As badly as the Steelers felt following their 34-34 tie against Atlanta last month, it doesn't even begin to approach how they
felt after being humbled 24-6 Sunday by the expansion Houston Texans.<p>
"We definitely left one out there," said defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. "But I'm not going to panic. We're not going to panic."<p>
But, von Oelhoffen then added, "I really don't know what to say." That pretty much summed up a game in which the Steelers dominated in every phase of the game yet still lost by 18 points.
When you hold a team to three first downs, you're supposed to win. When you only give up 47 total yards, you're supposed to win. When you don't allow an offensive touchdown, you're supposed to win. Somehow, some way, the Steelers didn't.
"I didn't know you could (play like this) and lose by 18 points," said von Oelhoffen. "I don't know boys."
An offense that continually shot itself in the foot wouldn't let the Steelers win. The Texans scored on two interceptions and a fumble recovery as the Steelers turned the ball over five times.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to me," said fullback Dan Kreider. "It's hard to explain. To have turnovers is one thing. But to have turnovers turn into touchdowns - I think we did everything in our power to give that game away."
"You go out there working hard and have nothing to show for it, especially when we are trying to win some games here and get ourselves in position for the playoffs. Now, we have to bear down and finish the season strong."
The question now is: Do the Steelers think they can really do that or will the effects of this loss linger into next week's game against Carolina?
"We're not going to say we're done with the season because we're still in position to make a run at the playoffs," said safety Mike Logan. "I think we just have to keep everybody positive."
Here are some other thoughts from a sports writer who thought he had seen everything in 10 years of covering the NFL but thought wrong:
Tommy Maddox should start Sunday against Carolina, but should be on a very, very short leash.
If Maddox has another poor game against the Panthers, the Steelers are in a tough situation with Kordell Stewart. Head coach Bill Cowher will have to go to Stewart, hat in hand, and offer an olive branch. The Steelers will also be forced to offer Stewart some kind of contract extension because they can't afford his more than $7-million cap hit next season.
Stewart would be justified in telling the team to take a flying leap. Despite what many of the Stewart bashers think, Stewart and Cowher do not have a strong relationship. It is built more out of necessity than anything and Stewart may not be in the mind to do Cowher any favors, especially if he could force a trade to a more hospitable location.
Stewart has had some bad games in his career. Heck, he had entire bad seasons in 1998 and 1999. But he never had a game as poor as the one Maddox had Sunday.
Plaxico Burress and his five dropped passes had as much to do with the loss as Maddox's three turnovers that turned into touchdowns.
Amos Zereoue was much better than Jerome Bettis Sunday and Cowher adjusted accordingly, giving Zereoue most of the carries in the second half. That will be the MO for next season also.
Chukky Okobi started at center even though Jeff Hartings was healthy enough to play. Hartings came into the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but that was the Steelers' plan going into the game.
Of course the Steelers also planned to win the game.
Cowher was going to give the team Monday off, but the offense decided to take Sunday off instead.
Jason Gildon had two sacks, raising his season total to 5.5. Once the Texans saw Gildon could get to David Carr, they pretty much abandoned throwing the ball.
The Texans didn't seem to mind not gaining anything running the ball.
Cowher has found a way to lose to the last three expansion teams he's faced in their first season in the league. Anyone who wants to talk about him being in the Hall of Fame someday should remember that.