Steelers loss to San Diego reminiscent of loss to expansion Texans in 2002

Joe Sargent

If you were shocked by the Steelers poor performance against the 4-8 Chargers, imagine how shocked Steelers Nation was 10 seasons ago, when the 3-9 expansion Houston Texans came to town for a December game and blew Pittsburgh away.

As I watched the Steelers lopsided loss to San Diego unfold on Sunday, I couldn't help but think about a similar scenario that occurred almost 10 years ago to the day on December 8th, 2002.

If you think the 2012 NFL season has been insane for Pittsburgh, it doesn't even compare to what was going on 10 years ago. That was the season in-which the team started out 0-2, and Bill Cowher decided to replace embattled quarterback Kordell Stewart with Tommy Maddox in a game against the Browns in Week 3; a move that would be permanent, and because of his aerial show, one that would make Maddox the toast of the town as the fans dubbed him "Tommy Gun."

In addition to the 0-2 start and the quarterback controversy, there were many other strange twists and turns to that season, including a 34-34 tie at Heinz Field against Michael Vick and the Falcons, and the crazy playoff run that saw the Steelers comeback from 17 down to defeat the Browns in the wild card round before losing in overtime to the Titans the following week thanks, in part, to the great acting job by Tennessee kicker Joe Nedney.

Speaking of the Titans, another strange chapter of Pittsburgh's '02 season was written late in a November game in Tennessee, when Maddox gave Steeler Nation a scare after he suffered a spinal injury and was briefly unable to move his arms and legs. The trainers and doctors took the necessary precautions when taking Maddox off the field, and fortunately, the injury was soon diagnosed as a spinal contusion.

With Maddox on the mend for a couple of weeks, Stewart led the team to two late season victories, and the Steelers were 7-4-1 when Maddox came back for a Week 14 match-up against the 3-9 Houston Texans, an expansion team that wasn't supposed to be much competition for a Pittsburgh squad preparing for the playoffs.

What transpired was pretty surreal, as the Texans jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead on the way to a 24-6 victory before a shocked Heinz Field crowd. Despite producing only 47 yards of total offense--including 10 net passing yards--Houston won thanks to three defensive touchdowns all at the hands of Maddox, who fumbled one touchdown away and threw two picks that were taken back for scores.

It was seen as an inexcusable December performance at home against a perceived inferior opponent, especially with the starting quarterback returning to action after suffering a pretty scary injury and the playoffs within reach.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The San Diego team that came to town on Sunday may not have been as bad as the expansion Texans were 10 seasons ago, and unlike Maddox, Ben Roethlisberger actually played fairly well after returning to action following a three week absence, but as for the team as a whole, it was almost as if the Steelers were honoring the 2002 squad.

If I didn't take a closer look, I'd almost think those Hall of Fame patches the players wore on Sunday were actually to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the loss to the Texans.

Pittsburgh's performance against the Chargers sure made it feel that way.

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