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Steelers Steelers' offense, defense shine in shut out of Buffalo in final preseason outing

Friday, August 31, 2001

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Steelers completed their summer session last night and await Coach Bill Cowher's pass-fail grades the next few days.

Cowher must cut 14 players by 4 p.m. Sunday, and some of those will be decided by the final test last night. The Steelers earned high grades as a team by pelting the Buffalo Bills, 20-0, in the final exhibition game.

But the individual outcomes will become more important when Cowher and his staff make their moves this weekend.

Bobby Shaw pulls in a pass in front of the Bill's Keion Carpenter in the Steelers victory at Heinz Field last night (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

Chief among his decisions will come at quarterback. The Steelers (3-1) went into the game last night believing Tee Martin could be their backup quarterback, Tommy Maddox could be No. 3, and they could release Kent Graham and his $1.4 million salary.

"I'd like to sit down and assess it," Cowher said. "The quarterback thing will take care of itself in the next 48 hours."

Martin did little to strengthen his position, but some of it was not his fault. He completed 7 of 17 passes for 45 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to fullback Ron Janes with 3:54 left in the game. But Martin often had little time to throw while playing with the reserves in the final three quarters. He was sacked four times for 19 yards in losses. He ran twice for 15 yards.

"Is it all the quarterback?" Cowher asked. "We didn't move the ball as well as I'd like it to."

If the Steelers are uncomfortable with Martin as their backup quarterback, they could keep Graham and his salary or ask him to take a pay cut, which is unlikely.

There's one other possibility. No one said Maddox could not be No. 2 and Martin No. 3.

Graham walked the sideline wearing a yellow Steelers baseball cap that he never had to remove. Maddox also did not get into the game.

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"It wasn't discouraging," Martin said of his play. "I think I maintained to show what I've been showing all along -- I'm not going to make any bad decisions, I'm not going to force any passes, I'm not going to put us in a bad situation to lose games."

The Steelers were happy with the way the first-team offense and defense performed. Quarterback Kordell Stewart directed two scoring drives before he took the night off, and the defense shut down Buffalo quarterback Rob Johnson and the Bills' offense.

"I was very pleased with the way the first offense and first defense played," Cowher said.

Although they scored only six points on Kris Brown field goals of 21 and 29 yards, Cowher had to be satisfied with his offense's short but sweet effort. Troy Edwards scored the only touchdown in the first half on a 78-yard punt return.

Stewart's play the past two games has been exceptional. Last night, he completed 9 of 14 passes for 105 yards, one was dropped and another was poked away from Plaxico Burress in the end zone.

It was a better game than Johnson had. Given the reins this year after two seasons of slugging it out with Doug Flutie, Johnson has not played well in the preseason, and he continued that way in the final game, completing 2 of 4 passes for 23 yards and having one intercepted by cornerback Deshea Townsend.

Johnson also was sacked twice in the two series he played and had his helmet ripped off by Aaron Smith on one of them.

Backup Alex Van Pelt didn't do much better for the Bills (2-2), completing 4 of 7 passes for 25 yards.

Stewart and the first-team offense took the field and scored on their first try, just as they had done the previous two games. This time, they had to settle for Brown's 21-yard field goal on one of their best drives of the preseason.

Stewart threw the ball on the first four plays, and Bobby Shaw caught one for 36 yards on third down. Mark Bruener caught another third-down throw for 10 yards. Amos Zereoue then ran three consecutive times for 22 yards before Stewart threw a third-down pass out of bounds.

Townsend, playing for injured Chad Scott, gave the offense the ball back when he intercepted a Johnson pass that stopped a Buffalo drive that had reached the Steelers' 37.

Stewart uncorked some more throws to drive them toward another field goal and a 6-0 lead. He completed a 21-yard pass to Will Blackwell, who made a nice running catch. Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala sidestepped a tackle to pick up 11yards on another third down.

They wound up settling for Brown's 29-yard field goal, but the two drives by the first team put a good end to the exhibition season.

"I was pleased with our first unit," offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said. "Obviously, we have to put more points on the board than six on those two drives."

Stewart ran the no-huddle offense on several occasions and called his own plays on those.

Cowher sent in fresh reserves for the third series on offense and defense, a move that has become traditional in the final exhibition game.

"We kind of stalled there once we substituted," Cowher said.

The second-team offense, with Martin at quarterback, had a chance to score on its first possession when they took over at Buffalo's 35. However, Matt Cushing went nowhere on fourth-and-1 at the 26. Cushing, a tight end, has been playing fullback for most of the summer because of injuries to Jon Witman and Dan Kreider.

Edwards scored the game's first touchdown on an electrifying 78-yard punt return down the left sideline in the second quarter that gave the Steelers a 13-0 lead.

Cowher enjoyed the return but was displeased when Edwards pranced into the end zone the final 5 yards

"This kid can make things happen," Cowher said.

The Steelers kept their shutout alive when Buffalo's Steve Christie missed two fourth-quarter field goals. He knocked a 22-yard field goal try off the right upright. It came after Curtis Alexander burst 39 yards off the right side to the Steelers' 4.

With 6:35 left, Christie sailed a 40-yard attempt wide to the right.

Janes scored the final touchdown after cornerback Hank Poteat intercepted a pass.

The replacement officials made their only obvious error when safety Myron Bell sacked quarterback Travis Brown, who fumbled. The officials ruled the ball was dead, although replays clearly showed it had popped loose before he hit the ground.

"The whistle was quick, but no different than in the regular season," Cowher said. "I think they did a good job."

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