That is my only explanation for the first tie in the NFL since 1997 and Pittsburgh's first tie since 1974. Regardless of who won, who lost, who benefited, who didn't, this game was about great players making great plays. Two quarterbacks showing flashes of brilliance. Two defenses showing moments of amazing toughness. Special teams saving the day for both teams. And one Hail Mary that almost was heavenly.

"> That is my only explanation for the first tie in the NFL since 1997 and Pittsburgh's first tie since 1974. Regardless of who won, who lost, who benefited, who didn't, this game was about great players making great plays. Two quarterbacks showing flashes of brilliance. Two defenses showing moments of amazing toughness. Special teams saving the day for both teams. And one Hail Mary that almost was heavenly.


Wednesday Apple Pie

"Great players make great plays."<p> That is my only explanation for the first tie in the NFL since 1997 and Pittsburgh's first tie since 1974. Regardless of who won, who lost, who benefited, who didn't, this game was about great players making great plays. Two quarterbacks showing flashes of brilliance. Two defenses showing moments of amazing toughness. Special teams saving the day for both teams. And one Hail Mary that almost was heavenly. <p>

Consider the following in relation to the above quote:

  • Tommy Maddox threw for a Steeler record 473 passing yards.
  • Plaxico Burress caught 9 passes for 253 yards and 2 touchdowns.
  • Hines Ward caught 11 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown.
  • Joey Porter continued his All-Pro season with 6 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery.
  • Michael Vick took every vicious hit the Steelers put on him and still led his team back by running for a touchdown in final minute.
  • Shaun Jefferson caught 9 passes for 131 yards and touchdown.
  • Keith Brooking was all over the field with 7 tackles and 4 assists.

This game was also about the eternal question, "what if?" Never has one game had so many momentous events that changed the course of it. Think about it. For 3 quarters the Steelers dominated the Falcons. Atlanta needed everything to go right to win the game. Everything went right until James Farrior blocked Jay Feeley's 55-yard field goal attempt with 9 seconds left in the overtime period. That one play saved the Steelers the embarrassment of losing the game after holding a 17-point lead. Just to get to that point, though, the Falcons needed every break.

  • After going 3 and out, the Falcons desperately need a turnover. The ensuing punt leads to an Antwaan Randle-El fumble (raise your hand if you knew that was coming).
  • The Falcons need a quick three and out after Bob Christian's touchdown cuts the lead to 34 - 24. The Steelers run three straight ground plays instead of attempting to attack the defense through the air.
  • The Falcons need another three and out after Jay Feeley's field goal cuts the lead to 34 - 27. On 3rd and 3, Maddox, rolling to his right, throws across his body - off of his back foot, and bounces the underneath pass to Hines Ward. A completion would have sealed the game.
  • The Falcons need a touchdown on the last drive. Pittsburgh allows the Falcons to return the punt to the 50 yard line. From there, the Steelers rush 4 men. Michael Vick leads the offense inside the 20, where the Steelers defensive spy coverage breaks down and allows the Vick to score the tying touchdown himself.
  • The Steelers still have 48 seconds left in the game with 2 timeouts, but poor clock management leads the game into overtime. Those last 48 were highlighted by a Tommy Maddox scramble for 10 yards and an underneath completion for 10 yards, both plays forcing the Steelers to use a timeout.
  • The Steelers win the toss. Hines Ward catches a quick screen on 3rd and 8 and rumbles down the field, but loses his balance around the 50 yard line, allowing the Falcons to bring him down.
  • Todd Peterson attempts a 48-yard field goal to win the game in overtime, but a combination of his low, line-drive kicking and the push from the Falcons line brings the ball back to earth.
  • On the Steelers second drive of the overtime, an Amos Zereoue scamper for 18 yards to the 5-yard line is brought back by the first Steeler holding penalty of the game. The Steelers are pushed back to the 33 with the penalty and elect to punt the ball 2 plays later.
  • Tommy Maddox throws another 2 minute drill interception on the Steelers 3rd drive of the overtime.
  • And finally, Plaxico Burress is tackled at the one foot line after catching Maddox' Hail Mary bomb with one second left on the clock.

For my money this game was the second-best game of the year behind Miami-Denver in week 5. Despite the "sister-kisser" that it was, if this game didn't win new NFL football fans, nothing will. It had great drama, lots of scoring, defensive gems, and surprisingly few penalties for as many plays generated. But the best news is that with Miami's loss in the night game, the Steelers are still the AFC second seed and behind only Denver and San Diego.

Cowher said in his press conference after the game, "We did not lose this game. We squandered an opportunity, but we did not lose."

He couldn't be more right. The Steelers remain atop the AFC North with a virtual stranglehold. The midway point of the season has just passed and Pittsburgh has yet to play a complete game against a quality opponent (Indy doesn't count). But, the fact that they tied this game will undoubtedly go down in history books as trivia rather than truly affecting the outcome of this season. The Steelers still have a ridiculously favorable schedule the rest of the way - a schedule that should allow them to work out the kinks and holes in defense and offense come playoff time.

The team that played on Sunday will not win any Super Bowls. That team lacked focus on a few plays and passively attempted to hold off Atlanta's furious comeback. But, my belief is that the coaches will look at the game and make the necessary adjustments. They must or we'll see more games where gaudy offensive statistics and squandered leads prevail. Only against the lesser competition can the Steelers afford to sit on large leads and wait for their opponent make the mistakes.

Obviously the Steelers would rather have won the game than put up the hearty stats. As a heartbroken Maddox put it, "I'll take 150 yards and win every week."

So would we Tommy, so would we.

Apple Six-Pack Review

  1. NY Jets 13 Miami 10 - Word around the NFL is that Troy Aikman doesn't think the Dolphins can come up with the incentives that he wants should he return to the NFL. My advice to Miami is keep the checkbook in your pocket. The Dolphins front office already spent money to sign Cris Carter, who after one game is out indefinitely with kidney problems. With the win, the Jets just created the annual AFC East chaotic cluster.
  2. Oakland 34 Denver 10 - Rod Woodson's interception return for a touchdown in the 1st quarter set the tone for this game. Oakland, for much of the game, did the same things they did when they beat the Steelers - heavy possession passing and ball control. The Broncos didn't really play that bad on offense, but they couldn't stop the pass. When the offense did get on the field, they didn't give their defense time for any sort of rest. Jason "The Bronco Fan" is very, very sad today.
  3. San Francisco 17 Kansas City 13 - Boy, the Chiefs had their chances this year, but they just can't pull out the close wins. San Francisco won this game because they took Priest Holmes (11 rushes for 51 yards) and Tony Gonzalez (1 catch for 6 yards) out of the offense. Kevan Barlow and Garrison Hearst continue to give the Niners the best running attack since Ricky Watters patrolled the backfield. This game probably says good night to the Chiefs' faint division title hopes.
  4. St. Louis 28 San Diego 24 - First off, the Chargers are starting to lose steam. They did this last year under Doug Flutie, and now Drew Brees is feeling the same effect. This loss may be a bitter pill because not only do they lose to a common opponent but they also keep the Rams' faint playoff hopes alive. This game was all about the Rams hurting themselves on offense. The Chargers scored two touchdowns off turnovers, but couldn't come up with the finishing drive to put away the Rams.
  5. Indianapolis 35 Philadelphia 13 - This week's "What?" game. Everything came together for the Colts while everything fell apart for the Eagles. Donovan McNabb had his worst game of the season and is slowly falling out of the MVP race. He lost two fumbles, looked inaccurate early on for the second straight week, and even dropped a pass thrown to him. Peyton Manning's multiple audibles confused the Eagle defense all game as he threw 3 touchdown passes with 0 interceptions.
  6. New Orleans 34 Carolina 24 - In all honesty, the Panthers should have won this game. A costly "illegal hands to the face" penalty brought back a game-ending interception and the Saints were free to march down the field. Aaron Brooks found Donte Stallworth to put the Saints ahead to stay. The Panthers looked more relaxed and cohesive with Rodney Peete calling the signals. After watching him play in Philadelphia, I never would have thought "cohesive" and "Rodney Peete" would be in the same sentence.

Power Core Rankings Week 11

  1. Green Bay - No team playing better in the NFL right now, but until Denver loses, not my overall No. 1.
  2. Tampa Bay - Time to see if the Gruden experiment will work every week.
  3. New Orleans - Even though they won, this little hiccup is proof why I'm not sold on the Saints.
  4. San Francisco - Survived the Chiefs' running blitzkrieg.
  5. Denver - Even I didn't believe they'd lose on Monday.
  6. Pittsburgh - Maddox sure sat on Hines Ward in overtime, and it cost him.
  7. Atlanta - Michael Vick is a superstar, but let's see what he does next year.
  8. Philadelphia - Thrashing by Indy purely awful. But, they do this every year.
  9. Tennessee - Sure wish they could have taken a mulligan with that loss to Dallas.
  10. New England - The magic may be back. The rest of the league quivers.
  11. St. Louis - They're baaaaack. Did you see how Marc Bulger and Kurt Warner reacted to one another after the game? Can anyone say, "Controversy"?
  12. Miami - Without Jay Fiedler that offense is really, really bad.

Missed Prime Opportunity (MPO) Score

Pittsburgh 8 Atlanta 6

An MPO is when a team fails to score while in scoring range or doesn't take advantage of major swings in momentum (i.e. major penalties/turnovers/settling for field goals in successive series/inability to seal a game with first downs). These are killers because a team only gets so many opportunities.

An MPO Score is like golf: It's best to score low. When a team score's low, it usually wins the game. It's remarkable how accurate it can be.

Pittsburgh's 2002 - 03 Regular Season MPO record: 5 - 4

Week 10 Mini - Preview: Pittsburgh vs. Tennessee

Last year, the Steelers visited Tennessee and were greeted by a Steve McNair bomb to Kevin Dyson. Pittsburgh battled back from a 14 - 3 deficit to win the game, but the Titans aren't as bad as they were last year.

However, Tennessee is struggling this season on offense. Eddie George has yet to be his former self and Steve McNair is coming off a 109-yard performance against the Texans.

This game should be heated since both teams were members of the old AFC Central. It should be Steeler week in Tennessee again and the Titans have not forgotten being swept last year.

5 Keys to the Game

  1. Stop the Run: Warrick Dunn ran for 139 yards last week. If Eddie George gets that amount, the Titans will win.
  2. Attack on a Big Lead: The Steelers are falling into this habit of losing their intensity as the lead grows. Last week was proof that there is no such thing as a safe lead.
  3. Get Bettis Involved: Give the Bus some reps, Zereoue is fast but he doesn't wear down the defense.
  4. Tennessee Fans: The Steelers need to take the crowd out early. Make the game boring.
  5. Blitz on 3rd Down: On third and long, you blitz to make the quarterback find his hot read. For some reason, the Steelers rushed 3 on 3rd and long against Atlanta. The Falcons converted 3rd-and-23 and 3rd-and-24.

Outlook: The Steelers will find the going tough in Tennessee. Tennessee by 3.

Apple Six-Pack: Week 11

  1. New England at Oakland: Game of the Week. No matter what they do the rest of the season, the Raiders want this game more than anything.
  2. New Orleans at Atlanta: The "Cousin Bowl 2". Atlanta can make the NFC South ultra-interesting with a win. The Saints are looking for redemption.
  3. San Francisco at San Diego: The Chargers can't afford to lose their 3rd in a row, but the Niners are the wrong team to start the rebound.
  4. Chicago at St. Louis: The Bears will win one of the close games really soon. It may even be this week, but it's a problem when your receivers are throwing better passes than the quarterbacks.
  5. Washington at NY Giants: A great grudge match with huge playoff implications. The Giants can get a big leg up on the Redskins for a playoff spot, and a win will also keep them close with the Eagles. The Redskins need to win just stay in the playoff hunt. Steve Spurrier changes quarterbacks for 689th time this season.
  6. Baltimore at Miami: What hopes of a wildcard spot that Baltimore may have will be quashed with a loss here. This is a must-win for Miami before the AFC East free-for-all begins in earnest Week 12.

Apple Playoff Watch

Just Plain In:

AFC Division Leaders (in order of seeding): Denver, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, New England
NFC Division Leaders (in order of seeding): Green Bay, New Orleans, San Francisco, Philadelphia
AFC Wild Cards: San Diego, Oakland
NFC Wild Cards: Tampa Bay, Atlanta

Could Be In:

AFC: Buffalo, Miami, Indianapolis
NFC: NY Giants, St. Louis

Probably Won't Be In:

AFC: Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, Jacksonville, NY Jets
NFC: Washington, Arizona

Definitely Not In:

AFC: Houston, Cincinnati
NFC: Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minnesota, Seattle

Thoughts Assisted by Yuengling

  • My only thought is that I just found out that the ESPN Sunday night crew will not be calling one of the ABC Wild Card games, as they have in years past. It will be Brent Musberger and Gary Danielson. I think the consideration of a change on Sunday night may be in order over the off-season.

--The Steel Apple

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