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Steelers Play of the Day: For a change, defense reaps some rewards

Monday, October 02, 2000

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- With the Steelers going to New York this weekend to face the Jets, defensive coordinator Tim Lewis had planned to warn his players to stay away from Broadway.

He figured they had seen enough big plays already.

Yesterday, with the Steelers looking for a way to stop the team with the top two receivers in the National Football League, the defense went out and turned the tables on the Jacksonville Jaguars ... and perhaps even themselves.

For a change, the Steelers decided to make a big play instead of having one made against them.

"I told them Saturday night, it's time for us to go reap some rewards for all the hard work and practice we've put in," Lewis said. "They've been busting their rears, they really have, and they've had nothing to show for it."

Now they do.

It might not find its way onto any highlight film, certainly not the way Plaxico Burress and his ill-advised spike will make the blooper reels, and it might even get lost among the seven sacks turned in by a defense that had managed just two in the first three games.

But when Lee Flowers, the team's strong safety and a player not prone to making interceptions, stepped in front of a Mark Brunell pass early in the second quarter, the Steelers suddenly brought to a quick end their 0-5 streak in this northern Florida city.

Not only did it come on the first play after Kris Brown's 19-yard field goal that gave the Steelers a 10-3 lead. It resulted in the first of two Jerome Bettis touchdown runs that led to a surprising 24-13 victory.

"That knocked the wind out of them," safety Brent Alexander said.

What's more, it came not long after the defense gained a moral victory, holding Jacksonville to a field goal after the Jaguars blocked a punt and gained possession at the Steelers' 4.

"That set the tempo for the game," Flowers said. "We always said we need to start fast, and that was the perfect situation. We stepped up and held them to a field goal."

The Steelers' defense could do little wrong against the Jaguars. They held running back Fred Taylor to 24 yards on 15 carries, allowed quarterback Mark Brunell to complete just 15 of 32 passes for 137 yards and kept wide receiver Jimmy Smith from looking anything like the player who leads the NFL in receptions (36), yards (516) and touchdowns (6). Smith had just two catches for 20 yards.

They even kept the Jaguars from scoring on their first offensive possession, something the Steelers haven't done in all three previous games this season and nine of their past 11.

"We were long overdue for this," Flowers said. "We have let the offense down and the special teams down. We've been letting a lot of people down."

That's what made Flowers' interception so special. In each of their previous three games, the Steelers had fallen behind early and spent the rest of the game trying to catch up.

They never did catch up against Baltimore, which took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter and won, 16-6, but the Steelers fought back from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit in Cleveland to take a 20-17 lead before losing, 23-20; and they were tied 20-20 with Tennessee after the Titans had taken a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

This time, the Steelers not only wasted little time catching the Jaguars; they put them away in the second quarter.

"Any time you get a turnover for the offense and give them excellent field position, it's always good for the team," cornerback Chad Scott said.

That's what Flowers did.

The Jaguars had just fallen behind 10-3 and had first down on their 24.Until then, Brunell had completed just 3 of 9 passes for 38 yards.

Lewis, though, expected the Jaguars' quarterback to come out throwing. So he gave Brunell a different defensive look on first down, using a zone defense instead of man.

"I think Brunell thought we were in man [defense]," Flowers said.

"I'm trying to make sure we're not predictable on first down," Lewis said. "So I made a different call."

Brunell was trying to hit Taylor, his second-year running back, on a short curl in the left flat, but Flowers stepped in front of the pass and made the interception, only his second in five NFL seasons.

"That was huge," said cornerback Dewayne Washington. "I take my hat off to him. He really impressed me catching that ball. That was a big play."

The Steelers needed just six plays to put the game away. However, they can thank Jaguars Coach Tom Coughlin for giving them an extra one.

Instead of declining a holding penalty that would have given the Steelers fourth-and-2 at the Jaguars' 5, Coughlin accepted the 10-yard infraction and pushed the ball back to the 15, making it third-and-12. On the next play, Kordell Stewart threw a 14-yard screen pass to Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala for a first down at the Jaguars' 1. Bettis scored on the next play.

They can thank Flowers.

"We tried to show them something different," Flowers said.

They did.

A big play by the defense.

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