Tennessee 31, Pittsburgh 23

Nov. 17, 2002 at 11:14 PM
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NASHVILLE, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The Hollywood script of the 2002 NFL season took a horrific turn Sunday when Tommy Maddox was taken off the field by ambulance and hospitalized after being hit by linebacker Keith Bulluck in the third quarter as the Tennesee Titans rolled to a 31-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"The reports from the hospital are positive," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "He regained feeling in his upper extremities. We are cautiously optimistic."

Steve McNair, Eddie George and Kevin Dyson starred on offense and Bulluck, fellow linebacker Peter Sirmon and safety Lance Schulters made big plays on defense for the Titans (6-4), who extended their winning streak to five games and remained tied for first place in the AFC South with Indianapolis.

McNair threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns, George rushed for 79 yards and two scores and Dyson caught eight passes for 87 yards, including two TDs.

"I think everybody was on track today, everybody was in tune," said McNair, who completed 18-of-33 passes. "Everybody was responding to what Pittsburgh was giving us. It was fun out there today. Our defense dominated their offense, and we dominated their defense and special teams did a great job of getting field position."

Bulluck had 11 tackles, Sirmon returned an interception 25 yards to set up a score and added seven tackles and Schulters also had an interception in the end zone for a touchback.

Tennessee's dominant performance was dampened by the injury to Maddox on the final play of the third quarter.

Maddox was falling forward as he completed a pass to rookie Antwaan Randle El when Bulluck put his forearm into the quarterback's left shoulder.

Team trainers and doctors spent at least 10 minutes tending to Maddox, who was motionless as he was strapped to a backboard. Maddox was then loaded into an ambulance on the field and taken to Baptist Hospital's trauma unit.

Maddox has sensation and movement in all extremities and will stay overnight in the hospital. However, hospital officials declined to disclose the nature of the injury.

Steelers spokesperson Ron Wahl said the team will update Maddox's condition on Monday.

"His eyes were moving around, so we all felt better about that," said Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, who was benched in favor of Maddox in Week Three. "To see him go out in that fashion, that's the last thing anyone would want to have happen."

After Tennessee built a 31-7 lead, Stewart threw a pair of touchdown passes to Terance Mathis and Hines Ward in the final 3:25 and the Steelers made both two-point conversions to make the game closer than the final score indicated.

Ward had a 74-yard TD catch 15 seconds into the game and finished with 10 receptions for 168 yards.

The Steelers (5-4-1) had been unbeaten in their last five games with four wins and a tie.

Maddox, a first-round pick in 1992 who revived his career in the Arena League and XFL, was responsible for all five wins after replacing an ineffective Stewart in a Sept. 29 overtime win over Cleveland.

But a week after throwing for a career-high 473 yards last week in a tie against Atlanta, Maddox threw for just 194 yards and was intercepted three times before he was injured.

Tennessee also stuffed Pittsburgh's running game, holding Amos Zereoue to 16 yards on nine carries and Jerome Bettis to six yards on four carries.

Pittsburgh's kicking game also struggled again as Todd Peterson missed field goal attempts of 31 and 37 yards in the first half. He has converted just 12-of-21 field goals this season.

George, who had rushed for 400 yards in his previous four games, finished with 79 yards on 28 carries along with the two touchdowns.

Maddox appeared ready to add another stirring chapter to his story, starting the game off with a 72-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to Ward after the opening kickoff.

However on the Steelers' second possession, Maddox's pass intended for Plaxico Burress was intercepted by Sirmon and returned 25 yards to the Pittsburgh 1.

McNair hit Dyson with a one-yard touchdown pass on the next play to tie the game at 7-7 less than three minutes into the game.

Pittsburgh's defense came up with a big play when linebacker Joey Porter recovered a bobbled handoff by McNair at the Tennessee 36. However, after a two-yard run by Bettis, Cowher tried a trick play that backfired.

Bettis took a handoff and ran right before throwing back across the field to Maddox, who tried to hit Ward in the end zone. But Schulters did not fall for the fake and intercepted the pass for a touchback.

Tennessee put together a 12-play, 92-yard drive in the second quarter that resulted in a four-yard touchdown run by George, giving the Titans a 14-7 lead with 2:55 left in the second quarter.

The Titans dominated the third quarter when they totaled 159 yards and held Pittsburgh without a first down and to just eight yards.

Nickel back Donald Mitchell intercepted a pass by Maddox and returned it two yards to the Pittsburgh 42. McNair then hit Kevin Dyson with a 20-yard pass. Five plays later, Dyson caught a nine-yard touchdown with 3:48 left in the third quarter.

After Pittsburgh went three-and-out, McNair connected with Justin McCareins on a 55-yard pass to the Pittsburgh 5. On the next play, George bulled up the middle for a five-yard touchdown with 28 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Joe Nedney kicked a 43-yard field goal with 8:06 left in the fourth quarter to increase the lead to 31-7.

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