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Steelers Starters struggle as Steelers fall to Eagles, 21-16

Sunday, August 17, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Steelers can't win, not on the scoreboard, not with the weather and certainly not when their first teams are on the field.

Eagles wide receiver Billy McMullen nearly makes a one-handed catch on a play in which Steelers cornerback Chad Scott was called for pass interference in the second quarter last night at Heinz Field. The penalty set up a McMullen touchdown catch in Philadelphia's 21-16 victory. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette photos)
Click photo for larger image.

More Steelers Coverage:

Grass passes first drill at Heinz Field

Photo journal: Preseason Game Two: Aug. 16 Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles

They slipped to 0-2 in the preseason after losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, 21-16, last night that few will remember for any crisp play by either team.

The best performance of the night was turned in by Heinz Field's new DD GrassMaster surface that succeeded in its first test.

Continuing a theme that has plagued the Steelers this summer, the game was suspended because of lightning. It made them feel right at home -- in Latrobe.

Coach Bill Cowher on Thursday bemoaned the rainy weather that turned fields soggy and cut into his practice schedule at St. Vincent College. Last night, lightning caused a delay for 31 minutes with 9:48 left in the third quarter.

"We went off the field and came back on, it was hard for both teams," Cowher said.

The game resumed at 10:21 p.m. in a steady downpour, but no lightning.

"I'd never been involved in anything like that," quarterback Tommy Maddox said. "It was a weird feeling."

The Eagles got the better of the Steelers when the starters were on the field, taking a 21-13 halftime lead.

Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb left early in the second quarter in favor of A.J. Feeley, who threw two touchdown passes before the half. Maddox played nearly a full half, completing 6 of 13 passes for 46 yards.

The Steelers had two touchdowns taken away from them in the game's first 17 minutes. Hank Poteat returned Philadelphia's first punt 73 yards into the end zone but it was called back because of an illegal block by rookie Alonzo Jackson. Early in the second quarter, officials used instant replay to overturn a touchdown catch by Antwaan Randle El.

"If we'd got those," Maddox said, "it would have been a different story."

Four series went by before the Eagles earned the initial first down of the game almost six minutes into the first quarter. Correll Buckhalter rammed over from the 1 with 2:11 left to give Philadelphia a 7-0 lead.

Plaxico Burress can't hang on as he is defended by Eagles cornerback Lito Sheppard.
Click photo for larger image.

Cowher did not think he got in, believing Buckhalter hit the turf before he stretched the ball over the goal line. Referee Walter Anderson disagreed and upheld the touchdown call.

Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid returned the favor when he appealed the Steelers' first touchdown, a 14-yard catch in the left corner by Randle El from Maddox. Instant replay showed Randle El had both feet in bounds but Anderson ruled the ball had moved when Randle El hit the ground and disallowed the score.

"We were able to keep them out of the end zone with a pretty good call by the refs," Eagles safety Brian Dawkins said. "I thought it was real close. They did their job and overturned it."

Cowher screamed at the official, but he was forced to send his kicking team on the field and Jeff Reed converted a 33-yard field goal to make the score 7-3.

"I'm not going to comment on it," Cowher said. "You guys saw the replay."

Maddox said one official, watching the replay on the scoreboard, told him the catch was a good one.

The Eagles then mounted their second scoring drive with the help of two pass interference penalties called against cornerback Chad Scott. The second carried 29 yards and gave the Eagles a first down at the 4. Feeley capped the long scoring drive by pitching a 1-yard pass to Kori Dickerson in the back of the end zone for a 14-3 lead.

Rookie safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker Joey Porter team up to take down Eagles wide receiver L.J. Smith last night at Heinz Field.
Click photo for larger image.

The Steelers used a pass interference penalty to score a touchdown late in the second quarter. Maddox faked a handoff to Jerome Bettis on third-and-1 and threw deep over the middle to Plaxico Burress. Cornerback Daryon Brutley ran into him for a 19-yard penalty.

Hines Ward caught a 16-yard pass and Bettis took a pitch around left end for a 4-yard touchdown run and a 14-10 score with 1:55 to go in the first half.

That did not last long. Philadelphia's Freddie Milons took the ensuing kickoff and ran it 82 yards to the 13. After two pass incompletions, another pass interference penalty helped the Eagles score. This time, cornerback Chidi Iwuoma interfered with Billy McMullen to put the ball on the 1. McMullen then caught a 1-yard pass from Feeley for a 21-10 Philadelphia lead with 1:23.

The Steelers weren't through, either. Rookie Ike Taylor returned the kickoff 55 yards to the Eagles' 47.

Charlie Batch replaced Maddox at quarterback and completed two passes to Verron Haynes to the 22. Haynes then ripped off a 15-yard run to the seven on a draw, but a holding penalty against center Chukky Okobi brught it back to the 27. A 13-yard pass to Randle El and Batch's 11-yard scramble to the 2 with three seconds left allowed Reed to kick a 20-yard field goal for a 21-13 halftime lead.

Batch opened the second half at quarterback and engineered a drive after the lightning delay that reached the Eagles' 9, where rookie halfback Dante Brown lost a fumble after a 10-yard run.

Late in the third quarter, rookie Jonathan Ruffin missed a 45-yard field goal try when the ball sailed to the left.

Batch completed 10 of 18 passes for 94 yards, then turned the ball over to Brian St. Pierre to start the fourth quarter. St. Pierre, a rookie, guided the Steelers on a fourth-quarter drive that ended with Ruffin's 46-yard field goal that cut the Eagles' lead to 21-16.

NOTES -- Amos Zereoue replaced Bettis as the starting tailback, and Jay Riemersma replaced Mark Bruener as the starting tight end. Bettis and Bruener started last week in Detroit. Zereoue gained 18 yards on six carries. ... Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala left the game early in the first quarter with a pulled hamstring muscle. Fuamatu-Ma'afala played in only eight regular-season games last year because of various injuries. He also missed games because of injuries in 1999 and 2000. Last season, he carried just 23 times. He missed time with a rib injury and a torn pectoral muscle. ... TE Jerame Tuman left the game with a groin injury. ... Linebacker Jason Gildon had some swelling in his knee that Cowher said would be checked out. ... Eagles CB Lito Sheppard left the game with a hip pointer and G Scott Peters left with a sprained ankle. ... The Steelers had two preseason games end prematurely because of severe thunderstorms, one in 1976 against the College All-Stars, and another at Philadelphia. ... Officials called a whopping 15 penalties in the first half.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at or 412-263-3878.

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