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|12-04-2006, 12:44 AM||#1|
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Steelers miss a milestone not done in nearly 50 years when the Buccaneers kicked a FG
Monday, December 04, 2006
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It would have been a curious footnote in a season of dubious circumstances, an occurrence that hadn't taken place in nearly 50 years.
One week after being shut out by the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers were on the verge of shutting out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field, a game in which their defense rudely welcomed Bruce Gradkowski back to the 'Burgh with five sacks and three interceptions.
But, instead of trying for a touchdown from the Steelers' 9, Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden sent in Matt Bryant to kick a 27-yard field goal with no time remaining merely to avoid a shutout.
"I'm sure I'll be criticized for that," Gruden said. "I just wanted our quarterback to leave Pittsburgh with something. We left Pittsburgh with a field goal."
Not exactly a lovely parting gift.
It is unlikely Gradkowski, who played at Seton-LaSalle High School, will fondly remember the meaningless field goal the Buccaneers managed in a 20-3 defeat yesterday. It is doubtful he will clip the box score from the newspaper and have it mounted and framed for his trophy room.
In the end, the only real significance of the field goal, other than to deprive the Steelers of their first shutout of the season, was this: It prevented the Steelers from being shut out one week and posting a shutout the next. They hadn't done that since the 1957 season when they lost to the New York Giants, 35-0, and beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 6-0, the following week.
"I understand it," coach Bill Cowher said of Gruden's decision. But he quickly added, "I was in that same position last week. We were in that position a number of times and you saw what my decision was."
Indeed, Cowher could have elected to kick a field goal on two occasions in the fourth quarter against the Ravens, once from the Baltimore 10 on fourth down, another from the 30. In each instance, he elected to go for the first down.
"No one wants to be shut out in this league," Cowher said. "That's obviously why you do that. You kick a field goal because you don't want to be shut out."
Surprisingly, many of the players in the Steelers' locker room agreed with Cowher, even though Gruden's decision cost them their first shutout victory since last year's Christmas Eve game in Cleveland (41-0).
Not that anyone is looking for moral trinkets this time of the season.
"I thought it was something you don't do," said outside linebacker Joey Porter, who had two sacks. "But, at the same time, I probably would have done the same thing."
"It didn't bother me," said inside linebacker Larry Foote, who had his second career interception and also recovered a fumble. "Nobody wants to [be] shut out."
"If that was me playing Madden 2006, I would have kicked the field goal, too," cornerback Deshea Townsend said.
When all was said and done, the Steelers were more content holding the Buccaneers without a touchdown, the second time in the past three games the defense has managed to do that. Counting the 27-0 defeat in Baltimore, the Steelers have not allowed an offensive touchdown in 10 of the past 12 quarters, a feat as seemingly overlooked as their 3-1 record in the past four games.
"We've been up and down," said inside linebacker James Farrior, who had a team-high 12 tackles and also forced a fumble. "I don't think we've played our best football yet. When we get in those close games and get against a team with a good defense, we haven't played well enough to bail out our offense."
The Steelers did that against Tampa Bay, getting three interceptions and a fumble recovery to bail out a shaky offense. And they did it without their best defensive player, safety Troy Polamalu, whose knee was sprained against the Ravens. He is not expected to play Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns. In addition, free safety Ryan Clark sustained a groin injury in the third quarter, forcing rookie Anthony Smith to join Tyrone Carter in the starting lineup.
Without Polamalu, the Steelers used very little of their dime package -- six defensive backs -- against the Buccaneers. Instead, they used their nickel package, in which five defensive backs are deployed, and had Foote assume Polamalu's role.
Foote's interception, though, which led to the Steelers' first touchdown, came out of a base 3-4 package.
"This is the first time we actually studied a team all week and we knew what they were doing," Foote said. "A lot of times teams have been changing up from what we've been studying on film. We knew the play before they were doing it."
That was not the case all the time, even when the Steelers managed to successfully defend a play that has tortured them all season -- the fade pass.
Cornerback Bryant McFadden finally managed to do what Townsend and Ike Taylor have been unable to do: He intercepted Gradkowski's lob pass in the end zone intended for wide receiver Maurice Stovall in the third quarter. But McFadden appeared confused before the play because the Steelers hurriedly rushed different personnel on the field and he didn't hear the defensive signal from Carter.
"So I just covered the guy in front of me," McFadden said.
(Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1466. )
?Jarrad Page, we?re not at UCLA anymore. You need to wrap.? ?an ESPN commentator, on the Chiefs rookie?s weak attempt at tackling the Steelers? Nate Washington in a 45-7 loss.
|12-04-2006, 09:24 AM||#2|
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Re: Steelers miss a milestone not done in nearly 50 years when the Buccaneers kicked a FG
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