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Late Show
Austin Murphy
November 03, 1997
Quarterback Kordell Stewart, starting slowly as usual rallied the Steelers past the Jaguars and into first place in the AFC Central
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November 03, 1997

Late Show

Quarterback Kordell Stewart, starting slowly as usual rallied the Steelers past the Jaguars and into first place in the AFC Central

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"Marsh. We signed Curtis Marsh."

Marsh pulled down one pass for eight yards against a Jacksonville defense that stubbornly spent most of the game bringing up a safety to help contain Bettis. Despite the special attention, the Bus, who came in averaging 117 rushing yards, bulled for 99, although his fourth-quarter fumble at the Pittsburgh 17 led to the touchdown that put the Jaguars ahead 17-14. The focus on Bettis opened up another offensive option: Yancy Thigpen, Stewart's go-to receiver, who found himself in single coverage most of the game and responded with a career day—11 catches for 196 yards.

"Kordell's made believers of all of us," right tackle Justin Strzelczyk allowed after Friday's practice. Strzelczyk was in a bit of a hurry to get home. He and his wife, Keana, were hosting their annual Halloween party.

Carnell Lake arrived for the affair in a matador's outfit and looked dashing. Lake is a strong safety by trade, but given a few hours to hone his technique and break down tape of the opposing bull, he could probably do a pretty good job with a cape. Considering the job he has done filling in as an emergency cornerback the last three weeks, he deserves to have roses thrown at his feet.

The transfer of Lake to corner is one of several moves that have settled down a Steelers defense that two weeks into the season looked as if it were in big trouble. The source of those woes seemed to be the frugality of the Steelers' owners, the Rooney family. Generally unwilling to pay market value to retain its unrestricted free agents, Pittsburgh loses a lot of them. The exodus after last season was particularly heavy; it included outside linebacker Chad Brown and cornerbacks Rod Woodson, Willie Williams and Deon Figures. The players who remained had to become accustomed to first-year defensive coordinator Jim Haslett and to the fact that Lloyd isn't the player he was before blowing out his left knee in the 1996 opener.

The Steelers can win while in transition because they retain what Cowher calls a core of veteran leaders. One of them is the 30-year-old Lake, who two days after the game against the Ravens, with Pittsburgh down to two healthy cornerbacks, received a call at home from Cowher. "I wanted to get you before you ate dinner," said the coach, "because you might want to think about eating light."

Translation: We're moving you to corner. Lake had been through this before. Midway into the Steelers' 1995 Super Bowl season, Cowher had made the same change. This time, to carve five pounds from his already chiseled 6'1", 210-pound frame, Lake cut out snacks. Roaring in on a corner blitz on the Sunday after getting Cowher's call, Lake stripped Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh of the ball and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown. Against the Cincinnati Bengals a week later, he turned in the biggest play of the game, punching the ball from the grasp of wideout Carl Pickens, who, with Pittsburgh leading 23-10 early in the fourth quarter, was racing for the end zone.

Lake's most memorable plays on Sunday: He forced another fumble ( Jacksonville recovered); gave up a 29-yard pass that set the stage for the Stand; and then, on a third-down blitz with 1:54 left, pressured Mark Brunell into throwing the incompletion that forced a punt by Bryan Barker, which was followed, four plays later, by the Punt.

Barker's Pittsburgh counterpart, Josh Miller, wasn't having a good day. His first two punts had traveled 24 and 25 yards, and though he had partially atoned for those with a couple of 46-yarders, it was with a sense of foreboding that he jogged onto the field with 1:18 remaining and the Steelers facing a fourth-and-five at their 18. The score was tied 17-17, and Miller—this isn't unusual for a kicking specialist—was having a conversation with himself. "I told myself, This is your last punt as an NFL player, so you might as well make it a good one," Miller, a second-year player, recalled after the game. With that he blasted a 72-yarder that was downed at the Jaguars' 10. "When I saw that punt come off his foot, I said, 'You go, big fella,' " said Stewart, who had run eight plays in overtime when he heard these words crackle out of his helmet radio: "Shovel Pass Right."

Gailey later explained the unusual call. On a crucial third-and-two in the fourth quarter of their Sept. 22 game at Jacksonville, a 30-21 loss, the Steelers had lined up in the same formation. Stewart had sprinted to the right—and had been stopped one yard short of a first down. On Sunday, on third-and-two at the Jaguars' 18, Stewart took two steps to his right and then flipped the ball forward to Bettis, who shook off three tacklers on his way to redemption and victory.

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