Steelers suddenly long to throw long Scoring pass to Johnson a departure for offense

October 19, 1998|By Chuck Finder | Chuck Finder,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PITTSBURGH -- Three and a half games passed between touchdown passes. Fifteen quarters. One hundred and four Kordell Stewart attempts. Some 231 minutes, 40 seconds. Lots of time passed, but the Steelers couldn't successfully.

The last Pittsburgh receiver to catch a scoring pass was Andre Coleman, and the club showed its enduring gratitude by waiving him the week before last.

So it was in an exceedingly strange place Charles Johnson found himself early in the second half yesterday:

The end zone.

On the receiving end of a Stewart pass.

"I hadn't been there in a while," said Johnson, who wound up scoring the only touchdown in the 16-6 Steelers victory over the Ravens.

Here was a Pittsburgh offense with the NFL's worst passing attack, an offense that was booed by many of its 58,620 Three Rivers Stadium fans, an offense with only three pass plays before yesterday longer than 20 yards. What all of a sudden made it throw deep?

"We worked on it all week," Johnson said. "We were going to take our shots."

They started throwing deep the third play from scrimmage, a pass intended for Johnson in the end zone, a whopping 36 yards away. This season in Pittsburgh, where the offense has completed only 13 pass plays longer than 13 yards, it was considered a stretch.

"That sent a message," Johnson said. Apparently, the Ravens didn't quite pick up on it.

Later in the first quarter, Stewart lofted a pass 33 yards downfield. It went through the hands of cornerback Rod Woodson and landed in the open arms of Pittsburgh's Courtney Hawkins, who turned it into a 48-yard gain. That made it the Steelers' longest play of the year, until

The third play of the second half. That's when Stewart called a pass play intended for Hawkins first, then for Will Blackwell second amid a Baltimore blitz. Blitz the Ravens did, but Stewart didn't look for Blackwell. As they had worked on all week, the quarterback looked for the receiver facing one-on-one coverage -- which Johnson had against rookie Duane Starks.

Johnson used what resembled a defensive lineman's "swim" technique, throwing his left arm over Starks' back and pushing him away. Once past Starks, Johnson caught Stewart's eye and then his pass, 55 yards for the game-winning score, at 13: 59 of the third quarter.

A long pass and a long time coming.

"We needed something to jump-start us," Johnson said. "We felt we were a little flat in the first half, no emotion or anything. The timing was right."

"You know what happened?" Johnson said. "I set him up. He jumped outside. I just kind of grabbed him and got rid of him, got him out of the way."

Joked Stewart, upon hearing this three lockers away: "He grabbed him and slung him down, and the referee didn't throw a flag on him."

"We had three plays that went deep," Johnson said, even though two were incomplete. "That's more than I had the entire year.

"It was good to open it up like that."

Pub Date: 10/19/98

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