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NFL Recap (Pittsburgh-Tennessee)
Posted: Sun November 15, 1998 at 6:33 p.m. ESTTENNESSEE 23, PITTSBURGH 14
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Maybe the Oilers are indeed Titans.
Al Del Greco's 22-yard field goal with three seconds remaining gave Tennessee the lead and Michael Roan's fumble recovery in the end zone on the final play of the game rubbed salt in the wounds of the Pittsburgh Steelers as the Oilers posted a 23-14 victory over their AFC Central Division rivals.
One day after deciding on "Titans" as a new franchise name for the 1999 season, the Oilers (6-4) improved to 5-1 against division opponents and posted their second win in three weeks over Pittsburgh (6-4) to pull into a tie for second place in the Central. The Oilers dominated the Steelers, 41-31 in a stunning Week Eight upset, which sparked their current three-game winning streak.
The season sweep is the Oilers first against the Steelers since 1993, which was also the last season in which Pittsburgh was swept by a division opponent.
"I am very proud of our team," said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher. "We played a different Pittsburgh team today then we played two weeks ago. Their defense set out to shut down our run game and they accomplished that. I really can't say enough about this club and the way they've been playing the last five or six weeks."
The game's final drive was sparked by defensive tackle Gary Walker's sack of Kordell Stewart on a 4th-and-1 at the Tennessee 30 with 4:15 remaining. Steve McNair then hit tight end Frank Wycheck with a 31-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 40 and connected with Derrick Mason on a 19-yard play to the Steelers 16. Del Greco, who had earlier made kicks of 46 and 24 yards, split the uprights with three seconds remaining.
"I thought for a second that we might have to try a 53-yarder there," said Del Greco. "But Steve and the rest of the guys keep making plays when we need them lately. They got it down there nice and close. Those are the ones you're supposed to make."
"Everybody made big plays on the drive," added McNair. "I'm proud of the way the offense responded in the last five minutes of the game, to come back and pull it out."
Del Greco has been close to perfect for Tennessee this season, missing just three of his 25 field goal attempts.
The Steelers fielded the ensuing kickoff and began a wild series of laterals, which resulted in a loose ball in their end zone which was recovered by Roan.
"This was a disappointing loss for the whole team," said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. "Defensively we played well, offensively we just didn't execute. This loss was a heartbreaker."
Pittsburgh had a 14-13 halftime lead on a pair of touchdown passes by Stewart. He threw a 10-yard scoring strike to tight end Mark Bruener early in the second quarter to give the Steelers a 7-3 lead. Stewart hit rookie running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala on a screen, which turned into a 26-yard TD as Pittsburgh moved ahead, 14-10 with 3:01 left in the half.
Stewart completed 22-of-28 passes for 239 yards and did not throw an interception for the second straight week, after being benched after throwing three picks against the Oilers two weeks ago.
"We had a good game plan today," said Stewart. "But give Tennessee credit they played a good defensive game."
McNair connected with Willie Davis on a 25-yard TD pass with 6:21 left in the first half. Del Greco's second field goal came with just four seconds remaining in the half.
McNair was 19-of-31 for 234 yards with an interception. Davis finished with six catches for 90 yards.
After rushing for a season-high 153 yards in his first encounter with the Steelers, Eddie George had his streak of five consecutive 100-yard games snapped with a 79-yard effort on 25 carries.
The Oilers, who had held Jerome Bettis to a season-low 26 yards on 11 carries at Pittsburgh, limited "The Bus" to 29 yards on 14 carries as Pittsburgh's ground game managed just 73 yards after entering the game with the league's second-best ground game.
"We just have to keep playing," said Bettis. "We got six games left. The Oilers defense did a great job of stopping us again."
Pittsburgh was further hampered by the loss of kicker Norm Johnson, who missed the contest with a strained calf muscle. The Steelers were forced to sign rookie Matt George, who had his lone field goal attempt blocked with 7:24 left in the first quarter.
"It was frustrating," said Pittsburgh wideout Courtney Hawkins. "When you move the ball between the 20's and score no points, it's really frustrating."
The lack of faith in the replacement kicker may have forced Cowher to go for the 4th-and-1 in the latter stages, rather than attempt a 41-yard field goal which could have given his team a four-point lead.
"I now realize the importance of having a reliable kicker," Cowher said.
Mike Archie returned the opening kickoff to the Pittsburgh 39, but McNair fired an interception to safety Lethon Flowers on the Oilers first play from scrimmage. Del Greco opened the scoring with 1:06 left on a 46-yard field goal, which gave the Oilers the early lead.
Pittsburgh answered on the ensuing possession, embarking on an eight-play, 74-yard drive, culminating in Stewart's 10-yard strike to Bruener.
Bettis left the game early in the second to have his knee-brace adjusted and his replacement Richard Huntley coughed the ball up in Tennessee territory. Rookie safety Perry Phenix returned the fumble 18 yards to the the Pittsburgh 39 with 9:29 left in the half.
McNair found Davis on a 25-yard TD pass six plays later to give the Oilers a three-point lead.
The Steelers came back with a seven-play, 80-yard drive, in which Stewart took off on a 17-yard run, before finding Ma'afala for the go-ahead score with just over three minutes left.
On the final drive of the half, McNair connected with Davis on a 34-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 34 and then hit Kevin Dyson for an eight-yard gain to set up Del Greco's 24-yard boot just before the half.
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