Manning _ not Maddox _ causes Cowher to lose sleep

Updated: October 8, 2003, 2:01 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher had plenty of reasons to go to sleep early Monday night, but didn't. For the second straight night, a quarterback was keeping him awake.

Only this time it was the Colts' Peyton Manning, not his own Tommy Maddox.

Just as Cowher was about to snap off the Colts-Buccaneers game, Manning threw an interception that was returned 29 yards for a touchdown by Ronde Barber, putting Tampa Bay up 35-14.

It was a familiar score to Cowher -- the Steelers have lost by 30-13 and 33-13 the last two weeks -- and a familiar sight.

He has watched Maddox throw three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns and a fourth that was brought back to the Steelers 1 in the last four weeks, so Cowher stayed up to see how Manning responded.

"I have been seeing those myself," Cowher said Tuesday. "I said this might be a great lesson right here to see how he handles it."

What Cowher saw was the greatest late-game comeback in NFL history, a textbook performance by Manning that countless coaches will cite when they stress to their players why they should never give up in any game at any time.

Manning led three touchdown drives in the final 3:27 of the fourth quarter and the winning field-goal drive in overtime as the Colts won 38-35. It was a performance remarkable not just for its precise execution, but its resilience when a game was seemingly lost.

"He was the one player that was not drained, he just kept playing," Cowher said. "That's why I try to watch as much as I can, because you never quit learning. You never quit seeing things that sometimes amaze you.

"I think players can learn as individuals watching how other guys handle circumstances that, you never know, you may find yourself in."

Yes, Bill Cowher hopes Maddox was watching.

That's why, a day after wide receiver Hines Ward stood up at a team meeting and emphasized the Steelers (2-3) must stand behind their quarterback, Cowher said much the same thing. He didn't say it as forcefully as Ward did, but he made it clear he expects to make no lineup changes Sunday at Denver (4-1).

Cowher agreed Maddox's confidence is a concern -- he has been intercepted eight times in five games -- but thinks his maturity will pull him through a situation that might ruin a younger quarterback. Even if, in games played, the 32-year-old Maddox is just such a quarterback.

"Tommy Maddox is going through some growing pains right now," Cowher said. "He is only coming off a full season right now. A lot of these things he is going through, he is experiencing for the first time. He is growing in many respects as a first-year quarterback would."

Asked about the heat he's taking for throwing half as many touchdowns passes (three) to the other team as he has to his own, Maddox did the same thing his coach did. He invoked the name of Peyton Manning.

"Somebody told me the other day that, a couple of years ago, Peyton had six or seven (interceptions) returned for touchdowns," Maddox said. "It's just one of those things that happens, and who knows why they happen? But if you don't throw them, they don't have a chance to get returned for touchdowns, and that's what you have to look at."

Some help for Maddox might be on the way. Tight end Jay Riemersma is expected to play in Denver after sitting out Sunday night's 33-13 loss to Cleveland with a sore shoulder.

However, left tackle Marvel Smith -- Maddox's main protector on his blind side -- will miss what essentially is his third straight game with a pinched nerve in his neck. Smith tried to play Sunday, but was pulled after the opening series.

The Steelers are hoping two weeks off will get Smith healthy again. They have a bye next week.

"We don't want to put him out there if he's not able to protect himself," Cowher said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index