- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

PITTSBURGH (AP) Can't win the big one. Can't make the big throw.
In this most surprising of Pittsburgh Steelers seasons, perhaps the biggest stunner of all was they reverted back to being the same underachieving team that couldn't win AFC title games twice before under coach Bill Cowher.
And the wonderful new Kordell Stewart transformed into the bad Kordell of old whose mistakes doomed the Steelers in this same game four years before.
"I would have bet my whole season's salary we would win this game," safety Lee Flowers said after the Steelers were upset 24-17 by New England on Sunday the third time in four tries they've lost the AFC Championship game at home since the 1994 season.
This loss was possibly even more shocking than their loss to San Diego that season; each time, the Steelers seemed almost too relaxed and confident against an opponent they were favored to beat. Even Patriots coach Bill Belichick noticed yesterday's point spread was the same as the Steelers' game against Detroit then 1-12 last month.
"It's frustrating because we were that close, but the best team doesn't always win sometimes," Stewart said.
To Stewart, the loss was eerily like the 24-20 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC title game four years ago. Then, Stewart's three costly interceptions two in the end zone were the difference.
This time, a more polished, mature Stewart, who threw only five interceptions in the first 14 games of the season, was supposedly over making such mistakes at critical times. He wasn't.
Special teams mistakes a blocked field goal and a punt return for touchdowns put the Steelers down 21-3, but two interceptions by Stewart during an aborted fourth quarter comeback finished them off.
"But 1997 was 1997 I don't want to talk about 1997," Stewart said. "That didn't have anything to do with us losing. We had a great year across the board. I'm not look at anything negative in any way, shape or form. I just hope we remember how it feels so we seize the moment."
Of course, Stewart said much the same thing after the loss to Denver and went on to play poorly for the next 21/2 seasons. At least in this defeat, there was a bigger culprit than Stewart the special teams that have been the Steelers' weak spot all year.
It wasn't just Kris Brown's erratic field goal kicking, either; only last week, Baltimore's Jermaine Lewis' NFL playoff-record 88 yard punt return represented the Ravens' only touchdown against Pittsburgh.
"When you give up 14 points on special teams, you deserve to lose," Flowers said. "It's the same thing we've been struggling with all season. We've given up touchdowns on special teams all season, and we need to be concerned. I'm not going to sugar coat it we lost this game on special teams."
Cowher, who became the first coach to lose three AFC Championship games on his home field, wouldn't go that far. But he said, "The difference was the two returns. On the blocked field goal, we were looking to cut it to 14-6, and it suddenly becomes 21-3. That's a big swing."
And for the Steelers a big letdown, perhaps even bigger than those in the 1994 and 1997 seasons. Those teams didn't win 13 regular season games, and even owner Dan Rooney said this team reminded him of the Steelers' four Super Bowl championship teams of the 1970s.
"It's hard to put into words the disappointment that exists," Cowher said. "This team exceeded all expectations this season. The further you go, the greater the disappointment and the harder the hurt."

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