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Steelers Steelers Report: 11/11/02

Monday, November 11, 2002

By Ed Bouchette, Dejan Kovacevic and Bob Smizik, Post-Gazette Sports Writers

LOOKING AHEAD

Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. Sunday, the Coliseum. TV: KDKA. Radio: WBGG-AM (970), WDVE-FM (102.5), Steelers Radio Network. Last season, the Steelers won for the first time in five visits to Tennessee, 34-24, on Nov. 25, 2001, as WR Plaxico Burress had eight catches for 114 yards.

WHO’S HURTING

Neither team reported any injuries.

NEWS & NOTES

The Steelers deactivated RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma’Afala (chest), G Keydrick Vincent, LB Justin Kurpeikis, OT Mathias Nkwenti, DT Chris Hoke, TE Dan O’Leary and DE Brett Keisel. The Falcons deactivated WR Darri Chieverini (quadriceps), G Roberto Garza (foot), CB Juran Bolden (knee), RB T.J. Duckett (foot), LB Karon Riley, OT Kevin Shaffer and DE Reggie McGrew.

Because Steelers HB Amos Zereoue weighs 208 pounds, there have been questions about his ability to stand up to the rigors of being a starter in an offense that is run-oriented. Based on his past two games, Zereoue is proving he can handle the load like Jerome Bettis. Zereoue carried the ball 37 times yesterday for 123 yards. His carries were second most in franchise history, trailing only Franco Harris, who had 41 attempts in 1976 against Cincinnati. Over the past two games, Zereoue has carried 66 times for 234 yards. Bettis, for all his power and durability, never has carried the ball 66 times in consecutive games. In fact, he's carried more than 37 times only once. That was in the final game of 1993, his rookie season with the Rams, when he carried 39 times for 146 yards. Zereoue is relishing his role. “I want the workload,” he said. “I’m not complaining. If that’s what we have to do, I’m ready for it.”

The only loser yesterday was the grass surface at Heinz Field. The Steelers, who have been guarded in criticizing their home field, did not hold back after their tie against Atlanta. “The turf was terrible,” WR Hines Ward said. “It doesn’t make any sense, guys falling down at the last moment.” Ward stumbled on a 30-yard run in overtime that he said could have been a touchdown had the footing been better. The field was resodded two weeks ago but yesterday was the third game played in Heinz Field in four days, and it rained much of last week. Players found it difficult to cut as the grass came out in clumps. “It was pretty rough,” LB Kendrell Bell said. “I slipped a couple of times, twisted both my ankles. I think the last game out here it was better. Even though it peeled off, it was more stable. Right now, it’s like sand out there.”

Atlanta Coach Dan Reeves was miffed with the way the game time was kept, especially near the end. When Falcons PK Jay Feely lined up to attempt a 56-yard field goal, eight seconds remained in the overtime period. Steelers LB James Farrior blocked it, and Feely recovered at the Steelers’ 49 with one second remaining. That allowed the Steelers to try one more play from scrimmage, Maddox’s desperation pass to the Atlanta 1. “There are eight seconds left, the ball is kicked, it’s bouncing around everywhere, and you’ve got one second left on the clock. Isn’t that great?” Reeves said. “I want that clock operator down in Atlanta.” Asked if he had been surprised that the Steelers chose not to call a timeout with the clock running down before Feely’s kick, Reeves replied, “They didn’t need to, did they?”

The game took four hours, seven minutes, and it left many players feeling as if they had played a doubleheader. “I’ve never seen such a high-scoring game. It was like an Arena game,” Falcons CB Ray Buchanan said. “For the fans, it might have been fun. But for us, it felt like we were in a war. I’m totally exhausted. And the Steelers get the best end of it because they’ve got the IVs and things like that to take care of themselves. We’ve got to go cramp up on the plane. We’ll have everybody kicking each other in the back because we’ll be trying to keep our hamstrings from tightening up.”

The Steelers’ previous tie was with Joe Gilliam at quarterback. Coach Chuck Noll used Gilliam to open the 1974 season, and in the second game they tied the Broncos at Denver, 35-35, in overtime. It was the first season the NFL went to overtime games in the regular season. Ultimately, Noll went back to Terry Bradshaw as his quarterback and the Steelers went on to win their first Super Bowl that year. “Let history repeat,” Ward said. “If we’re going to tie a ballgame, we’ll take a Super Bowl.”

This is the first time the Steelers have yielded at least 30 points in four games since Bill Cowher became their coach in 1992. “I remember this defense being so good we’d just ask for 13 points and we’d win the ballgame,” Porter said. “I’m still in shock about giving up a 17-point lead, knowing all we had to do was stop them and we win the game.”

Golfing legend Arnold Palmer participated in the opening coin toss and was recognized with a halftime tribute, Mayor Murphy presenting him with the key to the city and Steelers President Dan Rooney presenting him with a team jersey.

FOR THE RECORD

QB Tommy Maddox’s 473 yards passing broke Bobby Layne’s Steelers record of 409, set Dec. 13, 1958, against the Cardinals.

Maddox and Pittsburgh native Marc Bulger became the first NFL quarterbacks to top 450 yards passing on the same day. Bulger threw for 453 for the St. Louis Rams yesterday.

Maddox’s four touchdown passes were the most since Bubby Brister had the same number Dec. 23, 1990, against the Browns.

WR Plaxico Burress’ 253 receiving yards broke Buddy Dial’s Steelers record of 235, set Oct. 22, 1961, against the Browns.

Burress’ 62-yard catch for a touchdown in the third quarter was the longest of his career. His previous long was 43 yards Oct. 29, 2001, against the Titans.

LB Jason Gildon not only caught up to Michael Vick for two sacks yesterday, he finally caught Joe Greene in the Steelers’ record book. Gildon’s two sacks give him 66 for his career and tied him with Greene for second place behind L.C. Greenwood’s 73 1/2 sacks. Gildon has 3 1/2 sacks this season.

Steelers WR Hines Ward’s eighth touchdown catch of the season, in the second quarter, marked a career high.

Ward’s 11 catches and 139 receiving yards were career highs.

NUMBERS

The Steelers are 15-8-2 all-time in overtime. Their other tie came by a 35-35 score Sept. 22, 1974, at Denver.

Coach Bill Cowher came into the game with a 71-1 record when his team holds a lead of more than 10 points. It’s 71-1-1 today.

The Steelers are 11-1-1 all-time against the Falcons, who haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 1970.

HE SAID IT

Dan Reeves, Atlanta coach, on Steelers QB Tommy Maddox: “You can’t ask for a quarterback to play any better than he did. Everybody’s been associating my name with his, but Tommy Maddox is the one who deserves the pat on the back. You put anybody through what he went through ... when you experience rejection, it hurts. It hurts deep. To have him persevere and to see him come back and play the way he is, I’m proud of him. He’s playing as well as anybody at that position right now.”

FOURTH-AND-SHORT

Falcons WR Brian Finneran was surprised to find himself in position to be the hero in overtime. In addition to nearly catching a 52-yard touchdown pass before Steelers FS Lee Flowers swatted it away and to being added to the defense to cover WR Plaxico Burress on the game-ending desperation pass, he also delivered on the first kick-blocking duty of his four-year NFL career. With Steelers PK Todd Peterson lining up to try a 48-yard field-goal attempt with 11:08 remaining in overtime, the Falcons sent Finneran onto the field. Even though he hadn’t participated with a kick-blocking team since he was at Villanova University in 1998. “Yeah, I ended up separating my shoulder,” he said. “A bunch of fat guys fell on top of me, so I try not to do that very often.” Finneran leaped behind a heavy push from DE Travis Hall, and the kick struck his left elbow. Asked if the kick was low or if he leaped high, Finneran replied, “A little bit of both. White men can jump.”

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