1998 Steelers regular season recaps

This is a VERY long and painful article. You'll refresh your memories of 1998 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season. So here we go :)

NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Baltimore)

Posted: Sun September 6, 1998 at 6:03 p.m. EDT

Kordell Stewart shook off an ineffective passing day with a one-yard touchdown dive in the third quarter and the Pittsburgh Steelers benefited from three missed field goals in a 20-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

The win spoiled the Ravens' debut in their new facility, the new NFL Stadium at Camden Yards. For the first time, the Ravens had their crowd behind them in a home game against Pittsburgh, as Steelers fans represented the partisan in their first two meetings in Baltimore.

"It hurts a great deal and it hurts this football club when you put what you did in the offseason and you come up with big loss like this. It hurts," said Baltimore coach Ted Marchibroda. "You're not going to hold Pittsburgh forever. Our defense did a good job. We had an excellent opportunity in the first half to take advantage of the takeaways and interceptions and we didn't do it. We didn't put anything on the board."

But Matt Stover disappointed the crowd with his lack of accuracy, missing a pair of 42-yard field goals in the first half and a 45-yarder in the third quarter. In each case, Stover could have broken a 3-3 tie.

"I hit them good, I just missed them," Stover tried to explain. "I don't change anything that I'm doing, but I gotta get it through. It's my fault."

Stewart completed 14-of-27 passes for 173 yards and one score, but was intercepted twice. Jerome Bettis was held in check with 41 yards on 23 carries, while Charles Johnson caught four passes for 68 yards, grabbing Stewart's only scoring pass.

The Steelers won their opener for the first time since 1995 and are 3-4 in their first game of the season under voach Bill Cowher. They are 4-1, including three straight wins, against their AFC Central foes.

"This was great for us. I've never seen a city so excited about a game, and to come in here and win, the way we played today, we're very, very fortunate," Cowher said. "That's a good defense that you saw because they just took away our running game completely in the first (half). They made it close in the end but the bottom line is we won. I think they executed better than us and we let them back into it in the fourth. We were fortunate to get some things, especially those missed field goals. This wasn't our best game, but I'll take the win, especially on the road."

Pittsburgh opened the scoring on a 27-yard field goal by Norm Johnson, taking the opening kickoff 51 yards in 12 plays in just over five minutes. The Steelers never trailed.

Stover came through from 41 yards with 3:16 left in the opening quarter to draw Baltimore even and the score remained tied through halftime.

The Ravens lost quarterback Jim Harbaugh, making his debut for Baltimore, to an avulsion fracture to the ring finger on his throwing hand midway through the second quarter. Harbaugh's finger drove into the ground and bent backwards after a tackle. He was replaced by Eric Zeier and never returned.

"It's a chipped bone, but it's in a place where it can heal and I could play next week," Harbaugh said. "We did not take advantage of our opportunities at all. It's very disappointing. To have to leave in the first game on a new team, it's just horrible. It's very, very frustrating. I couldn't grip it (the ball)."

Zeier did not rally the offense into the end zone, but Stover could not help Baltimore come away with points for their drives into Pittsburgh territory.

"I didn't play an error-free game," Zeier admitted. "The only thing I'd change is that I'd like to put some more points on the board. We made a lot of mistakes."

The Steelers finally broke through with 4:44 left in the third quarter as Norm Johnson's 49-yard field goal gave them the lead for good and Baltimore followed with a critical mistake.

Harper LeBel snapped the ball through punter Kyle Richardson's legs, leaving the ball on the Baltimore 5. Stewart dove over the pile on third down for a touchdown that made it 13-3.

"What hurts me more than anything is the effect it has on my teammates," said LeBel, who has remained in the league for 10 seasons because of his ability as a long-snapper and not as a tight end, his listed position. "I was responsible for a lot of what happened today. It won't be easy to get over it, but there is another day."

Playing with the cushion, Pittsburgh opened up the offense. The Steelers took the ball on their own 27 to start the fourth quarter and Stewart ran for eight yards and threw a 27-yard pass to Johnson to bring the ball to the 30. Stewart and Johnson later combined on a 20-yard scoring pass to make it 20-3 with 10 minutes left.

"They did a good job of blitzing and they completely stopped our run," Stewart said. "We didn't have a good game today. We could have done a lot better. It feels good to win the first, because we haven't done that in a while. We needed to make some big plays and we were finally able to do that in the second half. This wasn't one of our best games, so we'll just learn from it and be ready next week."

"We came out in the second half with a lot more intensity," Bettis said. "We couldn't drive at all in the first half. They were playing great. Getting one on the road against your division is tough. We were very fortunate, because none of us played that great."

Stover made good from 25 yards out less than two minutes later and the Ravens made it close when Zeier connected on a 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis, who streaked down the left sideline.

Now within 20-13 with 2:48 left, Baltimore decided to kick the ball deep instead of going for an onside kick. Pittsburgh lost two yards on three plays, but Josh Miller launched a 68-yard punt that was downed at the 4 with 27 seconds left.

Zeier finished 16-of-27 for 231 yards, while Harbaugh was 4-of-7 for 33 yards. Errict Rhett carried 16 times for 72 yards as the starter in his Ravens debut.

Cornerback Rod Woodson played his first game against Pittsburgh, with whom he played his first 10 seasons. He failed to catch a ball thrown directly into his hands in the first half and left in the third quarter with back spasms.

"I don't take anything personal," Woodson said of his departure from the Steelers. "I'm comfortable and I'm happy here."

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Chicago-Pittsburgh)

Posted: Sun September 13, 1998 at 6:46 p.m. EDT

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Jerome Bettis ran for 131 yards and a touchdown and safety Carnell Lake intercepted Erik Kramer with 44 seconds remaining as the Pittsburgh Steelers held off the Chicago Bears, 17-12, in the Steelers' home opener.

Bettis, who was limited to 41 yards on 23 carries in last week's 20-13 victory at Baltimore, rushed 21 times for his 32nd career 100-yard game.

"A good day," said Bettis. "(We were) Able to run the ball pretty well. Everybody made a big fuss about the running game (last week), when there really wasn't a problem. We expect that we will continue to get better."

Pittsburgh (2-0) has opened the season with two wins for the first time since 1995 when it went to Super Bowl XXX.

"We found a way to win," said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. "(It) Wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination. I'm happy for Carnell. He studies, he works. He has been very unselfish. You have to have big-play guys come through at crunch time, obviously he did today."

Chicago (0-2), which suffered a tough 24-23 home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, held the ball for nearly six minutes on its final possession until Lake picked off Kramer's pass at the Pittsburgh 16-yard line and returned it 22 yards to seal the win. Lake cut in front of Curtis Conway in the middle of the field for Pittsburgh's first interception of the season.

"Definitely a big one at the end, (it was) what we needed," Lake said. "We hung in there, though we were not at our best. We take a lot of pride in our defense. I was just hoping to catch it. I've got soft hands, and it fell in there. I gave the ball to my daughter (Siena). It was her first regular-season game. She's only three but I hope she remembers."

"Bettis made a couple of runs and broke a couple of tackles," Chicago coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Carnell Lake made the great play at the end of the game. Two great plays beat us. I thought our guys gave the effort and the intensity to win. The turnovers early in the third hurt us."

Kordell Stewart completed 17-of-30 passes for 137 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Steelers, who visit the Miami Dolphins next week in a matchup of unbeaten AFC teams.

"I don't think Kordell played particularly well," Cowher said.

Curtis Enis, Chicago's first-round pick from Penn State, ran 22 times for 94 yards.

Kramer tossed a 54-yard pass to Bobby Engram that gave the Bears a 6-0 lead 3:57 into the second quarter after a missed point after.

Pittsburgh went 83 yards in nine plays on the following possession to take a 7-6 lead on a one-yard plunge by Bettis and Norm Johnson's extra point with 5:06 left in the second quarter. Bettis keyed the drive with a 42-yard run to the Chicago 33.

The Bears drove to the Pittsburgh 1 but had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger as time expired before halftime.

Johnson kicked a 49-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 10-9 edge with 7:56 to go in the third. After a hard hit by Levon Kirkland, Pittsburgh linebacker Jason Gildon recovered Alonzo Mayes' fumble at the Chicago 27 and threw plays later Stewart tossed a 13-yard pass to Andre Coleman to give the Steelers a 17-9 advantage with 5:39 left in the third.

Jaeger kicked a 36-yard field goal 2:28 into the fourth for the final margin.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Miami)

Posted: Sun September 20, 1998 at 8:01 p.m. EDT

MIAMI (Ticker) -- Kordell Stewart and the Pittsburgh Steelers are the latest to find out that the Miami Dolphins' defense is one to be reckoned with.

Linebacker Zach Thomas returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown and cornerback Sam Madison picked off two passes, one of which set up another score, as the Dolphins recorded their first shutout in six years with a 21-0 victory over the Steelers.

"The big concern we had with Kordell was we had to keep him in the pocket," said Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson. "We didn't want to do anything with our pass rush that's going to allow him to run. We tried to collapse the pocket and surround him."

Miami improved to 3-0 for the fourth time in five years and handed Pittsburgh its first loss in three games. The Dolphins are 13-4 in September since 1994.

Stewart appeared confused by Miami's varying defensive coverages throughout the day and completed just 11-of-35 passes for 82 yards and three interceptions. The double-threat quarterback was 4-of-15 yards for just three yards in the first half, when the Dolphins built a 14-0 lead.

"Obviously, this was not our best day," said Stewart. "Things were not clicking. We got our behinds kicked. Plain and simple. You have to give credit to the defense."

Miami's shutout was its first in a regular-season game since a 28-0 win at Indianapolis on November 8th, 1992. The Dolphins recorded a 31-0 shutout of San Diego in a divisional playoff in January 1993. It marked the first time the Steelers were blanked since a 27-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on September 12, 1993.

"That was an extremely poor display of offensive football," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "Miami played good defense, but we played poor offensively. We will get this thing turned around."

Miami continued its new pattern of emphasizing the run under new offensive coordinator Kippy Brown, despite going up against a defense that ranked first against the run last year. Karim Abdul-Jabbar set a regular-season club record with 33 carries and produced 108 yards, including a three-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Dan Marino attempted just 22 passes and completed 14 for 122 yards, including an eight-yard TD to Lamar Thomas. Marino, the most prolific passer in NFL history, averaged just 147 yards passing in each of Miami's first two wins this season.

"It was a good solid win," said Marino. "The Steelers are a good team and we're 3-0 going into ther bye week. We're playing very well as a group."

The Dolphins held Jerome Bettis to 48 yards on 13 carries.

"It was just a situation where we couldn't get anything going and it happens like that," said Bettis. "We have to look at what we can do to take the pressure off him (Stewart)."

Pittsburgh had a chance to open the scoring, but Norm Johnson's 47-yard field goal was deflected by Dolphins' rookie Kenny Mixon six seconds into the second quarter.

The Dolphins then put together an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive which consumed more than seven minutes. Marino was 5-for-5 for 57 yards, including a pair of 14-yard passes to O.J. McDuffie.

But it was Abdul-Jabbar who capped the drive with three runs. On 3rd-and-2 at the Pittsburgh 9, Abdul-Jabbar rushed behind left guard Mark Dixon for a five-yard gain to the 4. After a one-yard run to the 3, Abdul-Jabbar went up the middle for a three-yard touchdown with 5:12 left in the half.

Abdul-Jabbar already has two 100-yard games this season, matching his total in 1997. He had 108 yards on 23 carries in the season-opening win at Indianapolis.

On Pittsburgh's ensuing possession, Stewart forced a pass into double coverage and Madison picked it off in front of Courtney Hawkins at the Steelers' 37 and returned it 13 yards.

A seven-yard pass to Abdul-Jabbar and a nine-yard pass to Oronde Gadsden moved the Dolphins to the Pittsburgh 8. Two plays later, Marino fired a pass to the left side of the end zone that went through the hands of Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington and into the arms of Lamar Thomas to give Miami a 14-0 lead.

"I should have put some air under it and let him jump for it," said Marino of the touchdown to Thomas. "But sometimes it's nice to have a ball bounce your way."

"When the ball went through his hands, I said okay it's my turn," said Thomas. "Dan threw it very hard. We were very, very fortunate."

Zach Thomas increased the advantage to 21-0 when he cut in front of Hawkins to pick off a Stewart pass and returned it 17 yards for a score with 8:06 left in the third quarter. It was Thomas' second career touchdown.

"That was great. I love picks," said Zach Thomas. "We're usually in a man-to-man, but I was zoning up. I read his eyes and made the pick. To me, that's better than any sack or any big hit."

Most of the second half was played in a driving rainstorm, making it difficult for either team to sustain a drive.

In the fourth quarter, another Stewart pass intended for Hawkins was intercepted by Madison and returned eight yards to the Pittsburgh 38.

"We are really happy with the entire bunch," said Johnson. "I told them we are playing so well right now, we should just keep playing. Unfortunately, we have a bye coming up."

After the bye, the Dolphins play the New York Jets on October 4th.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Seattle-Pittsburgh)

Posted: Sun September 27, 1998 at 8:46 p.m. EDT

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Linebacker Levon Kirkland forced a fumble and made a crucial sack as the tenacious Steelers defense neutralized Warren Moon and led Pittsburgh to a 13-10 victory over the previously unbeaten Seattle Seahawks.

Pittsburgh's attacking defense contained the veteran Moon and shut down rusher Ricky Watters, holding him to just 47 yards. It collected four sacks and forced four fumbles, recovering three.

"We knew we just had to play well," said Kirkland, who had 10 tackles. "Turnovers and sacks come in bunches. We played some great defense, got some big turnovers."

Kirkland forced the key one, drilling fullback Mack Strong on a third-quarter swing pass to jar the ball loose. Cornerback Chris Oldham recovered and four plays later, former Seahawk Norm Johnson kicked a 25-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh (3-1) a 13-7 lead. It was the second fumble of the game for Strong.

"I don't consider myself a guy that goes out and fumbles the football and gives the game away," Strong said. "I think that's what probably hurts the most. I did hurt the team today."

Jerome Bettis led the offense for the Steelers, running for 138 yards on 28 carries. He rushed six times for 24 yards on Pittsburgh's lone scoring drive, which consumed 8 1/2 minutes of the second quarter and culminated on a 10-yard scoring run by rookie Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala that evened the game with 4:26 left in the first half.

Moon completed 14-of-26 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown with an interception. He was under pressure often, and with less than two minutes to play, was taken down by a blitzing Kirkland, forcing a 3rd-and-long. The Seahawks turned the ball over on downs two plays later.

"Moon got discouraged a little bit," Oldham observed. "His guys weren't open like they had been. He threw the ball up there and good things happened for us."

Seattle suffered its first loss after starting the season with wins over three NFC East teams. It had won those games by a combined margin of 95-28.

Trailing by three, Moon and the Seahawks had several cracks at the tie in the final quarter. On 3rd-and-7 from the Steelers 32 with six minutes left, Kirkland shot past a blocker and stuffed Watters in the backfield on a screen pass. Todd Peterson's ensuing 52-yard field goal try went wide right.

After a 55-yard punt by Pittsburgh's Josh Miller bounced in the end zone for a touchback, Seattle started with a first down and 2:51 to play. Two penalties on cornerback Carnell Lake moved the ball 13 yards before Pittsburgh dug in. Kirkland dragged down Watters after a six-yard gain on a swing pass, then shot through untouched to sack Moon and force a 3rd-and-11. Moon threw incomplete twice and the Steelers proceeded to run out the clock.

Kirkland led with seven solo tackles and safety Lethon Flowers, who blitzed often, had five. Linebacker Jason Gildon had two sacks and Kevin Henry had the other for Pittsburgh, which held Seattle to just 100 yards of total offense in the second half.

"We just wanted to get Moon rattled and I think that's what we did today," said Henry.

Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher was uncharacteristically effusive in his praise for his defense.

"What a game. Can't say enough about the defense, they shut down a very potent offense," he said. "It was a very gutsy effort."

Unlike the sputtering offense, which was responsible for the Seahawks' lowest output since a 41-3 loss to the New York Jets on Opening Day last season, the Seahawks' defense played up to the standard they'd established over the first three games. Struggling Kordell Stewart completed 16-for-25 passes for 108 yards and gained just 22 yards on 11 carries.

Despite spending over 38 minutes on the field on a summer-like day, they held the Steelers to just 285 total yards.

On the strength of a 33-yard field goal by Johnson, Pittsburgh took a 3-0 lead into the second quarter. Seattle erased that deficit 2:21 into the period on a 14-yard scoring pass from Moon to tight end Christian Fauria. Moon set up the touchdown with a 40-yard strike to Galloway, who led all receivers with seven catches for 139 yards.

Peterson's 47-yard field goal cut the deficit to 13-10 with 92 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

"We turned it over too many times," Moon said. "We didn't get any turnovers and we just missed on our opportunities."

Former Steeler linebacker Chad Brown, who left Pittsburgh after the 1996 season to sign as a free agent with Seattle, led the Seahawks' defense with 14 tackles and a sack.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Cincinnati)

Posted: Sun October 11, 1998 at 9:15 p.m. EDT

CINCINNATI (Ticker) -- Neil O'Donnell fooled his former team with a fake spike and lofted a 25-yard touchdown pass to Carl Pickens with just 20 seconds left to lift the Cincinnati Bengals to a 25-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in an AFC Central rivalry.

Two teams and three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance with the Steelers, O'Donnell was magnificent in his first game against his former team, completing 20-of-26 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns.

"It was a long week," said O'Donnell of the hoopla surrounding his first game against the Steelers. "I knew I had to stay focused. We had a lot of success on that team and I'll never forget that."

"You can't say enough about Neil and Pickens," said Bengals coach Bruce Coslet. "They made the plays and kept their poise at the end of the game."

Pickens, who is eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season, set a club record with 13 catches for a career-high 204 yards. He has been a Steeler-killer with an astounding 64 catches for 882 yards in his last eight games against Pittsburgh.

Darnay Scott caught scoring passes of 44 and 30 yards and leads the Bengals with five touchdowns this season. His 30-yard score 1:22 into the fourth quarter gave Cincinnati its first lead of the game at 18-17.

The loss dropped the Steelers (3-2) 1 1/2 games behind Jacksonville, which plays Miami Monday night, in the AFC Central.

The Steelers had taken a 20-18 lead on a 40-yard field goal by Norm Johnson with 1:56 remaining.

The Bengals (2-3) had no timeouts left and were backed up at their own 7-yard line after a penalty on the kickoff. Cincinnati then faced a 4th-and-12 at the 15, but O'Donnell threw a desperation deep pass down the left sideline and Pickens outleaped Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington for a 50-yard catch at the Pittsburgh 35 with under a minute left. Two runs by Corey Dillon produced 10 yards before the fake spike play. Dillon finished with 99 yards on 23 carries.

Convinced the Bengals were setting up for a potential game-winning field goal, the Pittsburgh defenders froze as O'Donnell signaled for a spike to stop the clock. But recognizing Washington was isolated against Pickens on the left side, O'Donnell floated a pass Pickens easily caught despite interference from the Steelers cornerback for the winning touchdown.

"I just wanted to take a shot," said O'Donnell of the winning touchdown. "When the ball is up in the air, Carl is a very talented receiver. He has some hops. He's going to come down with it most of the time."

"I just took off," said Pickens. "I feel that anytime the ball is up in the air and I can get my feet under me, I have the advantage. The throw was high and the defender was behind me."

The Steelers rushed for 257 yards on 39 carries, despite losing star running back Jerome Bettis with a twisted left knee. Quarterback Kordell Stewart, who had just 64 yards on 22 carries in Pittsburgh's first four games, led the Steelers with 103 yards on seven carries. He completed 13-of-22 passes for 151 yards.

"I was just trying to make things happen," said Stewart. "My scrambling makes the linebackers have to cover everything and they can't do that."

Bettis had 55 yards on 11 carries, including a 13-yard touchdown in the first half, but twisted his knee in the second quarter and did not return. Richard Huntley replaced Bettis and rushed for 85 yards on 20 carries, including a nine-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

"I thought our offense did a good job," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "Kordell did a nice job. But we gave up too many big plays on defense."

O'Donnell was 39-22 in six seasons with the Steelers (1990-95) and ranks second on the team in passing yards (12,867) and TD passes (68). But he is probably best known for throwing two costly interceptions in the Steelers' 27-17 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX in January of 1996.

That would be his final game as a Steeler. O'Donnell signed a five-year, $25 million free-agent deal with the New York Jets. After two unproductive years with the Jets, O'Donnell was released and signed a four-year, $17.25 million deal with Cincinnati in July.

Pittsburgh threw a number of blitzes at O'Donnell today and sacked him three times, but was unable to rattle the veteran quarterback.

"The Pittsburgh defense threw a lot at me," said O'Donnell. "I don't think they gave me the same look twice."

Johnson kicked a 40-yard field goal five seconds into the second quarter to open the scoring.

The Steelers increased the lead to 10-0 when Bettis scored on a 13-yard run to cap a six-play, 85-yard drive. The biggest play in the drive was an electrifying 56-yard run by Stewart to the Cincinnati 13.

A 47-yard pass from O'Donnell to Pickens to the Pittsburgh 25 set up a 44-yard field goal by Doug Pelfrey with 4:42 left in the second quarter.

The Steelers then drove from their own 32 to the Cincinnati 23. But Huntley fumbled after being hit by Sam Shade and safety Greg Myers recovered at the Bengals' 13.

The Bengals then went 87 yards in eight plays. O'Donnell hit Pickens with an 18-yard pass on a 3rd-and-7 play and Dillon ran for eight yards on a 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive alive. Then O'Donnell reared back and connected with Scott on a 44-yard touchdown with 52 seconds left in the half. Scott completely turned around rookie Jason Simmons with a fake and made an over-the-shoulder catch. But after an errant snap, the Bengals failed on a two-point conversion.

The Steelers opened the second half with an eight-play, 81-yard scoring drive. Stewart broke off two runs for 34 yards and Huntley capped the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run to increase Pittsburgh's lead to 17-9.

Pelfrey kicked a 48-yard field goal with 5:39 left in the third quarter to pull the Bengals within 17-12.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Baltimore-Pittsburgh)

Posted: Sun October 18, 1998 at 6:10 p.m. EDT

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Kordell Stewart threw a 55-yard pass to Charles Johnson for the game's only touchdown and the Pittsburgh Steelers recorded a season-high seven sacks and three interceptions en route to a 16-6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens in a battle of AFC Central Division rivals.

With his team trailing 6-3 at the half, Stewart found a wide-open Johnson streaking down the left sideline for the go-ahead score one minute into the third quarter. The 55-yard pass was the longest completion for the Steelers this year and the first touchdown pass for Stewart in four games.

"It was a blitz to the backside and Kordell did a good job of seeing me down the other side," said Johnson. "My assignment was just to get going and for him to get it out there. He threw it perfectly."

The play was set up by a 37-yard return by recently-signed receiver David Dunn to open the second half. Two plays later, Pittsburgh went ahead for good. The Steelers signed Dunn earlier in the week after releasing wide receiver Andre Coleman.

The win, coupled with Jacksonville's loss at Buffalo, moved the Steelers (4-2) within one game of the first-place Jaguars in the AFC Central.

Stewart completed just 12-of-27 passes for 146 yards with an interception for an anemic Pittsburgh offense, which ranks 14th in the AFC. Stewart came into the contest with a 51.0 passer rating, ranking him next to last in the league.

"His heart and soul is in this thing," said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher of his struggling quarterback. "This guy takes his job seriously. He was frustrated at halftime. We had a little talk and put things back in perspective.'

"I appreciate a coach who talks to me like that," said Stewart. "He just told me to relax, told me to keep working and that things would work out. After the first half I wasn't too happy."

The Steelers sorely missed running back Jerome Bettis, who was sidelined with a sprained left knee. Richard Huntley filled in for Bettis and had just 52 yards on 21 carries.

Johnson finished with 71 yards on two catches and scored his first touchdown since the season opener at Baltimore, when the Steelers defeated the Ravens, 20-13.

The loss dropped the Ravens (2-4) into a fourth-place tie with Cincinnati in the AFC Central.

"This is the type of football game I expected," said Baltimore coach Ted Marchibroda. "The only difference was I thought we would come out on top. These are two good teams and we knew we were going to come into a hornet's nest here."

Cornerback Dewayne Washington, who was the goat in last week's loss to Cincinnati, redeemed himself with a goal-line intereception of Eric Zeier to squelch Baltimore's last serious threat with 3:34 remaining in the third quarter.

Washington was victimized by Bengals wide receiver Carl Pickens for over 200 receiving yards, including the game-winning touchdown grab with seconds remaining in the Steelers' 25-20 loss to the Bengals.

"This defense will always welcome the challenge to keep us in the game or to win the game," said Pittsburgh linebacker Levon Kirkland. Most of the time, we can deliver the goods."

Zeier finished the game 17-for-25 for 173 yards, before being relieved by Jim Harbaugh early in the fourth, due to an apparent hand injury.

Harbaugh, who hadn't thrown an intereception in his previous 208 attempts, was picked off twice in the final quarter, by Pittsburgh safeties Carnell Lake and Darren Perry, respectively. Harbaugh did not complete a pass on any of his five attempts and faced constant pressure from a Pittsburgh defense which recorded seven sacks, two of which were registered by defensive end Oliver Gibson.

"I felt comfortable coming into the game," said Harbaugh of his first appearnance in four weeks. "I was ready to go in and do it, but I didn't. It really hurts. This is the most important thing in my life right now."

After Lake's interception at midfield, Norm Johnson made a 42-yard field goal to extend the Steelers' lead to 13-6 with 3:09 left.

"We're very competitive in our defensive backfield," said Lake. "Today we made some plays. It's a good feeling and will give us some confidence. We feel good about our performance."

Chris Oldham recovered Jermaine Lewis' fumble on the ensuing kickoff, giving Pittsburgh the ball with just over three minutes remaining. Johnson then booted a 40-yarder -- his third of the game -- with 2:19 remaining to cap the scoring.

Matt Stover, who missed on three field goal attempts in Baltimore's opening day loss to Pittsburgh, accounted for all the scoring for the Ravens, making kicks of 41 and 40 yards in the first half. Priest Holmes, who was held to a measly 29 yards last week against Tennessee, ran for 76 yards on 23 carries.

The Steelers have won four straight against the Ravens and extended their regular season home winning streak to 10 games, dating back to their loss to Dallas in last year's season opener.

The Ravens have not scored a touchdown since their Week Five 31-24 victory over Cincinnati. They were held to a pair of Stover field goals and a safety in a 12-8 loss to Tennessee last week.

Lethon Flowers fell on a Holmes fumble at the Ravens' 40 on Baltimore's opening drive and Johnson kicked a 41-yard field goal seven plays later as the Steelers took a 3-0 lead with 11:26 remaining in the first quarter.

Stover answered with his first field goal with just over a minute to play in the opening stanza. His kick capped an 11-play 48-yard drive, which stalled when linebacker Mike Vrabel recorded the Steelers third sack of the quarter at the Pittsburgh 23.

Huntley fumbled at the Pittsburgh 36 with 3:15 left in the half to set up Stover's second field goal, which gave the Ravens a 6-3 lead at the half.

Former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson made his first appearance at Three Rivers since his departure after the 1996 season and listened to boos from the Pittsburgh faithful throughout the contest.

"We have a long way to go," said Woodson. "We've dug ourselves into a hole early in the year and now we're trying to climb out of it. How well you play is irrelevant. The Baltimore Ravens lost today."

Woodson almost intercepted Stewart on the final play of the first quarter, but watched the sure pick slip through his fingers and into the chest of Courtney Hawkins for a 48-yard pickup. Hawkins led Pittsburgh with three receptions for 82 yards.

Neither team amassed much yardage, as Pittsburgh held a slight 241-230 edge in total offense. The Ravens, who had yielded three straight 100-yard rushing performances held the Steelers to 79 yards on the ground.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Kansas City)

Posted: Tues October 27, 1998 at 1:02 a.m EST

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Ticker) -- Jerome Bettis rushed for 119 yards in his return and fellow running back Fred McAfee also played a key role as the Pittsburgh Steelers ended the Kansas City Chiefs' 11-game home winning streak with a 20-13 victory.

Kordell Stewart completed just 11-of-22 passes for 82 yards but fired the go-ahead five-yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson with 10:05 to play as the Steelers improved to 2-1 in Monday night games at Kansas City the last three years.

Having missed last week's win over Baltimore with a twisted left knee, Bettis carried 33 times to record his fourth consecutive 100-yard game against the Chiefs and sixth straight on Monday Night Football. He led Pittsburgh (5-2) to a huge 182-72 edge in rushing yardage.

"They know I'm coming, everyone in the stadium knows I'm coming. It's just a matter of getting in there and being physical," Bettis said. "If I'm running in the fourth quarter, it means we're up or close to being up. I just want to keep the football and control the game."

The lesser-known McAfee recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown to open the scoring and rushed for 36 yards on a key drive that led to Norm Johnson's 34-yard field goal as the first half expired.

"This place is very difficult to come into, and that was a very good football team we just played," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "I think the difference in the second half was we were able to come up and make some big plays, especially on defense."

Elvis Grbac was 15-of-36 for 224 yards but threw an interception and fumbled on Kansas City's final two possessions.

Coming off a bye week, the Chiefs (4-3) failed to rebound from an embarassing 40-10 loss at New England on October 11th and continuously hurt themselves. Kansas City blew numerous scoring opportunities and were penalized 10 times for 75 yards.

"The outcome of the game, in my opinion, was driven by two things -- our penalties and our turnovers," fumed Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer. "Pittsburgh played well, but we didn't take care of the football and we frankly had too many damn penalties. Until we understand the importance of that and do something about it, we're going to continue to have the same problem."

Schottenheimer, whose team lost at home for the first time since December 15th, 1996 against Indianapolis, fell to 7-2 at home on Monday night, with both losses coming against the Steelers.

On its opening possession of the second half, Pittsburgh appeared to take control. Three plays after Bettis ran 13 yards on 3rd-and-1, Kordell Stewart pitched to rookie wideout Hines Ward and proceeded to catch a floating, 17-yard pass from the former high school quarterback.

"He did a great job of throwing the ball out there," Stewart said.

Bettis rushed seven times for 33 yards on the drive, leading to Johnson's 22-yard field goal that extended Pittsburgh's lead to 13-6.

"A few times I closed my eyes and was able to hang on. It's kill or be killed with him," Chiefs safety Reggie Tongue said of Bettis. "He's strong, he can move. If you don't come, he's going to embarass you. If you don't come hard, don't come at all."

Grbac answered on the next play from scrimmage, rolling left and hooking up with Derrick Alexander for a 65-yard gain. That set up Grbac's two-yard TD pass to Andre Rison.

But the Steelers chewed 7:23 off the clock and went ahead to stay on the ensuing possession. A 10-yard run by Bettis moved Pittsburgh across midfield and Stewart's 10-yard toss to David Dunn on 3rd-and-9 pushed his team to the 30. After moving to the 5, Stewart fired behind a wide-open Johnson in the right side of the end zone. Johnson adjusted, pulling the ball into his body with his right hand for the touchdown.

"Kordell came out and he was comfortable from the start," Bettis added. "He was upbeat and joking in huddle, and that helped us. He hung in there, he motivated us."

With less than nine minutes to go, Kansas City moved into Steelers' territory and Grbac fired deep into the end zone. The ball was on the money to Rison, who watched it carom off his facemask, spoiling a sure touchdown. Rison had seven catches for 65 yards.

Grbac, who was picked off twice, had another chance a short time later but was picked off at Pittsburgh's 37 by cornerback Carnell Lake. With less than a minute left, Kansas City had one final shot but linebacker Jason Gildon forced Grbac to fumble and defensive back Lethon Flowers recovered.

The Steelers defeated Kansas City for the sixth time in the last eight meetings and tied Jacksonville (5-2) atop the NFC Central.

"It was really important because everyone in our division lost (on Sunday). We knew we had our destiny in our own hands," Bettis explained. "We wanted to come out there and have a good performance on offense. We had been criticzed in the recent past about not running the ball, not throwing the ball, we just wanted to come out and play well."

A rare occurrence gave Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead 6:55 into the game. Kansas City was forced to punt, with Louis Aguiar kicking from the back of his end zone. Safety Lance Brown broke through the right side of the line virtually untouched, smothering the ball as Aguiar attempted to punt, and it bounced directly to McAfee in the end zone.

"They didn't have the full 15 yards to punt," Cowher said. "What more can you say about our kicking game? Our kicking game has made big plays all season long."

It was Pittsburgh's first blocked punt for a score since January 2nd, 1983 against Cleveland and the first time Kansas City had a punt blocked since December 12th, 1993. It also was the first time in Aguiar's eight-year career that he had a punt blocked -- a span of 587 punts, the third-longest streak of all-time.

"We had a guy who didn't block who he was supposed to block. We're going to take care of that," said Schottenheimer.

Kansas City rebounded on its next possession. Grbac's 31-yard pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez on 4th-and-5 moved the Chiefs to the 6. Two plays later, it appeared Kansas City would tie it as Grbac hit a wide-open Tony Richardson near the goal line. But the fullback dropped the ball and Kansas City settled for a 20-yard field goal by Pete Stoyanovich.

Completions of 25 and 11 yards from Grbac to Rison helped move the Chiefs deep into Steelers' territory again, setting up Stoyanovich's 28-yard field goal that trimmed the deficit to 7-6 early in the second quarter.

Clinging to that lead with 52 seconds left before halftime, Pittsburgh appeared ready to run out the clock. But McAfee rushed for 11 yards on first down and, one play later, went for 12 yards to move the Steelers to their own 41. After a pair of incompletions, Stewart hit the recently acquired Dunn for a 24-yard gain and McAfee burst up the middle for 13 yards. That set up Johnson for a 34-yard field goal as the clock expired, extending the lead to 10-6.

Kansas City's Joe Horn returned the second-half kickoff for the apparent go-ahead score, but tight end Ted Popson was penalized for holding, nullifying the touchdown.

"I've been in this business long enough to know that where you are after seven games means squat at the end," Schottenheimer added. "The only thing that's important to us is that we get on track and start winning some football games."

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Tennessee-Pittsburgh)

Posted: Sun November 1, 1998 at 6:52 p.m. EST

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Last week, the Tennessee Oilers embarrassed themselves with a special-teams blunder. This week, they embarrassed the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Eddie George rushed for a season-high 153 yards and a score and Steve McNair matched a career high with three touchdown passes as Tennessee manhandled Pittsburgh, 41-31, in an AFC Central Division battle.

The inconsistent Oilers (4-4) keep winning the important ones. They are 4-0 against division foes this season and have taken three of the last four meetings with the Steelers.

The points were the most Tennessee has scored against Pittsburgh and came just one week after the Oilers failed to get their kicker on the field in time for a potential game-winning field goal in a 13-12 loss against Chicago.

"After a difficult ending to a tough ballgame, we put things in perspective," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. "I have to praise the players for this one. The team that played today was the team that should have won last week."

Struggling Kordell Stewart was benched as the Steelers (5-3) fell one game behind first-place Jacksonville in the Central. Backup Mike Tomczak came on after Tennessee's Lonnie Marts returned an errant pass by Stewart 27 yards for a score and threw two meaningless TD passes to Charles Johnson.

"We did not play a good football game, to say the least," said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. "Tennessee played very physical with us and won the line of scrimmage early. It led to the type of game we saw."

George, who had a season-high 137 yards last week, helped the offense dominate the first half, carrying 22 times for 101 yards as the Oilers scored on three staight possessions and ate 19 minutes off the clock.

In four previous games against the Steelers, George averaged just 41.5 yards per game and a woeful 2.6 yards per rush. But today he carried a workmanlike 34 times, exploding for a 37-yard TD jaunt with 3:32 left in the third quarter to give the Oilers a commanding 27-7 lead.

"We planned to run Eddie a lot," said McNair. "The first four plays were designed to go to George and when it worked, we just stayed with it."

"Eddie George is a very good back," Steelers safety Darren Perry said. "But when you don't wrap up and make tackles, guys like him are going to motor on you."

McNair, who also tossed three TD passes against Cincinnati on October 12th, 1997, connected with Frank Wycheck on a two-yard TD to give the Oilers a 10-0 lead with 9:29 left in the first half. He found rookie Kevin Dyson on a six-yard strike with a minute remaining to give Tennessee a 17-7 halftime lead.

"The whole key was just coming out believing we can win," said Dyson. "Forty-one points, we didn't expect that, but we expected to come out with a victory. We have the talent to be a much better team than we've been out there showing.'

"We came out rolling on all cylinders and good things happened," said Wycheck. "We made a commitment to the run. I think it kind of surprised them, because no one runs the ball on Pittsburgh like that."

Pittsburgh came into the contest allowing just 98.4 yards per game on the ground.

McNair's final scoring strike, a 29-yarder to Willie Davis in the right corner of the end zone, extended the advantage to 34-7. McNair completed 13-of-21 passes for 167 yards.

Stewart showed some signs of improvement, completing 23-of-32 passes for a season-high 230 yards and two scores. But he also three second-half interceptions, including the one to Marts that gave the Oilers a 41-15 lead.

The interception return was the fourth score of Marts' career. He also had a team-high seven tackles as the Oilers shut down bruising Jerome Bettis.

Bettis, who rushed for 119 yards on Monday at Kansas City, was limited to just eight on six first-half carries and finished with 26 on 11 rushes.

"We tried to be more physical with them," said Marts. "We were able to get to Bettis behind the line and kept him from getting going."

Pittsburgh's Courtney Hawkins benefited from a soft defense in the game's late stages, collecting a club-record 14 catches for 147 yards. Hawkins surpassed J.R. Wilburn, who had 12 receptions against Dallas on October 22nd, 1967.

Johnson had a stellar day, catching nine passes for 115 yards and three scores. Tomczak was 15-of-17 for 117 yards and found Johnson for TDs of three and 37 yards.

"I wouldn't know if it was my best game or not because we didn't win," Johnson said. "I think we showed the character of this team, coming back like that. When you're down big like that, it's easy to lay down."

Tennessee took control from their first possession, marching 65 yards on 13 plays, before taking a 3-0 lead on Al Del Greco's 43-yard field goal. George carried 10 times for 70 yards on the drive, which ate up nearly seven minutes.

The Oilers drained the Steelers' defense further on a 15-play, 88-yard drive, which culminated in McNair's short TD pass to Wycheck with 9:29 left in the second quarter. The Steelers answered on the ensuing drive as Stewart hit Johnson with a nine-yard scoring strike to pull Pittsburgh within 10-7 with 5:55 left.

Tennessee once again embarked on a long drive, moving 72 yards on 10 plays. Pittsburgh safety Carnell Lake was called for interference at the Steelers 5, setting up McNair's TD toss to Dyson with 1:05 remaining. Lake seemed to turn an ankle on the play and did not return.

Denard Walker intercepted Stewart early in the third quarter and Del Greco kicked his second field goal from 32 yards to give the Oilers a 20-7 lead. Del Greco has converted 18-of-20 attempts this season.

After George's TD run gave Tennessee a 20-point lead, the Oilers forced Pittsburgh to turn the ball over on downs before McNair made it 34-7 on a 29-yard hookup with Davis on the second play of the fourth quarter. Davis had five catches for 88 yards.

"We knew what we had to do today and we didn't do it," Perry said. "We had too many guys on defense trying to do too much. That's not Steelers football."

Stewart then engineered the Steelers' best drive of the day, capping a seven-play, 66-yard march with a three-yard TD pass to Hawkins that made it 34-15.

Pittsburgh outgained Tennessee 401-321, as it spent the better part of the contest playing catchup. But the Steelers, who came into the game with the league's second-best running game, were outrushed 169-54.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Green Bay-Pittsburgh)

Posted: Tues November 10, 1998 at 2:00 a.m EST

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Kordell Stewart responded to last week's benching by orchestrating four first-half scoring drives as the Pittsburgh Steelers took a huge halftime lead and held on to deal the Green Bay Packers their second Monday night loss of the season, 27-20.

Stewart, who completed 15-of-22 passes for 231 yards and ran for 39 yards, led the Steelers to a commanding 24-0 halftime edge by putting together impressive drives of 85, 59 and 73 yards that culminated in touchdowns.

Most of Stewart's damage was done in the first half, when he threw for 171 yards. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's defense stifled Brett Favre over the first 30 minutes, holding him to just 71 passing yards. The Pro Bowl quarterback finished 22-of-39 for 234 yards and an interception.

"Tonight was one of those nights," Stewart said. "You would like to have the opportunity to play like this every week."

"As good a first half as we have had since we've been here," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "We certainly made it interesting in the second half. Green Bay is a good football team."

An eight-yard TD pass to Charles Johnson gave Pittsburgh (6-3) a 7-0 lead 4:32 into the game. After Stewart snuck it in from the 1 with 21 seconds left in the period to double the advantage, a 45-yard field goal by Norm Johnson and rookie fullback Chris Fuamatu-Maafala's five-yard scoring run gave the Steelers what proved to be an insurmountable edge 28 seconds before the break.

Against the Tennessee Oilers a week ago, an ineffective Stewart was benched by Cowher in the fourth quarter.

Stewart's numbers -- seven TDs, 10 interceptions -- are still sub-par for the season but the defense, which has allowed the fourth-least points in the AFC, has Pittsburgh a game behind the first-place Jacksonville Jaguars in the Central Division.

For the Packers, (6-3), the defeat was similar to their Monday night loss to Minnesota on October 5th, when Randall Cunningham riddled their secondary for 442 yards. Stewart's numbers were nowhere near as impressive, but he was able to find a wide open receiver in nearly every crucial situation. Especially in the first half when the Steelers converted 9-of-10 third-down chances.

"We're very disappointed, we have not played well on Monday night this season," Packers coach Mike Holmgren said. "And against a good team like Pittsburgh, when you play the first half like we did, it's almost over."

Ryan Longwell's 42-yard field goal with 2:44 left in the third quarter finally got Green Bay on the board, narrowing the score to 27-3.

Things got a little tense for Pittsburgh after Packers defensive end Keith McKenzie returned a fumble by Mike Tomczak 88 yards for a touchdown and shortly thereafter, Raymont Harris took it in from the 2 for Green Bay, closing the margin to 27-17.

It got even wilder when the Packers were able to recover the ensuing onside kick and make it 27-20 on a 37-yard field goal by Longwell. But they did not get back the ball as Steelers reserve tight end Mark Bruener cradled Longwell's second onside effort. Pittsburgh was able to run out the clock when Jerome rumbled for a crucial first down.

Bettis finished with 100 yards on 34 carries for his 35th career 100-yard rushing effort and seventh straight in the Monday Night showcase.

"He (Stewart) said he hadn't felt like this in a while," said Johnson, who had five catches for 48 yards. "Tonight he came out and showed it."

Stewart did show it, and early, leading Pittsburgh 85 yards on nine plays on the game's opening possession. He converted two third-down situations on that march, including a 53-yard bomb to Courtney Hawkins to the Green Bay 12. Three plays later, he hit Johnson in the right flat and the elusive veteran dodged his way the end zone.

After Bettis was unable to bull his way in from the 3 on Pittsburgh's next possession, Stewart went over the pile to give the Steelers a 14-0 edge. Pittsburgh dominated all facets of the game in the first half as it held the ball for 19:35 and outgained the Packers, 274-72.

Johnson kicked a 21-yard field goal for a 27-0 lead with eight minutes left in the third quarter.

The play that nearly turned the game around for Green Bay came 5:40 into the final period.

With Mike Tomczak calling signals and Stewart lined up as a receiver, defensive end Reggie White broke through for his lone sack and jarred the ball loose. It bounced right to McKenzie, who took the hop in stride and kept going with what became the longest fumble return in team history.

"Bottom line is we got the 'W,'" said offensive tackle Jamain Stephens, who held White to the one sack and three tackles. "We had a good night on the ground and a good night in the air. Everybody stepped up to a challenge."

Green Bay managed just 39 rushing yards and fell two games behind the first-place Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Central.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Tennessee)

Posted: Sun November 15, 1998 at 6:33 p.m. EST

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Maybe the Oilers are indeed Titans.

Al Del Greco's 22-yard field goal with three seconds remaining gave Tennessee the lead and Michael Roan's fumble recovery in the end zone on the final play of the game rubbed salt in the wounds of the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Oilers posted a 23-14 victory over their AFC Central Division rivals.

One day after deciding on "Titans" as a new franchise name for the 1999 season, the Oilers (6-4) improved to 5-1 against division opponents and posted their second win in three weeks over Pittsburgh (6-4) to pull into a tie for second place in the Central. The Oilers dominated the Steelers, 41-31 in a stunning Week Eight upset, which sparked their current three-game winning streak.

The season sweep is the Oilers first against the Steelers since 1993, which was also the last season in which Pittsburgh was swept by a division opponent.

"I am very proud of our team," said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher. "We played a different Pittsburgh team today then we played two weeks ago. Their defense set out to shut down our run game and they accomplished that. I really can't say enough about this club and the way they've been playing the last five or six weeks."

The game's final drive was sparked by defensive tackle Gary Walker's sack of Kordell Stewart on a 4th-and-1 at the Tennessee 30 with 4:15 remaining. Steve McNair then hit tight end Frank Wycheck with a 31-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 40 and connected with Derrick Mason on a 19-yard play to the Steelers 16. Del Greco, who had earlier made kicks of 46 and 24 yards, split the uprights with three seconds remaining.

"I thought for a second that we might have to try a 53-yarder there," said Del Greco. "But Steve and the rest of the guys keep making plays when we need them lately. They got it down there nice and close. Those are the ones you're supposed to make."

"Everybody made big plays on the drive," added McNair. "I'm proud of the way the offense responded in the last five minutes of the game, to come back and pull it out."

Del Greco has been close to perfect for Tennessee this season, missing just three of his 25 field goal attempts.

The Steelers fielded the ensuing kickoff and began a wild series of laterals, which resulted in a loose ball in their end zone which was recovered by Roan.

"This was a disappointing loss for the whole team," said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. "Defensively we played well, offensively we just didn't execute. This loss was a heartbreaker."

Pittsburgh had a 14-13 halftime lead on a pair of touchdown passes by Stewart. He threw a 10-yard scoring strike to tight end Mark Bruener early in the second quarter to give the Steelers a 7-3 lead. Stewart hit rookie running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala on a screen, which turned into a 26-yard TD as Pittsburgh moved ahead, 14-10 with 3:01 left in the half.

Stewart completed 22-of-28 passes for 239 yards and did not throw an interception for the second straight week, after being benched after throwing three picks against the Oilers two weeks ago.

"We had a good game plan today," said Stewart. "But give Tennessee credit they played a good defensive game."

McNair connected with Willie Davis on a 25-yard TD pass with 6:21 left in the first half. Del Greco's second field goal came with just four seconds remaining in the half.

McNair was 19-of-31 for 234 yards with an interception. Davis finished with six catches for 90 yards.

After rushing for a season-high 153 yards in his first encounter with the Steelers, Eddie George had his streak of five consecutive 100-yard games snapped with a 79-yard effort on 25 carries.

The Oilers, who had held Jerome Bettis to a season-low 26 yards on 11 carries at Pittsburgh, limited "The Bus" to 29 yards on 14 carries as Pittsburgh's ground game managed just 73 yards after entering the game with the league's second-best ground game.

"We just have to keep playing," said Bettis. "We got six games left. The Oilers defense did a great job of stopping us again."

Pittsburgh was further hampered by the loss of kicker Norm Johnson, who missed the contest with a strained calf muscle. The Steelers were forced to sign rookie Matt George, who had his lone field goal attempt blocked with 7:24 left in the first quarter.

"It was frustrating," said Pittsburgh wideout Courtney Hawkins. "When you move the ball between the 20's and score no points, it's really frustrating."

The lack of faith in the replacement kicker may have forced Cowher to go for the 4th-and-1 in the latter stages, rather than attempt a 41-yard field goal which could have given his team a four-point lead.

"I now realize the importance of having a reliable kicker," Cowher said.

Mike Archie returned the opening kickoff to the Pittsburgh 39, but McNair fired an interception to safety Lethon Flowers on the Oilers first play from scrimmage. Del Greco opened the scoring with 1:06 left on a 46-yard field goal, which gave the Oilers the early lead.

Pittsburgh answered on the ensuing possession, embarking on an eight-play, 74-yard drive, culminating in Stewart's 10-yard strike to Bruener.

Bettis left the game early in the second to have his knee-brace adjusted and his replacement Richard Huntley coughed the ball up in Tennessee territory. Rookie safety Perry Phenix returned the fumble 18 yards to the the Pittsburgh 39 with 9:29 left in the half.

McNair found Davis on a 25-yard TD pass six plays later to give the Oilers a three-point lead.

The Steelers came back with a seven-play, 80-yard drive, in which Stewart took off on a 17-yard run, before finding Ma'afala for the go-ahead score with just over three minutes left.

On the final drive of the half, McNair connected with Davis on a 34-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 34 and then hit Kevin Dyson for an eight-yard gain to set up Del Greco's 24-yard boot just before the half.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Jacksonville-Pittsburgh)

Posted: Sun November 22, 1998 at 10:43 p.m. EST

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers aren't ready to surrender their AFC Central Division crown just yet.

Cornerback Dewayne Washington returned a pair of interceptions for scores, including a 72-yarder with 34 seconds left, to help the Steelers defeat the division-leading Jacksonville Jaguars, 30-15, in a crucial AFC Central battle. It marked the first time in franchise history a player has returned two interceptions for scores in a single game.

"It feels great to be able to come up with two big plays and help your team at what I feel is the hardest position in football," added Washington. "It was huge. Each time I catch the ball I'm trying to put it in the end zone."

The Steelers (7-4), who have won the division title the last four seasons and five of the past six years under coach Bill Cowher, pulled within a game of Jacksonville. The Jaguars (8-3), seeking their first division title in the four-year history of the franchise, lost for the first time in five division games.

The teams will meet again in the season finale at Jacksonville in a Monday contest that could determine the division champion. Tennessee remained two games off the pace in the Central with a 24-3 loss to the New York Jets.

With the Jaguars driving for a potential game-tying score with under a minute remaining, Washington stepped in front of Mark Brunell's sideline pass and ran untouched into the end zone to ice the victory.

"It's poetic justice for a guy who has had so many balls go through his hands through the course of the season," said Cowher. "He should be leading the league in interceptions and maybe in scoring, but he gets the two today."

Washington, who has been picked on repeatedly as the supposed weak link in the Pittsburgh secondary, intercepted a Brunell pass in the opening quarter and returned it 52 yards to open the scoring with 7:48 left in the first quarter. Washington became the first Steeler to return an interception for a score since safety Darren Perry did it against Houston in September of 1996.

Kordell Stewart found tight end Mark Bruener in the back of the end zone for a nine-yard scoring strike which gave the Steelers a commanding 23-7 lead with 8:59 remaining. Bruener made a juggling catch between two Jacksonville defenders, securing the ball while falling on his back.

Stewart completed 25-of-36 passes for 208 yards and did not throw an interception for the third straight week after throwing 10 picks in the Steelers' first eight games.

"We made a commitment to ourselves that we have six games left to go," said Stewart. "We know we control our destiny. Today we had some fun offensively. Guys made great catches, offensive line protected well and our defense added some great plays. It just was a great team effort for us today."

But Brunell staged a late rally. His 33-yard TD pass to Jimmy Smith and ensuing two-point conversion toss to Keenan McCardell drew Jacksonville within 23-15 with 7:04 left. Smith, who was questionable with a bad back, did not start but led the Jags with five catches for 71 yards.

Brunell was 18-of-41 for 212 yards with three interceptions.

"We just weren't executing at every position," Brunell said. "This certainly is a humbling experience. We have a lot of work to do. This loss is going to hurt, not only because it's in a stretch that can make or break the season for us, it's the fact that it's Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh."

The Steelers hold a 4-3 edge in the all-time series, in which neither team has been able to win a road game.

Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis, who was held to just 29 yards on 14 carries last week at Tennessee, rushed for 77 yards on 26 carries. Jacksonville rookie Fred Taylor had 67 yards on 20 carries and scored a touchdown for the eighth straight game with a two-yard run with 4:07 left in the third quarter to pull Jacksonville within 13-7.

The Steelers welcomed back Norm Johnson, who converted kicks of 41, 29 and 38 yards, passing Eddie Murray for fifth place on the all-time list with 339 career field goals. Pittsburgh felt the impact of losing its veteran kicker to a strained calf muscle last week, when rookie Matt George had his lone 36-yard attempt blocked in a 23-14 loss to the Oilers.

Stewart connected with Courtney Hawkins on a third-down conversion and a 17-yard pass during a second-quarter drive which set up Johnson's first field goal, a 38-yarder, which gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead with 8:21 left in the first half.

Hawkins led Pittsburgh with eight catches for 80 yards.

Johnson capped a 10-play, 57-yard drive with a 29-yard field goal with six seconds left in the first half to give the Steelers a 13-0 cushion.

Jacksonville got back in it after the break, eating up over seven minutes of the third quarter on a 15-play, 90-yard drive which culminated in Taylor's scoring plunge.

But the Steelers answered on each of their next two drives.

Charles Johnson made an acrobatic one-handed catch for a 27-yard completion to the Jacksonville 31 to set up Johnson's third field goal of the day. Johnson had seven catches for 63 yards.

"I was looking at Kordell all the way," said Johnson. "I just went up and made the play. He threw the ball down the seam. It was just the time for me to make a play."

Stewart was 4-of-5 for on Pittsburgh's next possession, including his nine-yard scoring pass to Bruener.

But Jacksonville answered right back. Brunell hit Reggie Barlow, who started in place of Smith, for 31 yards to the Pittsburgh 39. He then found Smith wide open in the end zone to pull the Jags within eight with 7:04 left.

Barlow had a 29-yard punt return to the Jacksonville 45 with 3:54 remaining, but the Jaguars' drive stalled at the Pittsburgh 47, when Brunell's 4th-and-10 pass to Smith was caught just out of bounds.

Brunell's last pass of the day was intercepted by linebacker Carlos Emmons deep in Pittsburgh territory with four seconds remaining.

"It's one thing to lose, when you lose playing your best," said Jacksonville tacke Tony Boselli. "You go back to the drawing board and deal with that. When you lose the way we played, it's embarrassing. That's what it feels like right now."

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Detroit)

Posted: Thur November 26, 1998 at 11:38 p.m. EST

DETROIT (Ticker) -- There's something magical about the Detroit Lions and Thanksgiving.

Jason Hanson kicked a 42-yard field with 12:08 left after a controversial overtime coin toss as the Detroit Lions rallied from a 10-point deficit and added another chapter to their Thanksgiving legacy with a 19-16 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Detroit (5-7) overcame a subpar game from Barry Sanders, who was held to only 33 yards on 20 carries, and won for the fourth time in its last five Thanksgiving Day games. Last season, the Lions set a franchise record for most points in a regular-season game with a 55-20 victory over the Chicago Bears.

Despite his uncharacteristic performance, Sanders joined Walter Payton as the only players in NFL history to rush for 15,000 yards. Sanders, the top rusher on Thanksgiving Day with 931 yards, raised his career total to 15,003 and is 1,725 yards shy of Payton's all-time mark of 16,728.

Pittsburgh's defense dominated for nearly three quarters before Lions rookie quarterback Charlie Batch shook off a sore neck and ignited the Lions' lethargic offense.

"We knew they were trying to stop the run," said Batch. "They were prepared and determined to stop Barry. We had to dig deeper in our playbook and make some plays. When teams take away our run we have to spead them out and beat them with the pass."

The game took a bizarre twist before the overtime, when the Lions won the coin flip. Television replays appeared to have Steelers running back Jerome Bettis calling tails as the coin was in the air, only to have the referee award the ball to the Lions after the coin landed tails.

"I called tails," said Bettis. "Unfortunately, they (officials) thought that we should have heads. I've never seen anything like this. I'm sure I'll take this one to my grave."

"I have two guys -- Bettis and Carnell Lake, who went out for the toss -- who I trust my kids with and they look me in the eye and said it was tails," added Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. "I'm like a parent. You get two stories."

Referee Phil Luckett said Bettis originally called heads and changed his mind.

"He first called heads," said Luckett. "When it hit the ground, it bounced to tails, and I said, 'You called heads, so Detroit has won the toss.' "

The Lions took the opening possession in overtime and marched 41 yards on seven plays. Coach Bobby Ross sent Hanson out on third down, and after a timeout, the kicker split the uprights.

On first down from the Pittsburgh 48, cornerback Chris Oldham sacked Batch, but the play was wiped out when Oldham was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty. That gave the Lions another first down at the Steelers 33.

"It shouldn't have been a penalty at all," said Oldham. "Five yards or 35 yards, I'd have been upset if they called anything. He had his head tucked under and we went down. He's a little taller than me and I was wrapped around him. He was already down when they said I had the face mask."

"What makes me mad is you scratch and fight for 60 minutes and the guys in striped shirts decide it," added Cowher. "It's a shame that's the focus after the game."

Detroit tied the game, 13-13, on Batch's 21-yard touchdown pass to Herman Moore with 6:36 remaining in the fourth quarter and took a 16-13 lead when Hanson booted a 35-yard with 4:33 left after the Lions recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.

"I don't think I have ever seen so many things go against us in a game and still be able to come back and win it," said Ross. "I've got to tip my hat to our entire squad for just keeping our eye on the target."

It was an especially satisfying win for Batch, who is from the Pittsburgh area and grew up a Steelers' fan. He had a number of his family and friends in the stands, but they all weren't rooting for the Lions.

"Everybody who came up to Pontiac had mixed emotions," Batch admitted. "My family said, 'We love you, Charlie, but go Steelers'. This is definitely big. Now when we go home and eat dinner, I can just smile."

The Steelers got a break to grab to a 13-3 lead on Kordell Stewart's 24-yard touchdown pass to Will Blackwell with 7:56 remaining in the third quarter.

On the play, Stewart avoided a sack, rolled right and fired a pass on the run to Bettis. The pass slipped through Bettis' hands but right into the arms of Blackwell, who caught the ball at the Detroit 10 and jogged into the end zone.

Batch missed two series for the Lions to have X-rays on his neck, but returned for Detroit's second possession of the second half and immediately jump-started the offense.

The Lions drove 42 yards on 10 plays to pull within 13-6 on Hanson's 51-yard field with 1:44 left in the third quarter. After Hanson missed a 43-yard attempt with 11:50 remaining, Batch had four completions for 77 yards on the game-tying drive.

Batch found Mooore for 21 yards and Johnnie Morton for 26 to give the Lions a first down at the Pittsburgh 30. Two plays later, Moore hauled in just his second TD pass of the season to pull the Lions even.

"Herman said that he didn't care if there were three people around him, just throw him the ball," Batch noted. "He did a great job getting open."

Reserve running back Richard Huntley fumbled the ensuing kickoff, with linebacker Scott Kowalkowski recovering for the Lions at the 9. Detroit lost eight yards on its short series before Hanson salvaged the takeaway with his third field goal.

The Steelers (7-5), who fell 1 1/2 games behind Jacksonville in the AFC Central, took advantage of three Detroit penalties on their next possession to force overtime on Norm Johnson's 25-yard field goal with one second left in regulation.

Batch completed 16-of-23 passes for 236 yards and Moore had eight receptions for 148 yards, including a 28-yard reception on the game-winning drive. The Lions have won three straight to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Stewart was 21-of-36 for 225 yards, while Bettis, a Detroit native playing his first game in his hometown, rushed for 67 yards on 26 carries.

Pittsburgh had possession for nealy 21 minutes in the first half and held Sanders to minus-4 yards on six carries, but could only manage two field goals. The Lions pulled within 6-3 on Hanson's 45-yard field goal with 1:55 left in the second period.

It was just Detroit's second overtime game in 59 appearances on Thanksgiving. The first one resulted in a 23-17 loss to the Bears in 1980.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (New England-Pittsburgh)

Posted: Sun December 6, 1998 at 6:15 p.m. EST

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- The New England Patriots did not need to rely on Drew Bledsoe and his broken finger. Instead, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers with Adam Vinatieri's foot and Robert Edwards' legs.

The Patriots kept pace in the tight AFC East race with a 23-9 victory over the Steelers, winning at Pittsburgh for the first time since 1986. New England plays St. Louis and San Francisco from the NFC before visiting the New York Jets to close the season.

"This is a fine win for our club, to come in against Pittsburgh, a very good team, and knock them off," Patriots coach Pete Carroll said. "We understand we have three huge games coming up on our schedule. There is an enormous one coming up next, and that's what we're going to be focused on."

New England's third straight victory required no late-game dramatics by Bledsoe, who shook off a broken finger to engineer late game-winning drives in each of the last two contests. Wearing a protective wrap on his right index finger, Bledsoe completed 21-of-33 passes for 327 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.

"Drew had some problems with his finger today," Carroll said. "The ball started flying on him. He had a hard time controlling it. They made an adjustment on his brace and he came back and did a nice job."

"Early in the second half I kind of lost it for a while," said Bledsoe. "We had to experiment until we found what would work. Everything worked better and I could put the ball in the vicinity of where it was supposed to be."

Vinatieri, who ran for an uncontested two-point conversion in last week's controversial win over Buffalo, kicked field goals of 21, 29 and 35 yards. Edwards, a rookie, carried 28 times for 66 yards and a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown as he outrushed Pittsburgh's Jerome Bettis.

Terry Glenn had nine catches for a career-high 193 yards and a score and Ty Law had a key interception and deflection to end drives by the Steelers (7-6), who fell two games behind first-place Jacksonville in the AFC Central.

"Terry Glenn continues to show how important he is to our club," Carroll said. "He had a monster game today. He did an excellent job for us."

It was another inconsistent performance by Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart, who was 21-of-45 for 206 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked three times as his passes again lacked touch and he was unable to direct a TD drive.

"It's a collective thing," Stewart said. "I can't say anything until I go back and watch the films. I just think we all have to go back and take a hard look at it. The most frustrating thing is we know what we have."

"I'm very disappointed in how we played," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher, whose club visits Tampa Bay next week. "We're going to find out a lot about ourselves, this whole football team. We're going to sit down, look at it and make some decisions accordingly."

Norm Johnson kicked three field goals for Pittsburgh, including a 43-yarder with 8:34 left in the third quarter. The kick came seven plays after Chris Oldham returned an interception of Bledsoe to the New England 46.

But it was all Patriots thereafter. On the final play of the third quarter, Stewart threw a pass behind Charles Johnson that bounced off the receiver's hands and was intercepted by Law, who returned it 10 yards to the Steelers 18. His eight pickoffs lead the NFL.

Vinatieri kicked a 35-yarder to restore the seven-point lead, and Bettis' fumble on Pittsburgh's next possession was pounced on by safety Lawyer Milloy at the Steelers 35. A 28-yard pass interference penalty against linebacker Levon Kirkland set up the Pats at the 4 and Edwards banged it in for his 10th TD of the season, giving New England a 23-9 bulge with 9:20 to go.

The Steelers still had time to get back in it after Bledsoe was intercepted by Earl Holmes with 4:20 to go, but Stewart came up short on consecutive possessions. On 4th-and-goal from the 9, his pass to Hines Ward was knocked down by Law at the goal line. On the next drive, he was picked off at the 6 by Steve Israel.

"I haven't picked off Kordell since we've been playing together," said Law, a native of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. "I'm just happy I got an interception in front of the hometown crowd."

Ben Coates caught six passes for 78 yards for the Patriots, who overcame 12 penalties by holding the ball for over 38 minutes and limiting the Steelers to 249 total yards.

Bettis gained 48 yards on 12 carries and Charles Johnson added 61 on five catches for Pittsburgh, which managed only 13 first downs.

"It's just making a play," Cowher said. "We had some chances and we didn't do it. New England had three big pass plays. At some point, you have to make a play, and we have not done that."

"We didn't get it done offensively," Bettis said. "We got down a couple of times and couldn't move the football. It created problems for us because we were unable to score touchdowns. Late in the game we made some mistakes -- an interception, I fumbled the football. When you do that against a playoff-quality football team, you don't give yourself a chance to win."

Glenn had catches of 11 and 43 yards that led to Vinatieri's 21-yard field goal in the first quarter. He booted a 29-yarder less than seven minutes later that was set up by an 18-yard run by Edwards.

The Steelers finally got untracked with a 52-yard march that led to Norm Johnson's season-best 49-yard kick with 2:58 left in the first half. But on the second play after the ensuing kickoff, Bledsoe found Glenn behind the secondary for an 86-yard TD, the fourth-longest pass play in franchise history.

"The throw to Terry Glenn on the corner route that went for a touchdown was an exceptional throw," Carroll said. "Drew had to throw the ball at the last possible second."

"The offensive line did a good job," Bledsoe said. "I could stand back there all day today. When I have that kind of time, I should be effective. I wasn't particularly accurate."

Stewart directed the two-minute offense to a 26-yard field goal by Johnson seven seconds before halftime, pulling Pittsburgh within 13-6.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay)

Posted: Sun December 13, 1998 at 6:48 p.m. EST

TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continued their late playoff push with a strong defensive effort and notched their first-ever victory against the stumbling Pittsburgh Steelers, 16-3.

Mike Alstott rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown and Michael Husted booted three field goals while Tampa Bay's defense forced five turnovers and held the Steelers to just 168 total yards.

"Our defense stepped it up," said Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy. "Overall, our effort on defense was where it needed to be. We entered the game with five interceptions and got four today, that was nice to see."

Since losing three in a row to seemingly drop out of the playoff picture, the Buccaneers (7-7) have won three straight to climb back to .500. They currently are tied with the Arizona Cardinals for the final wild card spot.

In their first meeting since 1989, the Bucs beat the Steelers for the first time in five tries.

Attempting a late comeback, Kordell Stewart capped a miserable day by throwing interceptions on Pittsburgh's final two drives. Stewart, who was benched briefly in the third quarter, completed 9-of-21 passes for just 88 yards and three interceptions as the Steelers lost their third in a row and saw their postseason hopes take a serious hit.

"I tried to take one guy out and put another guy in to get a spark and he wasn't effective," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "My obligation is not to Kordell Stewart but to this football team."

The downfall started with the infamous coin toss on Thangskiving, when the Steelers suffered a 19-16 loss to Detroit in overtime. Their troubles continued last week with a 23-9 loss to the New England Patriots and now Pittsburgh has fallen one game behind the Patriots (8-6) and Tennessee Oilers (8-6) for the last AFC wild card berth.

"We gave up the opportunity to control our own destiny. Now we just have to win and if we get to the playoffs, that's great," running back Jerome Bettis said.

The Steelers have no touchdowns in their last 10 quarters.

Linebacker Derrick Brooks led the Bucs defense with 15 tackles and defensive end Steve White had both of Tampa Bay's sacks, the first two of his three-year NFL career. Safety John Lynch helped shut down Stewart, becoming the first Buccaneer to pick off two passes in a game since Martin Mayhew in 1995.

After being intercepted by Lynch with seven minutes left in the third quarter, Stewart was benched in favor of Mike Tomczak with Pittsburgh trailing, 6-3. Stewart appeared quite upset on the sidelines, vehemently expressing his displeasure to Cowher.

"It's just being a competitor out there," Stewart explained. "Working hard, you are told to sit down. I hate sitting down. I don't want to sit. My thing is, if I'm out there working my butt off and things don't go too well, it almost made me feel like I'm a loser if I'm told to sit down. That's not my style."

"He's a very competitive guy, I have no problem with that. He wasn't happy about getting benched," Cowher said. "What I did was try to give this team a spark. He'll make a good quarterback in this league, no question about it. But right now, I'm going to do what's best for this team."

On his third play of the game, Tomczak fumbled as he was sacked by White and defensive tackle Warren Sapp recovered at the Pittsburgh 7-yard line.

Alstott, who had 24 carries, followed with a four-yard gain before pushing his way into the end zone for a 13-3 lead with 4:28 left in the third.

"Tomczak felt me coming and tried to put the ball over me, but I was just able to get it out of his hands," White said. "It's been a running joke all season that I've been setting up sacks for everybody else. This feels great."

Pittsburgh's next possession produced another turnover, with Tomczak getting picked off by Lynch. Tomczak did not return to the field following his first interception of the season.

"They asked Mike to go in and some things happened. I came back in and more crazy things happened," Stewart said. "It sort of pushed me to ask who's fault is it. It's not one person or one individual's fault."

Stewart took the Steelers just 12 yards on their next possession and Tampa Bay took more than seven minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter with its ensuing drive. But Pittsburgh kept the deficit at 10 points as cornerback Dewayne Washington blocked Husted's 33-yard field goal attempt.

The Bucs defense helped seal the win, with White sacking Stewart on first down before rookie cornerback Brian Kelly came up with an interception. Tampa Bay then chewed up nearly 4 1/2 minutes by going just 16 yards, resulting in Husted's 21-yard field goal with 1:57 to play.

The Steelers had the ball for only four plays on their next drive before cornerback Donnie Abraham picked off Stewart, capping Pittsburgh's fifth loss in its last seven games.

Bettis rushed for 63 yards on 17 carries but his nine-yard run was the longest allowed by the Bucs. Bettis has gained just 284 yards in the last five games and has been held out of the end zone in eight straight contests.

"It's frustrating to go out and have the offense not get it done," Bettis added. "We started running the ball well, but we made a lot of mistakes and couldn't finish drives. We just couldn't capitalize on their mistakes."

Trent Dilfer was just 9-of-18 for 111 yards but helped engineer a pair of scoring drives in the first half that put Tampa Bay ahead for good. He threw for two scores and ran for the game-winner late in the fourth quarter of Monday's 24-22 triumph over Green Bay.

"The Green Bay, Monday night win was great, but to back it up with a win today is even more special," Dilfer said. "It was ugly, one of those garbage games offensively."

Pittsburgh took its only lead on Norm Johnson's 27-yard field goal six minutes into the game.

But Tampa Bay tied it on the ensuing possession as Dilfer led a 54-yard march that covered 15 plays in nine minutes. A 16-yard scamper by Alstott sparked the drive, on which Dilfer threw for 25 yards and ran for 12 to set up Husted's 39-yard field goal.

"We always want to win and secure the clock," Alstott said. We knew we were going to run the ball and they could not stop us, that was a plus."

Jacquez Green then had a 46-yard punt return that led to a 37-yard effort by Husted, giving Tampa Bay a 6-3 lead with 12:03 left before halftime.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Cincinnati-Pittsburgh)

Posted: Sun December 20, 1998 at 6:53 p.m. EST

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a fixture in the playoffs during the Bill Cowher era, but not this year.

Doug Pelfrey kicked four field goals, including a 21-yarder with 5:12 remaining, as the Cincinnati Bengals snapped a nine-game losing streak and knocked their hated rivals out of the playoffs with a 25-24 victory. Ironically, the Bengals' last victory also came against Pittsburgh, a 25-20 win in Cincinnati in Week Six. It was Cincinnati's first season sweep of the Steelers since 1990.

"There was no ability to move the ball with any degree of consistency," said Cowher. "You can not continue to ask a team to hold a team to 10 points and say that's what we have to do to win football games."

Pittsburgh (7-8), which erased a 13-point first-half deficit to grab a 24-22 lead early in the fourth quarter, will miss the postseason for the first time in Cowher's seven years as coach.

"It feels great that it's Pittsburgh," said Cincinnati cornerback Artrell Hawkins, a native of western Pennsylvania who sealed the win with an interception with 17 seconds remaining. "It feels even better since I'm from around here and we beat them twice."

The last time the Steelers failed to make the playoffs was 1991, Chuck Noll's last year as coach. Pittsburgh will try to salvage a .500 season next Monday night at Jacksonville.

"We can't get it done," said Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis. "It's sad that we're not giving our fans anything to cheer about. There's plenty of blame to go around. Until everyone accepts that, we're not going to get any better."

The Steelers' last chance faded when Hawkins picked off Mike Tomczak inside the Bengals 20. Tomczak took over for Pittsburgh in the second half following another woeful performance by Kordell Stewart, who was repeatedly booed by the Pittsburgh fans after completing just 5-of-13 passes for 30 yards.

"It was pretty much the same old thing, a lot of breakdowns," said Stewart. "Cincinnati just came out and played well and they responded. Things just weren't happening the way we would like it."

Facing a 4th-and-2 with under four minutes remaining, Cowher elected to punt. After giving up two first downs, Pittsburgh forced a punt, taking over at its 20 with no timeouts and just 56 seconds remaining.

Tomczak, who was 5-of-11 for 77 yards, completed a 19-yard pass to Will Blackwell, but then threw two incompletions. His third-down pass was picked off and the Bengals (3-12) only needed one play to run out the clock.

Relying on their defense and special teams, the Steelers rallied from a 13-0 deficit to take a 24-22 lead on Norm Johnson's 21-yard field goal with 10:17 remaining. But Pittsburgh could not overcome another disappointing effort by Stewart, who started after his heated exchange with Cowher last week, and suffered its fourth straight loss.

Cowher did not think the events of last week had any bearing on Stewart's poor performance against the Bengals.

"I don't think it has anything to do with the preparation," said Cowher. "We just have absolutely no confidence with our football team. We've had so many opportunities, but we just can't make a play to get a spark."

The Steelers also could not contain Cincinnati quarterback Jeff Blake, who completed 20-of-36 for 367 yards with a touchdown and interception. Blake engineered a crucial 12-play, 62-yard drive that consumered over five minutes and put the Bengals ahead for good.

"Jeff Blake won the game." noted Cincinnati coach Bruce Coslet. "What else can you say. Our defense played great. I think Pittsburgh had 200 yards total offense (actually, the Steelers amassed 211 yards). Our defense shut them out the first half."

Blake tossed a 20-yard pass to Darnay Scott, then connected with Stepfret Williams for a nine-yard gain that gave Cincinnati a first down at the Pittsburgh 37.

Blake kept the game-winning drive alive with a critical six-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the 31, before the Bengals moved inside the 10 on an interference call against Carnell Lake, who returned an interception 15 yards for a Pittsburgh TD in the first half.

"We had fun," said Blake. "We went out and moved the ball. We had some turnovers and made some bad plays, but we also made enough good plays to overcome it."

Pittsburgh took a 21-16 lead on Bettis' four-yard TD run with 7:05 remaining in the third quarter, the Steelers' first offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving Day against Detroit.

The lead changed hands four times in the second half as the Bengals responded quickly, grabbing a 22-21 lead on Blake's 61-yard TD pass to Scott just 19 seconds later.

Bettis rushed for 104 yards on 21 carries and went over 1,000 yards for the third straight season.

Stewart's woes reached a new low when linebacker Reinard Wilson knocked the ball out of the quarterback's hands early in the second quarter. Safety Sam Shade took the fumble out of midair and rumbled 55 yards to give the Bengals a 10-0 lead with 10:08 left in the first half.

"The ball rolled around for what seemed like forever," said Shade. "I grabbed it and just ran. You can kind of put Kordell in Blake's situation. We've seen what he can do and we're sure he'll do it again."

After the Bengals extended their lead to 13-0 on Pelfrey's 37-yard field goal, Pittsburgh defense provided a spark as Lake's return pulled the Steelers within 13-7 with 1:42 remaining in the half.

Blake then executed the two-minute offense to near perfection as Pelfrey booted a 43-yard field goal on the final play of the half.

Pittsburgh scored a special teams touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half. David Dunn fumbled after a 54-yard return but cornerback Chris Oldham scooped it up and raced 36 yards to cut Cincinnati's lead to 16-14.

Cincinnati's Brandon Bennett rushed for 63 yards on 25 carries in place of Corey Dillon, who missed the contest with back spasms and the flu.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Jacksonville)

Posted: Tues December 29, 1998 at 10:38 p.m. EST

JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Ticker) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers ended a dismal year by being torn apart by a pair of rookies as the playoff-bound Jacksonville Jaguars closed the 1998 regular season with an easy 21-3 victory.

Jonathan Quinn ran for a touchdown and threw one to fellow rookie Fred Taylor, who rushed for 71 yards and a score as the Jaguars (11-5) rebounded from back-to-back defeats. They will host the New England Patriots on Sunday in a first-round playoff matchup.

"This game was a real confidence builder," said Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin. "It prepares us for New England this week. It was very important for us tonight to establish our offense."

Jacksonville closed a season which saw them end Pittsburgh's four-year reign as AFC Central champions. The Steelers (7-9) failed to finish with a winning record for the first time since 1991, also the last time they were not part of the postseason.

With starter Mark Brunell missing his third straight game due to an ankle problem and backup Jamie Martin also out with an injury, Quinn made his second consecutive start and recovered from a dismal effort in last week's embarrassing 50-10 loss at Minnesota.

The rookie from Middle Tennessee State completed 10-of-19 passes for 192 yards with no interceptions in front of 74,143, the largest crowd ever at Alltel Stadium. Quinn was 12-of-27 for only 88 yards and had an interception returned for a TD against the Vikings in his first NFL start.

"It's a big relief from last week. We got embarrassed, I got embarrassed," he said. "You definitely don't want to go out like that. ... There were no playoff implications in this game, it was about pride."

Brunell is expected to be ready for the playoffs after watching the Jaguars match the best record in their four-year history.

The finale put a perfect capper on an awful season for Kordell Stewart. Touted by many as one of the league's rising stars entering the year, Stewart committed three more turnovers while completing 17-of-37 passes for 174 yards. He was picked off twice and finished the year with 18 interceptions against 11 touchdown passes.

"I'm not even going to think about it for a long time. I want to get away from it, relax and work from it," Stewart said. "Considering all the high expectations going into this season, not even coming close to meeting those is pretty hard right now."

Unable to atone for Stewart's struggles, Jerome Bettis had another big game with 139 yards on 26 carries for Pittsburgh, which missed the playoffs for the first time in Bill Cowher's seven seasons as coach.

"I'm going to sit back this offseason and evaluate everything. I'm going to reflect on everything," a solemn Cowher said.

"For us to go out and play the way we played is sad because we are a lot better than the record indicates," Bettis added. "It's frustrating because you know you have the talent to turn it around, but now you don't have the opportunity anymore."

The Steelers posted a 30-15 victory over the Jaguars on November 22nd, improving to 7-4 on the season. But Pittsburgh lost its final five games, matching Kansas City -- another of the league's biggest disappointments -- for the fifth-worst record in the AFC.

Stewart and the Steelers may have known it was not their night after the game's opening drive. Bettis ran four times for 24 yards as Pittsburgh drove well past midfield. But Stewart's first blunder of the game soon followed, as he scrambled for a sizeable gain before fumbling. Jaguars cornerback Dave Thomas recovered at the 17.

The Steelers' lone scoring drive further typified Stewart's tough night. A 25-yard run by Bettis highlighted the 86-yard march that bridged the first and second quarters. From the 13, Stewart fired over the middle for tight end Mark Bruener, who was open in the end zone but had the ball slip through his arms. Pittsburgh settled for Norm Johnson's 24-yard field goal.

A 40-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Carnell Lake moved Jacksonville to the 25. After Taylor gained 10 yards, Quinn scrambled left and received a key end-zone block from wideout Jimmy Smith to make it 7-3 with 8:22 left in the second quarter.

On the Jaguars' next possession, Quinn took advantage of a blown coverage and fired a 64-yard bomb to Keenan McCardell, settting up a nine-yard TD toss to Taylor with 3:04 to go before halftime.

Bettis rushed for 34 yards on the ensuing drive, but Stewart stumbled again. He threw an incompletion on 3rd-and-5 from the 30 and was picked off by cornerback Kevin Devine on fourth down.

Jacksonville built the lead early in the third quarter. After Quinn connected on a 42-yard pass to Smith, Taylor bounced off left guard for 12 yards and a touchdown.

Taylor set team records with 1,223 yards on the ground, 14 rushing TDs and 17 total touchdowns, tying Minnesota's Randy Moss for the third-most by a rookie.

"It feels really good. I think I acheived the things I wanted to acheive and I think I did almost the best I could do," Taylor said. "I just need to try to continue to improve in the playoffs and into next year."

It was all too perfect an end for Stewart and the Steelers as they attempted a comeback. As Pittsburgh approached midfield early in the third quarter, Stewart was intercepted by Thomas.

On 2nd-and-goal from the 5 midway through the final period, Stewart threw a pass into the end zone that was dropped by Hines Ward. On second down, Stewart seemed to hit David Dunn with an easy TD toss but the ball fell through his hands. Stewart's fourth-down attempt was well over Will Blackwell's head.

"You have opportunities and they don't fall into your hands," Stewart said. "I can't take anything away from the guys, they were out there busting their tails trying to get open and make things happen. I don't always throw perfect passes and you can't be upset with anybody."

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

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