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Steelers Play of the Game: Burress' 47-yard reception

Rare play call leaves Ravens confused, Steelers on way to rout

Monday, September 08, 2003

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Tommy Maddox was making it look easy, passing the Steelers down the field on their first offensive possession of the 2003 season. And Kendrell Bell did something he never had done in the NFL -- intercept a pass -- to give the Steelers an even better opportunity on their second possession.

But, in each instance, the Steelers failed to put the ball in the end zone. Certainly not cause for consternation -- "I don't think there was any frustration level," offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said -- but enough to cause angst for the crowd at Heinz Field. And a more important critic: Bill Cowher.

"We weren't finishing drives," Cowher said. "It's one of those things where you're going up and down the field and you look up and it's 6-0. You start to get that feeling that if they keep hanging around, they are only one big play away from being right back into it."

That's why the Steelers were thrilled to finally put the ball in the end zone, finally glad to score the first touchdown of a new season. It came on a 4-yard pass from Maddox to wide receiver Hines Ward in the second quarter and it gave the Steelers a 13-0 lead.

But it was all the result of a 47-yard pass from Maddox to wide receiver Plaxico Burress on a play the Steelers do not use very often. Burress got a little help from the Baltimore defense, which blew the coverage on the play, but he still made the catch at the Baltimore 8 despite the illegal efforts of cornerback Corey Fuller.

Burress' catch was one of six for 116 yards he managed against the Ravens. But it was the biggest on a day when the Steelers tormented the Ravens secondary and opened with a 34-15 victory at Heinz Field.

"That's why it was good to score some touchdowns," Cowher said. "The more you get down there, the more you will get it into the end zone."

"We want touchdowns," Burress said. "We don't want to get down to the 2-, 3-, 4-yard line and kick field goals."

In the end, Ward's 4-yard touchdown catch was not the determining score on a day when Maddox passed for 260 yards and three touchdowns. But it was the one that set the stage for the others that followed -- a 20-yarder to new tight end Jay Riemersma and a 28-yarder to Ward, both in the third quarter. It was the one that energized the Steelers' offense.

And it was all because of Burress' catch.

"The first two times we came up short," said Burress, referring to the opening two drives that produced Jeff Reed field goals of 29 and 31 yards. "Once we got in there, we started flowing. That's what you want to do on offense."

After that, the Ravens spent the rest of the game looking confused. Riemersma and Ward were so wide open on their third-quarter touchdown catches they must have felt as though they were at a Pirates game.

The secondary that ranked 26th in the NFL in 2002 -- the Steelers, bad as they were, ranked 20th -- began the 2003 season looking even worse.

"I thought we were playing well right until that play, that busted coverage," said Fuller, who was signed in free agency from the Cleveland Browns. "That play gave them the momentum."

The play is known as a high angle flag, and it requires Burress, the primary receiver, to run a deep pattern across the field, angling toward the end zone. Maddox tries to freeze the safety by faking a handoff to the halfback, and that's exactly what happened.

The Steelers have not used the play often -- "Either we haven't seen the coverage or we haven't taken a shot," Mularkey said -- but they used it to perfection on first-and-10 at the Steelers 45 in the second quarter.

"I think No. 47 was expecting me to run a dig route," Burress said, referring to Ravens safety Will Demps. "I just ran right by him. They busted the coverage."

Fuller tried to recover and prevent Burress from making the catch by tackling him before the ball reached him. Even though Fuller was flagged for pass interference, Burress made the catch. The penalty was declined.

"You think I was playing man to man that far from him?" Fuller said. "I'm not trying to cover up for it, but that's busted coverage."

After running back Jerome Bettis ran 4 yards on the next play, Maddox found Ward in the back corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown and a 13-point lead.

No more worries. No more consternation.

"Jay Riemersma, he's going to create a lot of problems for teams we play," Burress said. "He can get up the field and get in the seams very fast. We can go in regular sets and just beat teams. Most teams can't do that."


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.

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