COMEBACK KIDS: Steelers tie biggest come-from-behind win in team history
Steelers defenders hover over Baltimore quarterback Vinny Testaverde Sunday after pounding him to the turf. (Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review photo)By Jerry DiPaola
BALTIMORE - The Steelers left Memorial Stadium Sunday after their remarkable and historic 42-34 comeback victory against the Baltimore Ravens like thespians taking a curtain call after a Broadway play.
As each player ducked through the tiny doorway leading to the locker room, a happy crowd of Steelers fans - four hours from home but acting like they owned the place - greeted them one-by-one with loud cheers and shrieks of delight. Some players raised their helmets in victory. Others threw their gloves and chin straps into the throng. Many flashed weary smiles.
Seldom has a Steelers team worked harder to win a game than this one did yesterday. Down 21-0 through most of the second quarter, the Steelers rallied behind a bevy of heroes who recorded bushels of big plays. It was the biggest road comeback in franchise history, matching a 30-24 victory against the Buffalo Bills Dec. 15, 1985, in which the Steelers trailed, 21-0, in the second quarter. "This game was like a journey," special team ace Fred McAfee said. "Up over hills and through valleys, down in the swamp and then here we come out of the swamp."
"It was a great, great job by a great bunch of guys who never said die," coach Bill Cowher said. The stars included:
Said offensive coordinator Chan Gailey: "Now it's a 10-point game and it makes all the difference in the world." In fact, linebacker Levon Kirkland said the Steelers would have lost without Blackwell's contribution. "I thank Levon for saying that about me," Blackwell said, "but we have a lot of playmakers on this team."
And many of them surfaced on defense. The Steelers allowed Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde to throw for 290 yards and three touchdowns, but he lost two fumbles (to nose tackle Joel Steed and defensive end Kevin Henry) that led to two Steelers touchdowns, threw two interceptions and was sacked four times.
But no one was more dynamic than Stewart, who was 11 of 14 for 181 yards in the second half and directed an offense that scored touchdowns on four of five possessions in the second half. He connected with Johnson for scores for the first time this season. And he found tight end Mark Bruener, who has four touchdowns among his seven catches, for the score that finally gave the Steelers the lead, 28-24, with 9:31 left in the game.
But Stewart's 74-yard run on third-and-4 from the 26, with the Steelers clinging to a 35-32 lead at the two-minute warning, was the game's most intriguing play. After faking handoffs to Bettis and Thigpen, Stewart turned and ran left while the Ravens defense ran right. By design, only Thigpen knew about the subterfuge. "You want it to look just like a reverse," Gailey said.
With all the Steelers blocking right, thinking Thigpen had the football, the Ravens had no choice but to follow them. Running backs coach Dick Hoak had noticed during a reverse earlier in the game that the other side of the field was open. He mentioned it to Gailey, who called the play without hesitation.
Result: Stewart ran a naked bootleg, outrunning a startled Ravens defense. "He was dead tired," Gailey said. "He said, `Chan, if you want to run that fake reverse, I'll get it (the first down).' I didn't know he'd go 74. I told him it would have been all right just to get a first down. He said when he broke the tackle he couldn't take the embarrassment of being caught from behind."
"Probably no one else can do that," Steelers director of football operations Tom Donahoe said, "but he is a unique talent."
While passing around credit, Gailey and Cowher deserve much of it. They never deviated from their run-the-ball mindset, allowing Bettis to get half of his carries in the second half. "We felt all we had to do was stick with the game plan," Gailey said. "We had too many good things happening. We threw three interceptions, which are bad plays and we shouldn't do that, but what we were doing was all right."
When Stewart started finding himself and his receivers, the result was a game to grow on. "This kind of game can help define your team and your season," Donahoe said. "To be behind like that and not playing very well, just to hang in there and make some plays, it's a great team effort, a great team win."
How they scoredFIRST QUARTER
Ravens - Eric Green, 22-yard reception from Vinny Testaverde (Matt Stover kick), 8:52. Drive, 7 plays, 67 yards, 2:16. Big plays, Derrick Alexander, 11- and 20-yard and Jermaine Lewis, 13-yard receptions from Testaverde. Ravens 7, Steelers 0.
Ravens - Bam Morris, 1-yard run (Stover kick), 4:55. Drive, 3 plays, 5 yards, 0:48. Big play, Stevon Moore, 38-yard interception return. Ravens 14, Steelers 0.
Ravens - Brian Kinchen, 24-yard reception from Testaverde (Stover kick), 12:53. Drive, 5 plays, 42 yards, 1:52. Big play, Eugene Daniel, 43-yard interception return and Morris, 12-yard reception from Testaverde. Ravens 21, Steelers 0.
Steelers - Kordell Stewart, 1-yard run (Norm Johnson kick), 3:17. Drive, 6 plays, 29 yards, 3:19. Big play, Steelers nose tackle Joel Steed fumble recovery at Ravens 29 after sack and forced fumble by Chris Oldham; and Courtney Hawkins, 15-yard reception from Stewart. Ravens 21, Steelers 7.
Ravens - Stover, 34-yard field goal, 0:05. Drive, 12 plays, 51 yards, 3:12. Big plays, Michael Jackson, 14-yard and Alexander, 14-yard and 12-yard receptions from Testaverde. Ravens 24, Steelers 7.
Steelers - Will Blackwell, 97-yard kickoff return (Johnson kick), 14:43. Ravens 24, Steelers 14.
Steelers - Charles Johnson, 8-yard reception from Stewart (Johnson kick), 1:52. Drive, 12 plays, 90 yards, 5:27. Big play, Yancey Thigpen, 37-yard reception from Stewart and Stewart, 2-yard sneak on 4th-and-1 from the 10. Ravens 24, Steelers 21.
Steelers - Mark Bruener, 4-yard reception from Stewart (Johnson kick), 9:31. Drive, 3 plays, 23 yards, 1:17. Big play, Kevin Henry fumble recovery at Ravens 23 after Mike Vrabel forced fumble and sack. Steelers 28, Ravens 24.
Steelers - Johnson, 17-yard reception (Johnson kick), 3:04. Drive, 8 plays, 89 yards, 4:30. Big play, Thigpen, 63-yard reception from Stewart on 3rd-and-8. Steelers 35, Ravens 24.
Ravens - Alexander, 10-yard receptionfrom Testaverde (Earnest Byner reception from Testaverde), 2:27. Drive, 4 plays, 51 yards, 0:37. Big play, Jermaine Lewis, 38-yard kickoff return and Donnell Woolford, 29-yard pass interference penalty. Steelers 35, Ravens 32.
Steelers - Stewart, 74-yard run (Johnson kick), 1:47. Drive, 3 plays, 80 yards, 0:40. Steelers 42, Ravens 32.
Ravens - Steelers punter Josh Miller runs out of end zone for a safety, 0:11. Steelers 42, Ravens 34. PLAYER OF THE GAME
Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, for the second consecutive week. After throwing three interceptions by the second snap of the second quarter, he recovers to throw three touchdown passes and run for two more scores. Total yards: 324 yards.
Four turnovers by the Ravens - two interceptions and two lost fumbles by quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
Will Blackwell's 97-yard kickoff return on the second-half kickoff slices the lead from 24-7 to 24-14 and puts the Steelers within striking distance.
Steelers - 6 of 14, 43 percent.
Ravens - 9 of 16, 56 percent.
Steelers - Five trips, four touchdowns and one interception.
Ravens - Two trips, one touchdown and one field goal.