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Steelers

Play of the Game: Wright's return sets tone for day

| Monday, Dec. 9, 2002

The game wasn't nine minutes old when the Houston Texans saw something they liked very much: Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox in the open field.

Maddox took off on a third-and-18 from the Steelers 35-yard line. He was headed toward the sideline in a scoreless game, with no chance for a first down, when he suddenly cut to the inside on safety Matt Stevens.

That move shocked everyone iat Heinz Field. This wasn't Kordell Stewart shaking and baking. It was Maddox, who's about as nimble as a Sumo wrestler. Even Maddox seemed shocked. He dropped the ball without being hit — a move his teammates would perfect by the end of the day.

“I don't think he's known for his running ability,” Stevens said. “But, you know, it was gracious that he did that and dropped the ball. It worked out well.”

Especially for Texans cornerback Kenny Wright, whose eyes got big when he saw the ball sitting on the 40-yard line. Playing in his 48th NFL game, he'd never recovered a fumble.

His first thought?

“I guess it is Christmas time, you know what I'm saying• I just picked it up and ran it in. It was like a big Christmas present to me.”

Maddox later explained that he attempted the move on Stevens knowing he was not going to get the extra 13 yards needed for a first down.

“I was actually just trying to step behind the safety and get on the ground,” Maddox said. “I could not beat him to the sideline, and I was already past the line of scrimmage. I tried to be smart with it, and I ended up giving them a touchdown.”

The play set the tone for a disastrous day, as the Steelers played Santa Claus in a 24-6 loss at Heinz Field. They put the expansion Texans on their laps and gave them more presents than they could possibly carry home to Houston.

Maddox tossed two passes into the arms of cornerback Aaron Glenn, who returned both for touchdowns. Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El fumbled twice, once without being hit, and wide receiver Plaxico Burress dropped a handful of passes.

“It was nothing Houston did; it was something we did,” Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. “When you turn the ball over like that, you could lose to anybody.”

Burress said he had no clue the day would turn out so bad.

“I came out and I was playing pretty good for the first half,” he said. “If you would tell me I'd drop three balls in the second half, I would kind of tell you that you were telling me a lie.”

Actually, that would have been a lie. Burress dropped four balls in the second half, including what appeared to be a sure touchdown from 25 yards out.

Wright couldn't figure out why Burress kept missing passes, but he was glad to see it.

“Some games, he drops the ball, I guess,” Wright said. “I don't know whether it was cold or they weren't getting the ball to him early, but they dropped a few, and it worked into our favor.”

Several Texans players said they were not surprised to see the Steelers stay with Maddox instead of going to Stewart, even though they sacked the barely mobile Maddox six times.

“The only problem (Stewart) would have presented is the mobility problem, and that's about it,” cornerback Marcus Coleman said. “I mean, even though he is kind of on a hot streak, it still wouldn't have made a difference.”

Wright was claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Vikings on Aug. 1. He knew what everyone knew going into the game: The only way the Texans could win was if their defense had a banner day.

It had that and more, and it started with his 40-yard touchdown.

“It was a big play because it was going to be a defensive game,” he said. “Every opportunity we got, we wanted to take advantage of.”

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