New life from an old hand Journeyman Tomczak hits 14 passes in a row, helps Steelers rebound

Nfl Week 2

Steelers 31, Ravens 17

September 09, 1996|By Chuck Finder | Chuck Finder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomczak completed 14 passes in a row yesterday.

You read that right: Mike Tomczak. Pittsburgh's journeyman backup who played for four NFL teams the past seven seasons, who started only 53 of 122 previous pro games, and who finished the game by throwing his 79th career interception -- against 60 TD passes.

So, when was the last time he completed so many in a row?

"Maybe in junior high," Tomczak, 33, said after setting a career high for completion percentage (72 percent) with an 18-for-25 afternoon with 198 yards and two touchdown passes in a 31-17 Steelers triumph. "Maybe at Ohio State. I don't know. When you get old. . . ."

Yet that was the very reason Steelers coach Bill Cowher named Tomczak the starter last week. Cowher's team was so beat up, it used a starting lineup with six different players from last week's season-opening loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The coach wanted some stability at quarterback. He wanted an old hand.

Seeing that the competition was Game 1 starter Jim Miller (six quarters of NFL experience) and Kordell Stewart (barely two dozen NFL snaps), Tomczak won virtually by default.

Then he won impressively yesterday at Three Rivers Stadium. The 12th-year veteran coolly guided the Steelers to touchdowns on their first three possessions and a field goal on their fourth. He completed one pass, missed one, and completed 14 for 119 yards before he missed again.

Midway through the third quarter he was 15-for-19 and his team led 31-17. That looked like stability to Pittsburgh.

"Mike did a great job today," said running back Erric Pegram. "Reads. Throwing the ball. A total job."

"Right now, he's what we needed, [but] who knows what's going to happen eight weeks from now?" said running back Jerome Bettis, who gained 116 yards and scored a touchdown. "He was the right man for today."

The Steelers' running game -- good for 206 yards -- helped immeasurably, setting up Tomczak's short passing game.

He completed his first pass on a slightly under-thrown sideline route, during which Charles Johnson stopped to beat Antonio Langham for a 42-yard gain. The next play, the quarterback vTC lobbed too far in front of Andre Hastings on a right-out route. He wouldn't miss for two more quarters. Bettis finished off the drive with a 1-yard run for a 14-7 lead.

After the Ravens tied it, Tomczak hit all five of his attempts on the next drive, ending with a 5-yard quick-in to Johnson for a 21-14 Pittsburgh lead. He hit all four of his attempts on the drive after that, ending with a 20-yard pass to a wide-open Hastings in the end zone.

This from a guy who hadn't thrown a touchdown pass for 365 days. That one was his only one against nine interceptions last season. Tomczak completed another pass before halftime and three to start the third quarter, giving him 14 in a row. Soon after, he returned to the Tomczak that Chicago, Green Bay, Cleveland and Pittsburgh had come to know, converting just three of his final nine passes and forcing one that Vashone Adams intercepted at the Ravens' 10.

"I got a little greedy on that," Tomczak said.

Even Tomczak concedes he was only the answer for yesterday. "Let's not lose sight. It's only one game, guys."

Only one 14-in-a-row game.

Pub Date: 9/09/96

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