Steelers come through down stretch


PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Two more turnovers by Tommy Maddox that were
converted into touchdowns. More than 400 yards allowed to a losing
team. Another squandered big lead at home.

Are the Steelers playing well enough to get back to the AFC title game?

I don't think so. The Raiders and Jets are playing better football than the Steelers right now. Every team has its spurts, but there are still questions about how dominant Pittsburgh's defense can be. The Steelers' staple has always been their D, but it's been inconsistent this season. I like their receivers and their running game, but I'm not sure the offense is good enough to compensate for the defense's inconsistency.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Somehow, the Pittsburgh Steelers found all this the perfect way
to tune up for next weekend's AFC wild-card playoff game against

The Steelers (10-5-1) rallied from 11 points down in the fourth
quarter with the help of repeated Baltimore penalties and turnovers
and two Amos Zereoue touchdown runs to beat the Ravens 34-31

The victory didn't mean all that much. Tennessee's 13-3 victory
at Houston gained the Titans (11-5) a first-round playoff bye and
meant the Steelers must play the Browns in the playoffs for only
the second time in their long rivalry. They beat Cleveland 29-9 in
a divisional round game during the 1994 season.

The Browns (9-7) made the playoffs when they beat Atlanta 24-16
Sunday and the Jets (9-7) won the AFC East, thereby eliminating New
England and Miami.

Despite losing the weekend off they wanted and giving up 422
yards to the NFL's 27th-ranked offense, the Steelers say winning
the way they did can only help them in the playoffs.

"It's not what we wanted coming into this game. But like I've
said all season, this team sticks together and this is a huge
momentum lift,'' Maddox said. "It's an exciting way to go into the

Even if they can't expect to win this way in the postseason.

"But if you look at our last six games, we played only one bad
one,'' coach Bill Cowher said, referring to a 24-6 upset loss to
Houston -- their only defeat during that stretch. "We're going to
the playoffs with a lot of confidence, and we'll see how far that
takes us.''

The Ravens (7-9) couldn't have been expected to do much on a day
in which they had four turnovers and repeatedly kept Steelers
drives going with third-down penalties.

Despite all that, Baltimore rallied from a 17-7 deficit to take
a 31-20 lead in the fourth quarter. Then, despite giving up two
quick Steelers scores, the Ravens nearly won it. But Jeff Blake's
first-down pass from the Steelers 11 into double coverage was
intercepted by Dewayne Washington with 14 seconds remaining.

"Sometimes you take a shot, and sometimes it doesn't work
out,'' said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team missed the
playoffs for the first time in three seasons. "If you're too
cautious and too careful about everything you do, then you don't
belong in this business.''

Washington jumped over rookie Randy Hymes to make the
interception, which prevented any chance of kicking a tying field

"I wanted to get a jump ball -- Washington's 5-foot-10 and Randy
is 6-4, and I'll take that matchup all day,'' Blake said. "I put
it up, and it turned out the other way.''

Ravens center Mike Flynn said, "I wanted to go for the win. We
had time to make a couple of throws and if not, then kick the field

The Ravens looked to be in good shape when Blake's 20-yard
touchdown pass to Chester Taylor made it 31-20 with 12:57
remaining, 10 plays after Anthony Mitchell's interception.

Before that, James Trapp's interception of a pass fumbled into
his hands by Steelers fullback Dan Kreider led to Blake's 31-yard
pass to tight end Todd Heap that put Baltimore ahead 24-20. Blake
was 19-of-26 for 336 yards, with Heap making seven catches for 146

But the Steelers, who blew 17-point leads in successive home
games earlier this season, rallied with Zereoue's 5-yard scoring
run midway through the fourth quarter and Maddox's go-ahead 8-yard
scoring pass to Antwaan Randle El with 2:29 remaining. That score
came after Taylor fumbled away the kickoff following the Zereoue

Earlier, Maddox -- 20-of-30 for 194 yards and two touchdowns --
threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward and Zereoue scored
from the 1 as Pittsburgh opened its 17-7 lead. The Steelers also
got a big break when Gary Baxter's apparent interception return for
a touchdown was called back by a roughing the passer penalty.

Game notes
Zereoue, replacing the injured Jerome Bettis, ran for 104
yards in his third 100-yard game this season. ... Six turnovers by
Maddox have been turned into TDs in the Steelers' last three home
games. ... Even if they had won, the Ravens wouldn't have made the
playoffs. They needed five other teams to lose Sunday, and not all
did. ... Steelers LB Kendrell Bell (left ankle) was pulled in the
third quarter for precautionary reasons. ... Steelers RB Jerome Bettis (knee) was held out. ... The Steelers passed for more than
4,000 yards for the first time, finishing with 4,036 yards.
Maddox's 62.1 completion percentage also set a team record. ...
Pittsburgh went 6-0 in the AFC North. ... Jamal Lewis ran for 86
yards after being held to 34 yards in the Ravens' earlier 31-18
loss to Pittsburgh. ... It was the seventh time in Cowher's 11
seasons that the Steelers have won 10 or more games.


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