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Steelers win final home game

12/21/2003

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are wondering where
all these big plays on offense and defense were all season.

Tommy Maddox threw three touchdown passes, Jerome Bettis passed
Marcus Allen to become the seventh leading rusher in NFL history
and the Steelers beat up on the turnover-riddled San Diego Chargers
40-24 Sunday.

Question on the Chargers: Is the sideline display evidence that the quarterback and coach have had enough of each other?
Drew Brees has held his frustrations in admirably this season, and I think his benching in this game was too much for him to handle. This season he has taken lumps from the players and the coaching staff, and I'm sure he felt he was being unfairly criticized and judged. This game could be the end of the line for both Marty Schottenheimer and Brees.

Question on the Steelers: Given the offense's struggles this year, will Mike Mularkey still be a hot coaching prospect?
Coaches are judged on what they've done, not on their potential and that will hurt Mularkey's chances for a coaching position. He definitely has the talent to lead an NFL team, but the Steelers have struggled mightily this season. Despite today's excellent performance, Mularkey won't be a hot prospect this offseason.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

It was the kind of performance the Steelers (6-9) expected but
rarely got in perhaps the most disappointing of Bill Cowher's 12
seasons as coach. They can decide the AFC North champion Sunday at
Baltimore (9-6), but only by keeping the Ravens at home, not by
advancing to the postseason for the third straight season
themselves.

"That will be our playoffs," Steelers linebacker Joey Porter
said. "If we had played like this all year, we'd have a chance to
(win it)."

At least the Chargers (3-12) played like they usually do. Drew
Brees had three costly turnovers for the second straight week, with
the Steelers' Deshea Townsend intercepting two passes and
recovering a fumble. Townsend returned the second interception 25
yards for a touchdown that sealed only the Steelers' fourth win in
12 games.

At least Bettis is enjoying a strong finish. He ran for 115
yards, his second 100-yard game in three weeks after he went more
than a year without one. It was his biggest game since he gained
163 yards against Cleveland on Nov. 11, 2001, and he needs 14 yards
at Baltimore to overtake Jim Brown (12,312) for sixth place. He has
12,299 yards rushing.

"To be there with the legendary Jim Brown is amazing," Bettis
said. "It felt good. I just think it shows that I can do it; there
have been some questions about my skills diminishing."

Burress' scoring catches of 25 and 16 yards against man-to-man
coverage helped the Steelers open a 21-0 lead before San Diego had
a first down.

"They played me bump and run, and hardly anybody does that,"
Burress said. "I looked over to their coach, I was surprised. I
don't get too much of that."

The Chargers threatened a comeback by scoring 17 consecutive
points, only to unravel in a familiar way with more Brees
turnovers. The fumble led to Hines Ward's 20-yard touchdown catch
and the first interception led to the first of two Jeff Reed field
goals.

LaDainian Tomlinson scored on a 2-yard touchdown run early in
the fourth quarter. But on the Chargers' next series, Brees' pass
deflected off Tomlinson to Townsend, who returned it for his first
career touchdown, and an unhappy coach Marty Schottenheimer yanked
Brees.

"I understand it was my third turnover of the day, but I was
upset that I got pulled," said Brees, who argued with his coach
over the move.

Schottenheimer wasn't about to listen to excuses from a
quarterback who has 17 turnovers while going 1-9 as a starter this
season.

"He just asked me why he was pulled. I told him when you play
for Marty Schottenheimer, you can't turn the ball over," the coach
said. "You turn the ball over, you're going to lose."

Tomlinson ran for 91 yards, but had only 8 yards on six
receptions after having 292 yards receiving in his previous two
games. He sat out some of the second half after being hit in the
right shoulder by linebacker James Farrior.

Except for the brief Chargers flurry that includes Brees'
57-yard scoring pass to Kassim Osgood and Tomlinson's 5-yard run,
the performance was reminiscent of the Steelers' 34-15 opening game
rout of Baltimore.

But the Steelers' season soon unraveled with a five-game losing
streak, and they must upset the Ravens to avoid their fifth
double-digit loss season in the franchise's 71 seasons.

"A lot of things went wrong," Burress said. "It seemed
something would go wrong each week. We're were constantly trying to
fix leaks. We never got on the same page."
^Notes:@ Tomlinson joined Roger Craig as the only players in NFL
history with at least 90 catches and 1,000 yards rushing in a
season. Tomlinson has 92 receptions and 1,402 yards rushing. ...
The Chargers have given up 36 touchdown passes, more than twice the
league average. San Diego has lost 19 of 24 since starting 6-1 last
season. ... San Diego has six games with three or more turnovers.
... Cowher is 6-1 against San Diego, with the only loss coming in
the AFC title game in January 1995. ... Bettis has 442 yards in his
last five games after having only 220 yards at midseason.