2. A.F.C. Divisional Playoff
January 11, 2003
Joe Nedney is a Pansy of a Epic Proportions
Titans 34 – Steelers 31 O.T.
This game pisses me off for so many reasons that they are innumerable to count. But probably the biggest reason why I still remain so incensed about this game today is the fact that even though I’ve watched it in its entirety on N.F.L. Network and on tape, I never saw it live. That Saturday I was off at a wrestling tournament in some hole-in-the-wall town in Eastern Colorado where I spent the hours of 7 A.M. to 8 P.M. and missed arguably one of the most exciting yet heartbreaking playoff games in Steeler History.
The game started off in terrible fashion for Tommy Maddox and the Steeler Offense. On his first pass attempt Maddox was picked off by Samari Rolle who benefited from Plaxico Burress falling down on his route. Titans QB Steve McNair wasted no time getting to work and orchestrated a masterful 7 play 52 yard drive. McNair took the ball in for a TD from 8 yards out and the Steelers found themselves in a 7-0 hole with just over 11 minutes remaining in the 1st Quarter. The Steelers fortunes didn’t improve after punting the ball back to Tennessee after their drive stalled. McNair led clock melting drive that was 16 plays and culminated on an Eddie George 1 yard TD run! The Titans had held the ball for 12:22 in the first 15 minutes of play. It was like a bad dream for the Steelers who were starting to hammer the nails that were in their playoff coffins. But just like they did the entire 2002 season, the Steelers never quit trying to get themselves out of sticky situations.
Disaster struck Tennessee on their next possession and Eddie George fumbled the ball after Steeler NT Casey Hampton drove a Titan O-Lineman into George and Lee Flowers jumped on the football. Maddox took quick advantage of the mistake and fired an 8 yard TD pass to Hines Ward to cut the Titans’ lead to 14-7. Things started to roll the Steelers way on the ensuing possession when McNair threw a terrible pass that was INT’d by CB Chad Scott who caught the ball around the Steelers’ 40 yard line. Maddox threw a nice bomb to Plaxico that netted 40 yards, the Steelers could not get a TD. Luckily, Jeff Reed nailed a 30 yard Field Goal and the Steelers cut the deficit to 14-10 with 6:47 remaining in the Half.
The Titans tried to squash the Steelers’ momentum but to no avail. Their own drive stalled just outside of Field Goal range and the Steelers took over the ball at their own 18 yard line with 2 Time Outs and 1:31 to play. Hines Ward made a nice catch, and had a nifty run to put the Steelers in Field Goal range, but the big play of the drive was Rookie WR Lee Mays drawing a 35 yard P.I. flag against Samari Rolle which really got the Steelers in business. Jeff Reed made a 39 yard Field Goal as time expired and the Steelers had cut the 14 point deficit to 1, and the score stood at 14-13 in favor of the Titans.
The Titans took the 2nd Half kickoff looking to take the momentum back. What they got was a tsunami of a Black and Gold ass-kicking on two consecutive plays. Around his own 33 yard line Eddie George took a handoff and ran left, unfortunately for him big Casey Hampton was there and he cold-cocked him and George was unconscious before he hit the ground and fumbled the ball. Aaron Smith recovered it for the Steelers at the Titans 31 and the Steelers were on the verge of taking the lead. On the following play Maddox handed off to Amos Zereoue who raced 31 yards after some nifty moves and got the ball into the end zone! The Steelers now led 20-14 with 14:37 left to play in the 3rd Quarter, and had taken their first lead of the game!
It didn’t take Steve McNair long to get his boys back in gear though and the Titans came storming back. On a drive that was what I call “The Wycheck Drive,” Titans TE Frank Wycheck caught 3 balls including a 39 yard bomb and a 7 yard TD to put the Titans back on top 21-20. The Steelers couldn’t do anything with the ball on their next drive and gave it back to the Titans. McNair unfazed at the constant Steeler blitzes led his team again down the field and fired a 2 yard TD pass to Erron Kinney to put Tennessee even further ahead, and the score stood at 28-20 with just over 4 minutes left in the 3rd Quarter. Both teams managed to score no more points, and set up one of the most exciting 4th Quarters that the N.F.L.’s post-season has ever seen.
Early in the 4th Quarter it appeared that Rookie Antwaan Randle El had taken a punt back for a TD for the second time in as many weeks. But the play was nullified on account of a Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala block in the back. Luckily the Steelers still got the ball on their own 35 yard line and Maddox was poised to strike. And strike Touchdown Tommy did. Maddox hit Terance Mathis on a 22 yard gain on 3rd and 4, and then hit Ward on a 21 yard TD pass to pull the Steelers within 2. Then “Inspector Gadget” in the form of Offensive Coordinator Mike Mularkey reached deep into his bag of tricks and called the 2 point conversion play where Maddox faked an end around in a pro set to Randle El, gave the ball to Ward, and Ward threw it to Burress for the conversion! The crazy thing was, is that it worked! The Steelers had tied the game at 28 with just over 10 minutes to play!
To make matters worse for the Titans, McNair threw up a wounded duck on a deep route on their following possession and Deshea Townsend picked the ball off at the Pitsburgh 43. It certainly appeared then that the Steelers were going to get 7 points and steal this game away from the Titans. They had drove the ball inside the Tennessee 25 when on 3rd Down, Plaxico Burress dropped an easy pass that he would have scored on and the Steelers had to settle for a Jeff Reed 40 yard Field Goal. It was a truly gutless and pathetic effort by Burress who lolleygagged on the play and didn’t even look the ball into his hands. Regardless, the Steelers were ahead 31-28 with 8:30 to play in the game.
On the ensuing possession, not even a bum thumb could stop Steve McNair’s will to win. McNair hit Drew Bennett on two huge pass plays and Titans Kicker Joe Nedney drilled a 42 yard Field Goal to even the game at 31. Neither team could score in the final 5 minutes and Nedney missed a 48 yard Field Goal and the game was sent to Over Time.
The Titans won the toss, and sadly for Steeler Nation they never looked back. McNair drove the Titans 61 yards on a 5 play drive that was highlighted by a 31 yard catch and run by Justin McCairens. The Titans were set up with a 31 yard Field Goal, and Nedney drilled it! Or did he? The Steelers had called Time Out right before the snap and the call negated the Field Goal. The Steelers were still alive and Nedney lined up again. The snap was good, the spot was good, but the kick was: Wide Right! Nedney missed! Or did he? Nedney totally flopped on the play when Dewayne Washington barely nicked him coming around the corner. Referee Ron Blum called the Roughing Into the Kicker Penalty and Tennessee was given another shot! The next attempt was no issue. Nedney made the kick and the Titans won the game 34-31.
When my Mom told me it was a totally bogus play that the Steelers lost on I believed her and got extremely angry when I got home. But when I watched the replay for the first time I was aghast at what a total piece of garbage that Nedney presented himself to be with his actions. You don’t even see flops like that in The Women’s World Cup! I was totally disgusted that the game ended that way, and was heart-broken that the Steelers roller-coaster of a 2002 season came to a close in that fashion.
While it would have been nice to see the Steelers win two awesome come-from-behind playoff games in a row, the gravy train might have stopped rolling the following week in Oakland. The miserable Steelers’ secondary would have to face Rich Gannon again after he had torched the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 2 no more than 3 months ago. Regardless, it was a wonderful season that ended not so wonderfully. I’ll never forget the Offensive Explosion which was 2002. And I’m sure that Tommy Maddox won’t forget it either.