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Steelers, Falcons fit to be tied

Published: Monday, Nov. 11 2002 8:45 a.m. MST

PITTSBURGH — Tommy Maddox played like Dan Reeves expected him to play 10 years ago. Michael Vick played like Dan Reeves expects him to play for the next 10 years.

They couldn't be more dissimilar in their styles or their strengths — Maddox is the textbook pocket passer who looks to be straight out of the '60s. Vick is the scrambling, strong-armed, how-do-you-defense-this guy gambler widely seen as the quarterback of the future.

Together, they played a game that would have been exciting and exceptional in any generation.

The Falcons-Steelers game Sunday had it all — records, a career day by Maddox years after his career seemed finished, an unforgettable fourth quarter in which Vick picked up an entire team and willed it to a remarkable comeback.

It had everything, that is, except a winner.

In the NFL's first tie in five years and only the 16th in 333 overtime games since OT play began in 1974, the Steelers couldn't hold a 17-point fourth-quarter lead in a 34-34 tie.

"I had to keep telling the players it wasn't a loss," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "It doesn't feel as a good as a win, but it doesn't feel as bad as a loss."

Afterward, the Steelers (5-3-1) acted as if they lost. As linebacker Joey Porter said, "When we're up 17 in the fourth quarter, it should be over."

Maddox enjoyed the most spectacular statistical game by any quarterback in the Steelers' 70-year history, throwing for 473 yards — 64 yards more than Bobby Layne's former club record — and four touchdowns.

Plaxico Burress, who caught two touchdown passes, also set a club record with 253 yards receiving. Hines Ward added 139 yards receiving and Amos Zereoue ran for 123 yards as the Steelers had a 400-yard passer, a 200-yard receiver and a 100-yard rusher for the first time ever.

The Falcons (5-3-1), though, had Vick, and that made everything equal.

"I never thought it was over," Vick said. "The lead was not big enough. When you're down by 17 with a full quarter to play, anything can happen."

Most everything did happen — right down to the very last play, which began with 1 second remaining. Maddox found Burress on a 50-yard desperation completion, but the receiver came down inches short of the goal line.

It wouldn't have come down to that if it weren't for Vick, who overcame a relentless pass rush to throw for 294 yards and run for 52 yards.

"I felt like they could only contain us for so long, and we would find a way to make some plays," Vick said.

Atlanta got a break when Antwaan Randle El fumbled a punt, leading to Bob Christian's 1-yard touchdown run with 7 1/2 minutes left. After that, Pittsburgh's offense — only a first down or two away from running out the clock — twice went three-and-out, leading to Jay Feely's 40-yard field goal with 2:26 left and Vick's tying 11-yard touchdown scramble with 42 seconds remaining.

Pittsburgh could have won it early in overtime, but Todd Peterson's 48-yard field-goal attempt was blocked, just as his initial attempt was in a wild overtime comeback win Sept. 29 against Cleveland. Only this time, he didn't get a second chance. Feely's 56-yarder in the closing seconds also was blocked.

"They talk about how a tie is like kissing your sister?" Maddox said. "Well, I love him (Reeves) to death, but I still wanted to beat him. Man, I wanted that game"

Reeves drafted Maddox with Denver in 1992, then signed him with the Giants and Falcons without him ever becoming a starter, much less a star. Maddox hadn't started an NFL game in 10 years until last month, yet is playing like he's been in the league forever, with 15 touchdown passes in six-plus games.

Reeves almost couldn't believe what he was watching. Just as the Steelers couldn't believe Vick.

"He's like a running back with a great passing arm," linebacker Joey Porter said. "He's so strong. I didn't think he could do something like that so early in his career."

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