Monday, October 17, 2005

Two and One

2-1. That's my record at Heinz Field after Tommy Maddox played like Kyle Boller dressed up as Tommy Maddox for Halloween. Maddox started slowly Sunday, throwing an interception on the sixth play of the game, and things only got worse from there. A lot worse.

And after the first pick -- which was intended for Nate Washington (who was only playing because Hines Ward was injured) -- my first thought was, "Huh, Nate must've run the wrong route, because that pass was too awful to have been thrown there on purpose." Nope. After seeing the game unfold, it became pretty clear to me that that's exactly where Maddox had intended to throw it. He went on to throw two more picks and for good measure, he threw in a fumble, just to make sure that there was no doubt in anyone's mind that this was his worst game as a Steeler -- even surpassing that Texans debacle back in 2002.

All day long Maddox seemed to be four or five steps behind everybody else. And from where we were sitting (see above; and oh yeah, just in case you can't tell -- or you're retarded -- I take the worst 'action shots' ever) it looked like Maddox was not only slow in delivering the ball, but he was also not afraid to hang his receivers out to dry. And when he wasn't being inaccurate, he was having balls batted down at the line of scrimmage like he was Charlie Driesell getting thrown my Michael Jordan back during those early '80s UNC-Maryland matchups where Driesell was obviously on the court because, well, his dad was the coach (and he must not have liked him very much to put him out there against MJ).

The second drive saw the Steelers unable to gain one yard on two plays and they had to punt. Which actually turned out to be a lot better than Pittsburgh's third drive -- which not surprisingly, ended up with Maddox throwing another interception. And yeah, he ended up with four turnovers for the day, but here's the thing: he very easily could've had eight or nine. And I'm not kidding. Not even a little. If the Jaguar linebackers could catch, there would have been another pick returned for six, because Tommy was playing catch with those guys all day long.

I guess it doesn't matter, but I'll mention it anyway: Maddox didn't seem to be limping at all from his "calf injury" he suffered just over a week ago in practice that kept him home for the Chargers game. In retrospect, however, he might have been wise to start limping after his second pick. In fact, it might have been in his best interest to fake a heart attack just so he could safely get out of the stadium while the Steelers still had a legitimate chance to win the game.

I'm kinda kidding, but the most amazing thing about watching somebody play as poorly as Maddox did and not be part of a jayvee girls basketball game (or be named Kevin Millar), is that the Steelers were in this thing all the way to the end. And no matter how hard Tommy tried to lose it, the Steelers just wouldn't go away.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Maddox did actually throw a touchdown pass. But it would be a tad misleading if I also didn't tell you that he had to throw two "out of nowhere hail mary's that resulted in pass interference calls" that got the Steelers in the red zone. (And that was the other theme for the day; when Maddox wasn't gift-wrapping turnovers, the Jaguars were gift-wrapping pass-interference penalties to help Pittsburgh keep drives alive.) Anyway, Maddox somehow managed to stumble to his left, hit Heath Miller in the middle of the field, and he bulldozed a couple of Jags on his way to the end zone. It was his third TD catch of the season, but this was definitely his biggest game, production-wise. He had a great catch in the fourth quarter, and he also served as Maddox's security blanket during one of the few sustained drives in the second half that didn't rely on Jacksonville players being flagged for cheating. So yeah, Maddox did throw a TD, but it comes with some qualification.

I'm going to quit talking about Maddox impersonating every QB the Ravens have had the last four years ... right after I make this last point: first, who was it exactly that wondered why Charlie Batch shouldn't start? And second, what the hell do you think Charlie Batch was thinking to himself while watching Maddox implode? If I had to guess, it was probably something along the lines of, "Am I that bad? Honestly, if I look like that (he points at Maddox) when I'm on the field, please tell me now ... right now! ... because I'm retiring tout suit." And I don't think anyone would fault Batch for asking Cowher what the hell he was thinking too. Here's my question: if Ben still can't go next week, what happens if Cowher trots Maddox out there in Cincinnati. If I'm Batch, I'll travel with the team, go through warm-ups, and then right before kickoff, I retire. Call it a career, walk off the field, and hope the Steelers lose 50-0. And Batch would be well within his rights to do as much.

OK, now the good news. The rest of the game was really friggin' good. The defense got pushed around by Greg Jones early in the game, but after that, they tightened up and played well. I didn't notice it until late in the game, but Deshea tweaked a hammy and missed all of the second half. And with Ricardo Colclough already out, that meant that Chidi Iwuoma actually got on the field in a non-special teams situation. I love Chidi, but that's never a good sign when he's got to cover somebody whose position isn't listed as "gunner." When Deshea went down, this year's second round pick, Bryant McFadden also was pressed into action. He and Ike Taylor both had great stops on the last drive in regulation, and McFadden actually intercepted a ball in the end zone with 15 seconds left in regulation.

There were a couple of really mind-boggling things about the last few plays of the fourth quarter. First, it looked like the Jags were going to pull a Steelers from 2004 and run the ball, run the clock, and kick a field goal with no time left. Nope. Jack Del Rio is too smart for his own good, because on consecutive plays, he decided to go for the end zone, instead of playing conservatively. On the first play, Ike made a play on the ball in the end zone, and knocked it to the ground. On the very next play, McFadden got the pick. On both plays, the cornerbacks were in press coverage, and in both cases, they were able to run with the receivers, find the ball down the field, and make a play. It was a welcome change from the Chad Scott - DeWayne Washington "Dark Years."

How good was it to see Quincy Morgan going nuts (the photo to the left is Morgan catching the kickoff to start the overtime)? Heinz Field was about to explode on the runback to start the overtime. All game, the crowd seemed to do a good job of blocking out Maddox and focusing on the play of, well, everybody else, as a way of staying in the game. And then Morgan runs through Jacksonville's kickoff team for what most people thought would end up in another Jeff Reed game-winner. Uh, yeah, that didn't quite work out.

So the good news is that Roethlisberger wasn't killed in San Diego, and he'll be back very, very soon. The bad news is that Maddox is dreadful. But the other good news is that Batch is (at least for now -- I don't think he's quit yet) still on the team and if Cowher has half a brain, he should automatically ascend to the backup spot. And even more good news: the defense played solid, if not spectacular, the special teams was, er, special, and even though Hines was out, we got to see more of Quincy Morgan, and Heath Miller. And it's not even worth suggesting that if Hines and Ben had played that the Steelers would have won. Yeah, no kidding. I'm suggesting that if Cowher had put Dan Kreider under center and made him run 50 QB sneaks in a row, the Steelers wouldn't won by two touchdowns. That's how bad a day Maddox had. Let's just all hope that Ben is back next week.