Was Bill Cowher truly the best man for the job? Were the multiple big game losses the fault of the head coach? Had Cowher lost his fire?
For the record, this observer had been squarely in Bill Cowher's corner until January 11, 2003. On that day, the Steelers lost 31-34 in a playoff game against the Tennessee Titans. In the game, the Steelers' defense was just plain throttled by Steve McNair and the Titans' passing attack. The Titans could seemingly complete passes and convert third downs at will. Never before had a Bill Cowher coached defense been so bad.
In overtime at the end of the game, Titans' kicker Joe Nedney missed a 31 yard field goal. However, Dwayne Washington was flagged on the play for running into the kicker. That gave Nedney another shot at the field goal which he made to win the game.
After the kick, Bill Cowher did not shake Jeff Fisher's hand. In his post game comments, Bill Cowher did not graciously credit the other team's performance. Rather than shake Fisher's hand, Cowher was seen sprinting across the field shouting at referee Ron Blum. You see, Cowher was upset about that running into the kicker call, and Cowher also claimed that he had called a timeout prior to the game winning kick. "For a game to be decided on that call is ludicrous," said Cowher at the time. "A game can't be decided because a kicker takes two steps and we have someone slide into him. We had some chances to win but we had some taken away from us, too."
What Cowher didn't mention in his post-game comments was that Steve McNair was 27-of-44 for 338 yards with two touchdowns, and that the Steelers' defense allowed the Titans to convert 12 of 18 third downs. The thing was, the Steelers didn't deserve to win the game. But rather than handle the loss with class, Bill Cowher all but blamed the loss on the officials. In my view, this game was Bill Cowher's all-time lowlight. His behavior on that day was decidedly un-Art Rooney like.
So, the following exchange this week was quite refreshing:
Reporter: What was your thinking on the challenge on Chris Hope's facemask?
It was poor thinking on my part. I realized it after I'd already made the challenge that the penalty would still be enforced. But it's the first one I got right this year. But it was really a poor use of a challenge right there. We gained a yard. I only had one left and would've liked to have used it for that touchdown pass. But I didn't want to lose that. He probably had (his feet) in. But I probably would've used one there as opposed to using it to gain a yard. It was a poor decision on my part.
Reporter: Phil Simms gave you credit for breaking their momentum, and it seemed to.
Cowher: I wish I could say that was the intent. It did. They had a chance to give some thought back to it but it truly was an oversight on my part.
In those two answers, Bill Cowher acknowledged that he made a mistake four times. It takes a quality person to do that, someone with class who is comfortable with himself and his position.
Personally, I don't blame Bill Cowher for not bringing a Super Bowl championship to Pittsburgh. My theory is that Bill Cowher has never won a championship because he's never had a championship caliber QB.
My theory will be tested this season, however, because Bill Cowher has one now.
The Formula Man™
The Formula Man is a feature inspired by 16th Century prophet Nostradamus. You can catch it right here on every Pittsburgh Steelers game day.
The Red Hot to Red Warm Formula: Last week the Formula Man said to expect crowd noise to play a prominent role in the game and for Cowher to bring his "A" game. Whether the crowd played a role in the dominating win can be the subject of debate. However, the Formula Man did note that the 64,737 in attendance was the largest crowd to ever watch a game in Pittsburgh – ever. The Formula Man also notes that the crowd caused 2 false start penalties by the Patriots in the first half, and generally prevented the Patriots from getting into any rhythm in the second half. Said Aaron Smith about the crowd: "With the way the crowd was into it, energizing us and disrupting their offense, it's hard to come back from that." As for Cowher bringing his "A" game, that determination could be considered a chicken or egg proposition. Did the players make the coaching look good, or did the coaching make the players look good? We'll have to go to Bill Belichick himself to make that call. Said Belichick after the game: "They out-coached us. They out-played us." Maybe it's a tie.
The Duce Staley Revenge Formula: New Steeler RB + Old Team + Poor Rush Defense = Big Game. In 1996, the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Los Angeles Rams which was the year after the Rams traded away Jerome Bettis to the Steelers. That day Jerome ran for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. Expect a similar day from Duce Staley.
The Duce Staley Big Free Agent Pickup Formula: Pro Bowl Type RB + Modest Contract = 2004's Best Free Agent Pickup. Yes, in Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse the Philadelphia Eagles come to town toting two prize free agents. But don't forget that the Eagles outbid the entire league to get them. With an 8 year, $66 million contract including a $16 million signing bonus, Jevon Kearse is a walking salary cap nightmare. So far this season Kearse has 6 sacks, which is one more that pass-rushing terror Aaron Smith. Owens' contract was a reported 7 year, $42 million deal with a $10 million signing bonus. True, Owens is earning his money this season. However, that's a big contract for a soon to be 31 year old coach killer. While the Eagles were throwing money at Owens and Kearse, the Steelers signed Duce Staley to a modest 5 year, $14 million contract, with a $4 million bonus. So I guess it is true, that one team's trash is another team's treasure.
The Bill Cowher Blame Game
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