what it's all about. Guys working for each other."

McNair still couldn't breathe easily for reasons beyond his sore chest. The Steelers still had one final shot. Wouldn't you know Stewart ended up in the game for the final 70 seconds after Kent Graham was injured? He scrambled for 16 yards. He threw a 6-yard pass to Bobby Shaw. But on third-and-4 from the Titans' 32, his pass for Shaw nearly was intercepted. Kris Brown's 50-yard field-goal try was no good.

In the end, the difference might have come down to the mind-sets of the two teams. The Titans knew they were going to win with McNair. "He had that look in his eye," Fisher said. The Steelers hoped to win with Stewart.

That isn't more Kordell bashing.

"That's Steve McNair," George said.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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