Making most of 2nd chance
Published: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 1:14 a.m.
After a series of kicks - some counted, some didn't - Nedney made a 26-yard field goal 2:15 into overtime that gave the Titans a bruising 34-31 playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday.
Officiating, in the headlines all week, once again played a key role in the final outcome.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher sprinted across the field and shouted at referee Ron Blum after the winning kick. As the Titans celebrated, Cowher claimed he called a timeout before the kick.
But the kick stood - a kick that was the result of a penalty on the previous play by cornerback Dewayne Washington. He drew a 5-yard flag for running into Nedney, giving him yet another chance, and he put the game-winner right down the middle.
That gave the Titans the franchise's first victory in four playoff games against Pittsburgh, and put them into the AFC championship game against the winner of today's game between the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets.
"For a game to be decided on that call is ludicrous," said Cowher, his jaw clenched in anger. "A game can't be decided because a kicker takes two steps and we have someone slide into him. We had some chances to win but we had some taken away from us, too."
That's exactly how the New York Giants felt after losing a playoff game against the 49ers last Sunday. The next day, the NFL admitted officials botched the final play.
Asked about the penalty he called, Blum merely explained the difference between running into the kicker and roughing.
As for the timeout, he said: "I wasn't aware that they were, but one of my co-officials said that the request came after the ball was snapped."
Tennessee took the opening kickoff in overtime and Steve McNair drove the Titans from their own 20 into field-goal range.
Nedney, who missed from 48 yards on the final play of regulation, thought he'd blown it when he missed from 31 yards.
"We don't get second chances very often and I didn't expect another one," Nedney said. "Sorry if I gave everybody gray hairs. ... I went from the worst kick of my life to a guy smacks me in the ankle and I get a second chance."
McNair was 27-of-44 for 338 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in a game that was nearly as dramatic as the Music City Miracle against Buffalo three years ago.
This one was a tense, hard-hitting game that sidelined stars Plaxico Burress (hip) and Kendrell Bell (ankle) of Pittsburgh and Eddie George (concussion) of Tennessee - exactly the kind of game the longtime rivals have played since the one-time Houston Oilers were the Steelers' biggest thorns in the late 1970s.
It was so close, each team had exactly 324 yards at the 2-minute warning and so intense that Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox and Titans coach Jeff Fisher once began screaming at each other and had to be separated.
There were multiple injuries and multiple comebacks - of course, since Maddox was involved.
"This is very hard to swallow," Maddox said, who rallied the Steelers from a double-digit deficit for the third time in three weeks. "It's frustrating, it's heartbreaking."
Nedney kicked a tying 42-yarder with 5:40 remaining after Jeff Reed's 40-yarder put Pittsburgh up 31-28. The Steelers had rallied for the second time in the game, tying it at 28-all on Maddox's 21-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward and former quarterback Ward's 2-point conversion flip to Burress with just over 10 minutes remaining.
In a season where the NFL set a record with 25 overtime games, the Titans got the ball first. A missed tackle by Washington gave Tennessee a big play, and the Titans were quickly in field goal position.
AT A GLANCE
JOURNEY BEGINS Keenan McCardell and the Bucs meet the 49ers today.
McNair leads team to AFC title game
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