The 2003 NFL Playoffs - Titans vs. Steelers
Joe Nedney flops his way into Pittsburgh infamy
This game will forever be remembered as being won by the Academy Award winning dive heard round the world. The win put the Titans into the AFC Championship game and sent the Steelers packing, despite their previous week heroics verses Cleveland that gave me chronic chest pains.
The game itself was brutal. It was easily comparable to any Steeler/Oiler battles back in the 70s and 80s. Plaxico Burress busted his hip and left the game early. Kendrell Bell was also knocked out of the game with an ankle injury. I think it was the first play of the second half when Eddie George collided in a helmet-to-helmet smash with Casey Hampton. He had a concussion and didn't come back. Even Steve McNair had his thumb almost ripped off when it got caught in someone's helmet. It was pretty disgusting looking and they only showed it once on TV. There were numerous other players sidelined as well with injuries, lacerations, and other wounds.
The game was so intense that I remember at one point, Jeff Fisher having to be pulled away from Tommy Maddox as they got into some argument over something. But that's playoff football. You get two teams to knock the crap out of each other and the team standing at the end wins, right? RIGHT? Not in the NO FUN LEAGUE they don't.
This was one of the prototypical ref's deciding a teams fate games. The league officiating had been under the microscope all season and especially that last week. In the previous Sunday's playoff game, the Giants lost to the 49ers in a controversial ending that the NFL admitted the officials botched the play.
Let's lay out the scenario...regardless of what happened in regulation, overtime begins with Tennessee getting the ball first. In typical "Air" McNair fashion, he is able to drive them down the field. It also helps that Dewayne Washington can't tackle to save his life. Nedney lines up for a field goal, which was ok by me since he missed the last one in regulation to put them in this position. The kick is up from 31 yards...and...it's...Good!! NO! Wait, the Steelers called time out.
So five minutes later, or what seemed like an eternity, they line it up again. The kick is up...and...it's...NO GOOD!!! NO GOOD!!! NO...What the he....a penalty!!
The replay comes up and as (who else but...)Dewayne Washington goes into block the kick, he brushes by Nedney's leg. Broadway Joe flops to the turf like a week old fawn that has just taken a hip full of buckshot. The replay clearly shows his embellishment but the refs buy it hook, line, and sinker. 5 yard penalty on Washington and another re-kick. This time, you know he isn't going to miss. It goes right down the middle.
The game ends with Titans screaming for joy and the stadium goes bananas. Cowher immediately races toward Ron Blum, the referee, and proceeds to yell something at him before sprinting down the runway to the locker room. Of course, the customary handshake with Coach Fisher never occurs so Cowher takes the heat for that for weeks to come, but what was it that he yelled at the refs?
Apparently, as you can later see on replay, the team attempts to call another time out before the kick is in the air. Jason Gildon said he asked the umpire for the timeout and was told they didn't have any. Gildon said, "Then I pointed to the scoreboard and we had two left." At the coin toss before overtime, Blum had announced that each team had three timeouts. That's a change from the regular season, when they only get two timeouts. "It's another example of officials just not being at the top of their game," Gildon said. "It's the playoffs, there is a lot at stake. If anyone should be ready, then it should be them."
Regardless of whether they had a timeout, or if it was called before the snap, the kick stood. Dewayne Washington became the goat because of his poor tackling, the fact he can't cover anyone (all year for that matter), and the "penalty" he drew on Nedney. Cowher gets labeled as a poor sport because he leaves the field in a fit of chin-rage, and the Titans go on to be destroyed by the Raiders for a trip to the Super Bowl (in which the Raiders are eaten alive by the Buccaneers defense).
Joey Porter said after the game, "There is one thing that is going to stick in my mind and that's the ref took that. Let it come down to us losing the game and not the ref losing the game for us."
In the post game press conference, Cowher took it a step further to make his point that games shouldn't be allowed to end like this. "For a game to be decided on that call is ludicrous. A game can't be decided because a kicker takes two steps and we have someone slide into him. We had some chances to win but we had some taken away from us, too."
The worst part wasn't the fact that they lost. It was the fact that the refs took the game away. Even Nedney said himself after the game was over that he was hit but after his career in the NFL he was going to become an actor. I would much rather be blown out then to lose a heart-breaker that comes down to poor officiating.