Pittsburgh Steelers QB Tommy Maddox was not having a good day. The Tennessee Titans put together an aggressive game plan to disrupt Maddox and it worked perfectly to the tune of three interceptions. Maddox was very erratic, often throwing behind his target. The Titans discovered a way to derail the Maddox offensive juggernaut.
But Maddox's day went from bad to worse when Titans LB Keith Bulluck delivered a blow to Tommy's head. Maddox lay motionless for a long time while everyone held their breath.
But the game would continue, with everyone unsure about the status of Maddox. QB Kordell Stewart would fill in nicely against a Titans defense that backed off, trading yards for time off the clock.
Stewart would make things interesting leading two 4th quarter touchdown drives of over 70 yards. The Steelers made both two-point conversions. The Steelers were down by 8 with over one-minute left. If only the special teams could pull off the onsides kick.
Once again, the special teams failed.
Since the beginning of the 2001 season, that has been the story. The play on special teams has cost the Steelers numerous games. In this game, K Todd Peterson missed two field goals of less than 40-yards. His Titan counterpart Joe Nedney missed one as well, but Nedney also kicks on a poor field and still is fairly reliable. Peterson may have just kicked his way out of a job.
But Peterson was not the only goat on special teams. P Josh Miller continues his slump while the coverage units gave up huge returns. The Titans exploited this special teams advantage and turned a close contest in to a third quarter blowout.
Titans head coach Jeff Fisher has taken Cowher's style of football to another level. Cowher ball consists of strong special teams, a very physical and disruptive defense, and a ball-control offense. Fisher has proven he is more successful with this philosophy and that it can still work in a season of high-powered offenses.
Titans QB Steve McNair was not spectacular, but extremely efficient, passing 257 yards, 2 TDs and no INTs. Eddie George got better as the game wore on, showing that 4th quarter punch that the Steelers lack this season, despite finishing with just 79 yards.
The Steelers could not move the ball at all on the ground against an aggressive Titans defense. The Titans front seven simply out-muscled the Steelers offensive line. Cowher even tried replacing C Jeff Hartings (who may have reinjured his knee) with Chukky Okobi, but to little effect.
The Titans also decided that they wouldn't let Plaxico Burress beat them. They were quite successful on this count and Burress was clearly frustrated. But this opened up the field for Hines Ward, who finished with 10 receptions, 168 yards and 2 TD catches.
But after Ward's 72-yard TD reception on the first play from scrimmage, the Steelers were never really in the game. The defense couldn't get off the field again on third down, the Titans converting 12 of 19. This was mostly due to poor tackling. The Steelers looked unfocused and rather listless.
The Titans won every battle against the Steelers. The Titans translated big turnovers into points. The Steelers could not. In fact, the Steelers couldn't do much of anything until Stewart entered the game and the Titans called off the dogs.
Once again, the Steelers seem on the brink of letting this season get out of hand. But once again, the doctor prescribes the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals come to Pittsburgh next Sunday playing better, but still finding ways to lose the game. The Steelers can get back on track, but they most likely will have to do it without Tommy Maddox.
Time for the rest of the team to stop hiding behind Maddox's play…