Taking the title
Steelers get offensive in AFC Central-clinching victoryPosted: Sunday December 16, 2001 11:47 PM
Updated: Monday December 17, 2001 2:23 PM
Stewart threw for a career-high 333 yards and two touchdowns as the Steelers clinched the AFC Central title Sunday night, dominating the clock and the Baltimore Ravens in a 26-21 victory.
It was the sixth consecutive win for the Steelers, who have not lost since Brown missed four field goal attempts in a 13-10 defeat against the Ravens last month.
Brown went 2-for-3 this time, but Stewart led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a runaway and assure the Steelers their first trip to the playoffs since 1997.
Stewart went 20-for-31 as Pittsburgh (11-2), despite playing without leading rusher Jerome Bettis, held the ball more than 22 minutes more than the Ravens (8-5).
"That's the Pittsburgh Steeler philosophy: Keep the ball," Pittsburgh center Jeff Hartings said. "It helps our defense and makes the other team get impatient sometimes."
Burress, who was in the middle of a war of words between the teams leading up to the game, finished with eight catches for a career-high 164 yards. Shaw had two receptions for 100 yards; his 90-yarder was tied for the longest in franchise history.
Pittsburgh has won five in a row in Baltimore and is 4-0 at PSINet Stadium. The Steelers ran 73 plays compared to 53 for the Ravens and had their offense on the field for 41 minutes, five seconds.
"I think I had enough time to eat a couple of subs on the sideline," Pittsburgh safety Lee Flowers said.
"They were able to control the ball," Baltimore defensive end Rob Burnett said. "They're the AFC Central Division champions, and they're very deserving when you consider the way they carried themselves this year."
Baltimore quarterback Elvis Grbac, who missed the first game between the teams, was 20-for-38 for 159 yards and two scores. He had only nine completions for 68 yards through three quarters.
If the Ravens are to return to the playoffs, they'll have to do it as a wild card -- the same route they took last year in winning the Super Bowl.
"We're going to have to win two of the next three -- that's my guess -- to get to the playoffs," Baltimore head coach Brian Billick said. "We're capable of winning the next three games."
Matt Stover's NFL record of kicking a field goal in 38 consecutive games came to an end.
The Ravens closed to 19-14 on a 14-yard TD pass from Grbac to Qadry Ismail with 6:36 left, but Stewart completed a 38-yarder to Burress to set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Dan Kreider with 3:05 remaining.
Baltimore scored with 1:14 left on a 5-yard pass from Grbac to Brandon Stokley, but the Steelers recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
"Just a phenomenal, great performance, worthy of the Central Division champions," Billick said.
Stewart came up big on a night when the Steelers were without Bettis, who missed a second consecutive game with a groin injury. Amos Zereoue gained 73 yards on 16 carries and Stewart added 55 yards on 10 attempts.
The Steelers took a 13-7 halftime lead, thanks to Burress' leaping catch over Chris McAlister in the end zone with 1:52 left.
Days earlier, Burress said Pittsburgh "beat up" the Ravens in their last meeting. Baltimore tight end Shannon Sharpe responded by calling the receiver "Plexiglas."
Burress had the last laugh.
"All that stuff showed me they weren't focused on the game -- all that disrespecting players and calling us names," Burress said.
Pittsburgh moved 73 yards on its opening possession, holding the ball for more than eight minutes, before Brown kicked a 22-yard field goal.
Grbac then directed the Ravens on a 56-yard march, completing four of five passes before running in from the 2 for a 7-3 lead.
The Steelers responded with a 10-play drive that ended with a 33-yard field goal by Brown. Stover then came up short on a 48-yard field goal try.
Notes: Ravens DT Sam Adams was inactive. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on 11/28. ... The Steelers' six-game winning streak is their longest since 1995. ... Baltimore CB James Trapp left the game in the second quarter with a groin injury. ... The Steelers under Bill Cowher are 73-8 overall and 9-1 this year when leading at the half.