Steelers' big third-quarter drive finally put Baltimore awayPosted: Sunday January 20, 2002 8:24 PM
Updated: Monday January 21, 2002 12:18 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
PITTSBURGH -- This was not the offense's game. No way did this one belong to the Pittsburgh offense.
So the Steelers took the ball on their own 17-yard line and went to work. Went to work stopping the Ravens' comeback. Went to work trying to rebuild a lead that had been chopped in half.
Went darn near the length of the field in the deciding drive that put them in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday against the New England Patriots.
"Everyone," Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress said, "came into the huddle saying 'If we go down and score this touchdown, these guys are going to pack it in.'"
It worked out almost exactly that way.
The Steelers were reeling. They went three-and-out on their next possession. In their first three possessions of the second half, they had gained exactly three yards.
"That was a pivotal point," said Brian Billick, the Ravens' head coach. "That's something that could have turned on a single play, had we been able to make something happen. But …"
Instead, back at the 17, quarterback Kordell Stewart and the rest of the Pittsburgh offense were about to break out.
It started with backup running back Amos Zereoue going around right end for four yards. There was a critical bullish run off a pitch from Stewart to Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala on third down that went for eight yards.
There was the little half-shovel pass from Stewart to Zereoue on a second down from the Pittsburgh 32, good for 13 yards. Stewart gained a few more yards on some scrambling runs.
There were two more third-down conversions, and Zereoue went around left end a couple times.
And the next thing the Ravens knew, on a first-and-10 from the Baltimore 32-yard line just seconds into the fourth quarter, there was the 6-foot-5 Burress catching a pass over 6-1 Chris McAlister, breaking a tackle attempt by Rod Woodson at the 11 and striding into the end zone for a touchdown.
Pittsburgh went ahead 27-10. That was that. That was the final score.
"It was just a regular post," explained Burress, who had five catches for 84 yards and the touchdown in the game. "I saw Chris McAlister walk up on me, I thought he was going to play me man-to-man, but he just bumped me."
The bump enabled Burress to slip behind McAlister and catch the pass. A spin toward the sideline forced Woodson into a diving tackle attempt -- a poor dive that resulted in the missed tackle -- and the Steelers had what they needed.
The Steelers' drive covered 83 yards in 12 plays and took 5:54. The Steelers converted on a third-and-six, a third-and-two and a third-and-one to keep the drive moving.
Zereoue ran for 19 of the yards, all of them around end.
"I don't think they were ready for my speed," said Zereoue, who started because Jerome Bettis had an allergic reaction to a drug he was administered for a sore groin before the game. Zereoue had two 1-yard touchdown runs and finished with 63 yards on 24 carries. "They weren't used to that speed. I got the pitch and got to the corner as fast as I could. At the same time, I knew they'd be overflowing, so I could cut back."
The Pittsburgh offense had only marginal success against the Baltimore defense. The Steelers gained only 124 yards in the second half.
All it took, though, was the one big drive.