CNNSI.com 2003 Football Playoffs 2003 Football Playoffs


 

Joe cool

Penalty leads to Nedney's game-winning field goal in OT

Posted: Saturday January 11, 2003 8:40 PM
Updated: Sunday January 12, 2003 1:16 AM
  Joe Nedney Joe Nedney converted two of his three field-goal attempts. AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Tennessee Titans didn't need another Music City Miracle -- just a few kicks and a helpful call from the latest NFL officiating crew to make playoff headlines.

After a series of kicks -- some counted, some didn't -- Joe Nedney made a 26-yard field goal 2:15 into overtime that gave the Titans a bruising 34-31 playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.

Officiating, in the news all week, once again played a key role in the final outcome.

Steelers head coach Bill Cowher sprinted across the field and shouted at referee Ron Blum after the winning kick. As the Titans celebrated, Cowher claimed he called a timeout before the kick.

But the kick stood -- a kick that was the result of a penalty on the previous play by cornerback Dewayne Washington. He drew a 5-yard flag for running into Nedney, giving the kicker yet another chance, and he put the game-winner right down the middle.

CNNSI.com's John Donovan
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    That gave the Titans the franchise's first victory in four playoff games against Pittsburgh, and put them into the AFC championship game against the winner of Sunday's game between the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets.

    For Pittsburgh and comeback specialist Tommy Maddox, it was yet another playoff failure for a team that was favored to go to the Super Bowl when the season started.

    "For a game to be decided on that call is ludicrous," said Cowher, his jaw clenched in anger. "A game can't be decided because a kicker takes two steps and we have someone slide into him. We had some chances to win but we had some taken away from us, too."

    That's exactly how the New York Giants felt after losing a playoff game against the 49ers last Sunday. The next day, the NFL admitted officials botched the final play.

    Asked about the penalty he called, Blum merely explained the difference between running into the kicker and roughing.

     
    Washington shoulders blame
    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Dewayne Washington couldn't do anything right in overtime.

    That's a big reason why the Pittsburgh Steelers' season ended Saturday in a 34-31 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC playoffs.

    Washington was beaten twice by receiver Justin McCareins to put the Titans into field-goal range on their decisive drive.

    Washington followed that with his biggest miscue of all -- a penalty for running into the kicker that gave Joe Nedney a second chance.

    Nedney didn't miss on his second try, sending the Steelers home early.

    "It's really tough right now," Washington said. "It's hard for me not to feel the burden of losing the game for us."

    FULL STORY 
     

    As for the timeout, he said: "I wasn't aware that they were, but one of my co-officials said that the request came after the ball was snapped."

    Steelers captain Jason Gildon said he asked umpire Chad Brown for the timeout and was told they didn't have any. Gildon said, "Then I pointed to the scoreboard and we had two left."

    At the coin toss before overtime, Blum announced that each team had three timeouts. That's a change from the regular season, when they get two timeouts.

    "It's another example of officials just not being at the top of their game," Gildon said. "It's the playoffs, there is a lot at stake. If anyone should be ready, then it should be them."

    Tennessee took the opening kickoff in overtime and Steve McNair -- the first of the scrambling, playmaking quarterbacks who are all the rage now -- drove the Titans from their own 20 into field-goal range.

    Nedney, who missed from 48 yards on the final play of regulation, thought he'd blown it when he missed from 31 yards.

    "We don't get second chances very often and I didn't expect another one," Nedney said. "Sorry if I gave everybody gray hairs. ... I went from the worst kick of my life to a guy smacks me in the ankle and I get a second chance."

    Of course, the Titans are familiar with blown field goal tries in the playoffs -- two years ago, they cut Al Del Greco after he missed once and had two others blocked in a 24-10 upset loss to Baltimore.

    Playoff overtime results
    1/11/03 -- Tennessee 34-31 (AFC Div. Playoffs)

    1/19/02 -- New England Patriots 16, Oakland Raiders 13 (AFC Div. Playoffs)

    12/30/00 -- Miami Dolphins 23, Indianapolis Colts 17 (AFC Wild Card)

    1/17/99 -- Atlanta Falcons 30, Minnesota Vikings 27 (NFC Championship)

    1/8/94 -- Kansas City Chiefs 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, (AFC Wild Card)

    1/3/93 -- Buffalo Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38 (AFC Wild Card)

    1/7/90 -- Los Angeles Rams 19, New York Giants 13 (NFC Div. Playoffs)

    12/31/89 -- Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Houston Oilers 23 (AFC Wild Card)

    1/3/88 -- Houston Oilers 23, Seattle Seahawks 20 (AFC Wild Card)

    1/11/87 -- Denver Broncos 23, Cleveland Browns 20 (AFC Championship)

    1/3/87 -- Cleveland Browns 23, New York Jets 20 (AFC Div. Playoffs)

    1/2/82 -- San Diego Chargers 41, Miami Dolphins 38 (AFC Div. Playoffs)

    12/24/77 -- Oakland Raiders 37, Baltimore Colts 31 (AFC Div. Playoffs)

    12/25/71 -- Miami Dolphins 27, Kansas City Chiefs 24 (AFC Div. Playoffs)

    12/26/65 -- Green Bay Packers 13, Baltimore Colts 10 (NFL Western Conference Playoff)

    12/23/62 -- Dallas Texans 20, Houston Oilers 17 (AFL Championship)

    12/28/58 -- Baltimore Colts 23, New York Giants 17 (NFL Championship) 
     
     

    McNair was 27-of-44 for 338 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in a game that was nearly as dramatic as the Music City Miracle against Buffalo three years ago, when the Titans won on a near-impossible kickoff return in the final seconds.

    This one was a tense, hard-hitting game that sidelined stars Plaxico Burress (hip) and Kendrell Bell (ankle) of Pittsburgh and Eddie George (concussion) of Tennessee -- exactly the kind of game the longtime rivals have played since the one-time Houston Oilers were the Steelers' biggest thorns in the late 1970s.

    It was so close, each team had exactly 324 yards at the 2-minute warning and so intense that Maddox and Titans head coach Jeff Fisher once began screaming at each other and had to be separated.

    There were multiple injuries and multiple comebacks -- of course, since Maddox was involved.

    "This is very hard to swallow," Maddox said, who rallied the Steelers from a double-digit deficit for the third time in three weeks. "It's frustrating, it's heartbreaking."

    Nedney kicked a tying 42-yarder with 5:40 remaining after Jeff Reed's 40-yarder put Pittsburgh up 31-28. The Steelers had rallied for the second time, tying it at 28-all on Maddox's 21-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward and former quarterback Ward's 2-point conversion flip to Burress with just over 10 minutes remaining.

    In a season where the NFL set a record with 25 overtime games, the Titans got the ball first.

    The missed tackle by Washington created Tennessee receiver Justin McCareins' catches of 31 and 22 yards, and the Titans were quickly in field goal position.

    With the Steelers calling timeout, Nedney kicked a field goal that sent fireworks shooting over the stadium. But the kick did not count, and Nedney laughed as he lined up again.

    This time, Nedney missed -- but the penalty, in which he tumbled dramatically to the turf as Washington brushed across his leg, gave him another chance and left Cowher covering his face in anger and frustration.

    On the next play, Nedney kicked it right down the middle to win the game.

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    "There is one thing that is going to stick in my mind and that's the ref took that," All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter said. "Let it come down to us losing the game and not the ref losing the game for us."

    After the Steelers rallied from an early 14-0 deficit, it was close the rest of the way.

    George hadn't fumbled in 240 carries, only to do it twice in less than a quarter to set up two Steelers touchdowns.

    The second fumble, following a helmet-to-helmet hit with lineman Casey Hampton on the first play of the second half, knocked George out of the game with a concussion and led to Amos Zereoue's 31-yard touchdown run on the next play.

    The Steelers suddenly were up 20-14 -- a much quicker comeback than a week ago, when they fell behind 24-7 to Cleveland and didn't go ahead until winning 36-33 in the final minute.

    Only this time, their opponents had a comeback in them, too.

    The Titans, stalling repeatedly after scoring on their first two possessions, went into the no-huddle spread offense that has repeatedly tormented the Steelers' defense. Within five minutes, the Titans got into the end zone twice on McNair touchdown passes to his tight ends -- 7 yards to Frank Wycheck and 2 to Erron Kinney.

    Hard hits take their toll
    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Eddie George was knocked out on a frightening helmet-to-helmet hit, and Plaxico Burress, Kendrell Bell and several other players were hurt.

    But the grisliest scene involved Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair.

    Doctors cut away some flesh hanging off his right thumb near the end of regulation. Then he returned and drove Tennessee down the field in overtime for Joe Nedney's 26-yard field goal that beat Pittsburgh 34-31 in Saturday's AFC playoff game.

    "What can you say about our quarterback?" Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said. "I can't tell you how his hand is right now. I'm afraid to find out. He's got a chunk of skin ripped off the top of his thumb, and he couldn't grip the ball."

    A string of players on both teams left with injuries, some returned and others just stayed on the sideline with concussions and sprained ankles.

    McNair said he bruised his thumb and cut it open when his hand slammed against a helmet.

    "I was frustrated and mad. The coach knew I wanted to be in there. I just bit the bullet," McNair said.

    FULL STORY 
     
     

    Wycheck, virtually forgotten in the Tennessee offense with only nine catches in his last five games, made a career-high 10 receptions against a Steelers defense that gave up at least 30 points for the eighth time this season -- eight more times than last season.

    The Titans, looking rested, confident and relaxed following their two-week break, converted five key third downs -- a season-long problem for Pittsburgh's defense -- to open their 14-0 lead.

    It looked like a rout of an injury-depleted team only six days removed from an emotionally draining and almost miraculous comeback victory over Cleveland, the Steelers' biggest rival.

    It wasn't, mostly because the Titans did the absolute one thing they shouldn't have done while cruising with a big, early lead: They gave Maddox, the Comeback Player of the Year, a chance.

    Maddox was back in the very stadium where his remarkable comeback season nearly ended Nov. 17 with the frightening spinal cord injury that hospitalized him for the two most nervous nights of the Steelers' season.

    Notes: Seeded teams are 40-9 against wild-card winners since 1990. ... Pittsburgh is 0-3 in road playoff games under Cowher. ... The Steelers were denied their fifth trip to the AFC title game in nine years. ... The Titans won their 11th in 12 games. ... None of the nine teams to play on six days' rest since 1992 has won the Super Bowl; only one reached it.

     
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