Blackwell returns to old glory, new site

Steeler kick-starts win in 4th quarter, propelled by thoughts of '97 here

September 20, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Will Blackwell had a flashback to Memorial Stadium in the fourth quarter yesterday.

"You think about it," the Steelers wide receiver and kick returner said of his 97-yard touchdown run with the second-half kickoff on a fake reverse in 1997 that led the Steelers to a comeback victory from a 17-point deficit.

"I made a play here two years ago. It'd sure be nice to have another one," Blackwell said was the thought going through his mind.

As it turned out, Blackwell made two plays yesterday -- two fourth-period returns the Steelers turned into field goals and a 23-20 victory over the Ravens.

Blackwell's 32-yard return midway in the final quarter set up Kris Brown's 28-yard field goal that gave the Steelers a 20-13 lead.

After the Ravens tied it 20-20, Blackwell returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to set up Brown's game-winner.

This time, there was nothing fancy like a fake reverse. He just went behind the wedge on both plays, although he bounced outside on the first one.

"We don't have a fake reverse in right now. We ran the middle wedge. We have big guys up in front, and when they get up a head of steam, [opponents] don't want to run into them. If [opponents] run around them, I'm going to run through it [gap]. When we put them [wedge blockers] together like that, there's going to be a gap that opens up," Blackwell said.

The Steelers went with the wedge because the Ravens had been crossing in front of them while covering kicks.

"We got a little size out there and he'll feed off our blocks and hopefully make a big play," said defensive end Orpheus Roye, one of the players in the wedge.

The Steelers needed the returns because Kordell Stewart struggled the same way he did last year when he passed for 173 and 196 yards in two games against the Ravens and still won both by 20-13 and 16-6 margins.

This time, Stewart passed for only 138 yards and produced only one long drive, an 80-yarder in the second period.

He got the rest of the points on a 35-yard touchdown drive following a pass interception, a field goal on an 11-yard drive after a fumble recovery and two field goals following the Blackwell returns.

The coaching of new coordinator Kevin Gilbride was supposed to jump-start Stewart's career, but he was as erratic as ever.

"It wasn't the prettiest win of all, but a win is a win, especially when they are within the division," Stewart said. "Right now, it's just a comfortable feeling, but we've still got to go back to the drawing board."

With a pair of road wins over the Cleveland Browns and Ravens in their back pocket, the Steelers probably have a ticket to the playoffs regardless of how Stewart plays.

If they repeat the wins over the Browns and Ravens at home, they only have to go 6-6 in their other 12 games -- two of them are against the 0-2 Bengals -- for a 10-6 mark that would probably put them in the playoffs.

Regardless of how Stewart plays, the Steelers continue to be a team that lives by its defense. They were burned by Errict Rhett's cutback runs for 80 yards in the first half. Linebacker Levon Kirkland said they hadn't prepared for that because they were expecting Priest Holmes to play. They adjusted in the second half when Rhett was held to 21 yards.

They also had to adjust to the loss of their two strong safeties, Lee Flowers and Chris Oldham, in the first half with ankle injuries.

The Steelers' other lapse came in the fourth period when Stoney Case moved the Ravens 72 yards in six plays for the tying touchdown. Maryland alum Chad Scott was beaten by Qadry Ismail on a 19-yard catch, and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said Scott was guilty of poor technique.

"We played 58 minutes of great football and then we played two minutes of lousy football," Haslett said of the defensive effort.

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