Steeler fans were in midseason form, "Sack Stewart!" That brought a glance from me and when Josh Miller had his punt blocked I yelled, "Put in Maddox!" I meant that as a joke and I was referring to the reoccurring special teams nightmare. Maddox is no panacea. Or so I smugly thought.
Stewart would get one more series after the blocked punt and that resulted in another fourth quarter let down, interception. Field Goal Bill, fresh off a 4th and 1 gamble, makes another bold move and pulls the big switch at crunch time. The bar roared with delight and I sat there in disbelief. I couldn't have been more stunned when Maddox directed a 77-yard touchdown drive entirely through the air. Can anyone name the last time a Cowher coached team did something akin to that?
Stewart played the entire game just like he did in 2000, not to lose. He went into his turtle game and brought the Steeler offense with him under his shell. The turtle was banished and out popped Tommy "The Rabbit" Maddox, moving the Steelers faster across the field than they ever moved before.
In his short stint in this crucial game, Maddox not only outshined Kordell Stewart, he outshined Tim Couch as well. Granted, the Browns were missing two defensive backs to injuries, but that's no excuse. Tim Couch was supposed to torch the beleaguered Steelers defense.
Of course, that's what might be missed in all the quarterback hype. The Steelers defense finally showed up and solved the spread and chuck riddle. Just make sure Rich Gannon is not back there doing the chuck.
Do you still miss Earl Holmes? He again led the Browns in tackles. But James Farrior had one more tackle than Earl and the new #50, Larry Foote, managed six himself. Yet, the real defensive star in my mind was NT Casey Hampton. Hampton absolutely destroyed the Browns interior and blew up one play after another. Sure, Joey Porter continues to emerge as a superstar and even Aaron Smith finally got a sack, but Casey completely terrorized the Browns offensive line.
The big battle was in the red-zone, with both the Browns offense and the Steelers defense thriving inside the 20. The Steelers defense won that battle. Cleveland's offense came in riding sky high and was sent scurrying back home with just 13 points to show for their effort. Even the Bengals managed one touchdown today.
Browns jabs aside, the game was just one mind blowing play after another. I am not sure what you could expect from this Steeler team after such a performance. Twinkle toes Spike? Power failure on power left? Two shots at field goal bliss? One field goal shot straight through the Steeler heart that isn't fatal? The closest I can come to this in recent Steeler history was the narrow 14-13 win over the Skins in 1997. That salvaged an infant season as well and the Steelers went on to the AFC Championship.
I can see playoff gold once again in the Steelers future. The Browns are simply too cursed, even after the swing in fortunes against the Titans. Heck, Tennessee is just plain lousy anyway. The Chiefs, on the other hand, are for real.
Beautiful, sweet 1-2. Didn't the Steelers beat the Browns last year in overtime? What's the difference? Do you see a difference?