Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
NFL Recap (Tennessee-Pittsburgh)
Posted: Sun November 1, 1998 at 6:52 p.m. ESTTENNESSEE 41, PITTSBURGH 31
PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Last week, the Tennessee Oilers embarrassed themselves with a special-teams blunder. This week, they embarrassed the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Eddie George rushed for a season-high 153 yards and a score and Steve McNair matched a career high with three touchdown passes as Tennessee manhandled Pittsburgh, 41-31, in an AFC Central Division battle.
The inconsistent Oilers (4-4) keep winning the important ones. They are 4-0 against division foes this season and have taken three of the last four meetings with the Steelers.
The points were the most Tennessee has scored against Pittsburgh and came just one week after the Oilers failed to get their kicker on the field in time for a potential game-winning field goal in a 13-12 loss against Chicago.
"After a difficult ending to a tough ballgame, we put things in perspective," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. "I have to praise the players for this one. The team that played today was the team that should have won last week."
Struggling Kordell Stewart was benched as the Steelers (5-3) fell one game behind first-place Jacksonville in the Central. Backup Mike Tomczak came on after Tennessee's Lonnie Marts returned an errant pass by Stewart 27 yards for a score and threw two meaningless TD passes to Charles Johnson.
"We did not play a good football game, to say the least," said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. "Tennessee played very physical with us and won the line of scrimmage early. It led to the type of game we saw."
George, who had a season-high 137 yards last week, helped the offense dominate the first half, carrying 22 times for 101 yards as the Oilers scored on three staight possessions and ate 19 minutes off the clock.
In four previous games against the Steelers, George averaged just 41.5 yards per game and a woeful 2.6 yards per rush. But today he carried a workmanlike 34 times, exploding for a 37-yard TD jaunt with 3:32 left in the third quarter to give the Oilers a commanding 27-7 lead.
"We planned to run Eddie a lot," said McNair. "The first four plays were designed to go to George and when it worked, we just stayed with it."
"Eddie George is a very good back," Steelers safety Darren Perry said. "But when you don't wrap up and make tackles, guys like him are going to motor on you."
McNair, who also tossed three TD passes against Cincinnati on October 12th, 1997, connected with Frank Wycheck on a two-yard TD to give the Oilers a 10-0 lead with 9:29 left in the first half. He found rookie Kevin Dyson on a six-yard strike with a minute remaining to give Tennessee a 17-7 halftime lead.
"The whole key was just coming out believing we can win," said Dyson. "Forty-one points, we didn't expect that, but we expected to come out with a victory. We have the talent to be a much better team than we've been out there showing.'
"We came out rolling on all cylinders and good things happened," said Wycheck. "We made a commitment to the run. I think it kind of surprised them, because no one runs the ball on Pittsburgh like that."
Pittsburgh came into the contest allowing just 98.4 yards per game on the ground.
McNair's final scoring strike, a 29-yarder to Willie Davis in the right corner of the end zone, extended the advantage to 34-7. McNair completed 13-of-21 passes for 167 yards.
Stewart showed some signs of improvement, completing 23-of-32 passes for a season-high 230 yards and two scores. But he also three second-half interceptions, including the one to Marts that gave the Oilers a 41-15 lead.
The interception return was the fourth score of Marts' career. He also had a team-high seven tackles as the Oilers shut down bruising Jerome Bettis.
Bettis, who rushed for 119 yards on Monday at Kansas City, was limited to just eight on six first-half carries and finished with 26 on 11 rushes.
"We tried to be more physical with them," said Marts. "We were able to get to Bettis behind the line and kept him from getting going."
Pittsburgh's Courtney Hawkins benefited from a soft defense in the game's late stages, collecting a club-record 14 catches for 147 yards. Hawkins surpassed J.R. Wilburn, who had 12 receptions against Dallas on October 22nd, 1967.
Johnson had a stellar day, catching nine passes for 115 yards and three scores. Tomczak was 15-of-17 for 117 yards and found Johnson for TDs of three and 37 yards.
"I wouldn't know if it was my best game or not because we didn't win," Johnson said. "I think we showed the character of this team, coming back like that. When you're down big like that, it's easy to lay down."
Tennessee took control from their first possession, marching 65 yards on 13 plays, before taking a 3-0 lead on Al Del Greco's 43-yard field goal. George carried 10 times for 70 yards on the drive, which ate up nearly seven minutes.
The Oilers drained the Steelers' defense further on a 15-play, 88-yard drive, which culminated in McNair's short TD pass to Wycheck with 9:29 left in the second quarter. The Steelers answered on the ensuing drive as Stewart hit Johnson with a nine-yard scoring strike to pull Pittsburgh within 10-7 with 5:55 left.
Tennessee once again embarked on a long drive, moving 72 yards on 10 plays. Pittsburgh safety Carnell Lake was called for interference at the Steelers 5, setting up McNair's TD toss to Dyson with 1:05 remaining. Lake seemed to turn an ankle on the play and did not return.
Denard Walker intercepted Stewart early in the third quarter and Del Greco kicked his second field goal from 32 yards to give the Oilers a 20-7 lead. Del Greco has converted 18-of-20 attempts this season.
After George's TD run gave Tennessee a 20-point lead, the Oilers forced Pittsburgh to turn the ball over on downs before McNair made it 34-7 on a 29-yard hookup with Davis on the second play of the fourth quarter. Davis had five catches for 88 yards.
"We knew what we had to do today and we didn't do it," Perry said. "We had too many guys on defense trying to do too much. That's not Steelers football."
Stewart then engineered the Steelers' best drive of the day, capping a seven-play, 66-yard march with a three-yard TD pass to Hawkins that made it 34-15.
Pittsburgh outgained Tennessee 401-321, as it spent the better part of the contest playing catchup. But the Steelers, who came into the game with the league's second-best running game, were outrushed 169-54.
© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.