Stewart breaks the gloom, then Ravens' backs QB's 'rat face' tells Steelers mates he's fine, ready for 2nd-half rally

October 06, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The Pittsburgh Steelers were still down by 10 points when their quarterback, Kordell Stewart, came back to the huddle and made what his teammates call a "rat face".

"He just scrunches up his face and looks like a rat," said Steelers wide receiver Charles Johnson, who caught one of Stewart's three touchdown passes a few minutes later, as the quarterback began rallying his team. "It just makes us all laugh and breaks the tension. At that point, we knew Kordell was back in charge."

There was certainly tension to break. Stewart threw three first-half interceptions as the Ravens took a 21-point lead, before settling down and bringing the Steelers back for a 42-34 victory.

"There are going to be some other three-interception games to go through," said Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher. "But it never entered my mind that I should take him out. It's part of the process, part of maturing. When he got back from the last one, I said, 'Just relax. Go back to the basics. Go back to your reads. Don't anticipate. Take what they give you.'

"I think he did that. He never lost confidence. I think he sometimes tries to do too much to make up for his mistakes, but if you can harness that, I think you have a pretty good player -- and he already is a pretty good player."

Stewart, who will turn 25 on Oct. 16, is experiencing his first season as the Steelers' starting quarterback. Yesterday's rally matched the greatest comeback in Pittsburgh history, dating to Dec. 15, 1985, when the Steelers overcame the same deficit to defeat the Buffalo Bills, 30-24.

Stewart rallied his team with three second-half touchdown passes: 8- and 17-yarders to Johnson and a 4-yarder to Mark Bruener. He also ran for 78 yards on six carries and scored on runs of 1 and 74 yards.

The 74-yarder, the second longest of his career (he had an 80-yard run as a rookie), surprised nearly everyone in the stadium.

Pittsburgh was ahead 35-32 after the two-minute warning when Stewart faked a handoff to running back Jerome Bettis and then a reverse to wide receiver Yancey Thigpen before turning upfield.

Bettis, who became the first back this season to have a 100-yard game against the Ravens, thought he was going to get the handoff. After all, he had been pounding the ball with fury all afternoon.

"Kordell is a special player," said Bettis, who totaled 137 yards on 28 carries. "When he's in the game, anything can happen, but I didn't expect that.

"When he didn't hand it to me, I looked over at Yancey for the reverse, and when he didn't have it, I looked upfield and there went Kordell. That was a great play and a gutsy call and I'm just glad I wasn't on the line trying to figure out where I was supposed to go to block."

As the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Stewart weaved his way through the Ravens' defense, he realized he wasn't in the best of shape to go 74 yards. The left knee he hurt in preseason still receives treatment, and he had been hit hard on a quadriceps last week against the Tennessee Oilers.

When he got to the end zone, an end zone seemingly filled with Steelers fans, he flopped down and let a wave of warm cheers wash over him.

On the sideline, Cowher was beside himself.

"I just wanted a first down," the coach said. "Then once he got going, it was a matter of whether he'd have enough to go the distance, and he had just enough."

When it was over, Stewart said he was exhausted, though the smile on his face glittered as brightly as the diamond in his left earlobe. "It's all about believing. I told my guys, 'Just understand, there is tons of time left. Tons of time.' "

Pub Date: 10/06/97

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