A Texas-sized Headache

PITTSBURGH - With Christmas just around the corner, the Steelers found themselves in a giving mood Sunday. And they bequeathed the Houston Texans the gift that just keeps on giving: an NFL victory.<p>

The Steelers did not allow the Texans an offensive touchdown. Pittsburgh gave up just 47 total yards - 10 passing - and 3 total first downs, one of which came on a penalty. But when the game clock ticked off its final seconds, it was the expansion Texans who walked off the field 24-6 winners. It was the fewest yards gained by a winning team in NFL history. To quote Mr. Taggart, Slim Pickens' character in the movie Blazing Saddles, "What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?"

All season long, we've been waiting to see the Steelers put up a defensive effort like they did in 2001 when they were the NFL's top-rated unit.

They did that, completely shutting down the Texans, limiting Houston to one first down in the game's final three quarters. But just when the defense finally put things together, the team's quarterback situation took a step backward. The Texans had just one turnover, while the Steelers turned it over five times, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Quarterback Tommy Maddox, playing his first game since suffering a concussion Nov. 17 at Tennessee, had a game he'd just as soon forget about.

Maddox lost a fumble that was returned for a TD and also threw two interceptions that were returned for scores. "We just couldn't overcome ourselves," said head coach Bill Cowher.

Cowher said Sunday he will look the team's quarterback situation over before deciding whether Maddox or Kordell Stewart will start when for the Steelers next week against Carolina. But Maddox wasn't the lone goat in Sunday's game. In fact, there's plenty of blame to go around.

Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El fumbled twice without being hit, losing both. Fellow wideout Plaxico Burress was accountable for five of the team's seven dropped passes in the game. The offensive line gave up a season-high six sacks, while the Steelers committed eight penalties compared to only one for Houston.

Cowher may look at this game on film and decide a quarterback change may be what the team needs.

Before he does that, however, he'd better realize he made his bed with Maddox when he named him quarterback back in September. Playing musical quarterbacks now would only be counterproductive.

Maddox has now played poorly in his past two starts - both losses - with five interceptions and a lost fumble. But Cowher made a commitment to him and has to find out if Maddox is going to be the team's quarterback in 2003. If Maddox turns it around and finishes strong, great. If not, Cowher has to explore other options, including bringing Stewart back next season.

That's not something anyone thought would happen a month ago. But given what happened here Sunday, we know that in the NFL, anything can happen.

You can even lose a game you dominated in every way shape and form.

--Dale Lolley

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