Kissing Your Sister -- It's Just So Dangerous - By John Smathers
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|I used to watch a lot of Steelers games at the Hooters in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. It got to be a regular thing with me. You couldn't beat it, really. There was amble beer, amble wings, amble football and ample cleavage. You get the picture.
Unfortunately, I can't really do that anymore. Circumstances have conspired against me.
As I look back on the good ol' days, I have to say that I enjoyed the overwhelming majority of those games. Three that come immediately to mind are the Steelers' wild card win over Cleveland in Jan. 2003, their playoff victory over the Jets in the Jan. 2004 and of course, the Super Bowl win this year. They were the kind of games that got me off my stool and the veins popping out in my neck. I would stomp around the floor and high five anyone that didn't run away from me.
But there is one game that I wish I had missed, and it all came back to me Monday night as I watched Arizona blow a 20-point lead to Chicago. It was Nov. 10, 2002 and the Steelers welcomed Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons to Heinz Field.
The Steelers built a nice lead, too: 17-7 by halftime and 34-17 early in the fourth quarter. All seemed right with the world. But the Steelers let the Falcons hang around. They didn't implode like the Cardinals, but the result left Steelers players and fans with the same empty feeling.
Some time in the third quarter, two guys walked into the place and sat down at the table in front of me. Meanwhile, the Steelers were doing a good job of mixing their blitzes all day and containing Vick, holding him to just 52 yards rushing. But he was making plays with his arm and he finally came up with that one big run that really hurt, an 11-yard touchdown on a broken play in the final minute of regulation that sent the game to overtime.
The whole time, one of these guys at the next table could only keep repeating the same stupid phrase, over and over. His glee was nauseating.
"He's just so dangerous. He's just so dangerous."
As annoying as he was, he had a point. Vick was dangerous, at least enough to rob the Steelers of a win. The Falcons scored 17 unanswered points in the final eight minutes of the game to force overtime and it ended in a 34-all tie, the NFL's first -- and last -- tie since 1997. It was also Pittsburgh's first tie since it slugged out a 35-35 draw with Denver in 1974, which also happened to be NFL's first overtime game.
"They talk about how a tie is like kissing your sister?" said then starting quarterback Tommy Maddox. "Man, I wanted that game."
We all did, Tommy.
The Steelers' first Vick experience was a memorable one. The much-maligned Maddox set a team record with 473 yards passing. Plaxico Burress set a team record with 253 receiving yards. Amos Zereoue rushed for 123 yards on -- get this -- 37 carries, second most in Steelers history. The Steelers rolled up 645 yards and 30 first downs.
But a punt returner named Randle El muffed a punt, starting Atlanta's comeback. Deją vu, eh? The only difference was that Randle El didn't have a mysterious neck injury later that week in practice that ended his season.
To add to the agony, the overtime ended with the Steelers catching a pass at the Atlanta 1-yard line, Tommy to Plax. I guess the only saving grace was that I didn't have to witness one of Plax's really bad touchdown dances, but then I could have tolerated it by just closing my eyes.
Probably the best thing that came out of it was ... Jeff Reed. Steelers kicker Todd Peterson stunk out the joint. He had an extra point blocked, hit the upright with a 40-yard field goal try and had a 48-yard field goal blocked in overtime. Ten days later, the Steelers signed Skippy.
I wouldn't count on anything positive coming out of anything short of a win this Sunday when the Steelers meet the Falcons for the first time since that infamous game. If there's one lesson to be learned from that game it's that the Steelers can't be predictable on offense again when they need to put the Falcons away, as they were in the tie. In the two Steelers offensive series after the Falcons cut the lead to 34-24, Zereoue ran on first and second down and Maddox was forced to throw on third down. Nor should the Steelers use a passive, zone approach on defense. That's how the Steelers dealt with Vick over the last 10 minutes and he made them pay.
"When we came at him, we made plays, and we hit him a lot," said Joey Porter after the game. "When we sat back, he took over, and it was like they kind of came to life. You can't be afraid of a playmaker. You attack him."
That's because -- everyone say it together -- he's just so dangerous. Vick's been so dangerous this season, too, but only with his legs. He's gained 401 rushing yards at 8.7 per carry, his best average since his rookie year of 2001. But Vick has been less spectacular throwing the ball with a 66.0 passer rating. He's been especially unimpressive his last three games, completing only 49 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Vick has been one of the most sacked quarterbacks (18) in the league this year, including seven last week. The Steelers should go after him.
So there's some history for you. And if history means anything, you have to like the Steelers this Sunday at the Georgia Dome. The team is 12-1-1 all-time against the Falcons and 4-0-1 with Cowher at the helm. The Steelers haven't lost to the Falcons since 1970.
Fortunately, I was still too young for Hooters.