TIME: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST.
Tommy Maddox will start at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday.
However, if he has another game like last week, he is unlikely to be in for the finish.
Maddox and the Steelers try to rebound from last weekend’s stunning loss when they host the Carolina Panthers.
Maddox returned last Sunday after missing two games and led the Steelers to 422 yards of offense. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, he also handed the expansion Houston Texans three touchdowns.
He had two passes intercepted and returned for scores by Aaron Glenn, and lost a fumble that was returned for another touchdown by Kenny Wright. That was all Houston needed to post a 24-6 victory, shaving Pittsburgh’s lead in the AFC North to just one-half game over Cleveland.
Maddox did throw for 325 yards in his first action since suffering an injury that hospitalized him with temporary paralysis on Nov. 17. But the three turnovers are the reason coach Bill Cowher said he won’t hesitate to go back to Kordell Stewart if Maddox struggles again.
Stewart, who lost his starting job to Maddox earlier this season, played well while leading the Steelers to consecutive wins during Maddox’s absence. Cowher said that Maddox must reduce his mistakes, and that if he doesn’t, it’s possible that Stewart could return.
“It will be monitored, and we’ll go from there,” Cowher said.
While Maddox helped spark Pittsburgh’s turnaround from a 1-3 start with his strong play, he has not been leading the Steelers to wins lately. The Steelers are 0-2-1 in his last three starts—part of the reason they have been unable to pull away in one of the NFL’s weakest division.
Pittsburgh faces a difficult game at Tampa Bay next Monday night, as well as the season finale at home against division rival Baltimore, making this weekend’s non-conference contest all the more important.
“Obviously, with the expectations from this season, there’s been a lot of pressure to go out and perform at a high level,” Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington said Wednesday.
“Teams have been giving us their `A’ game and sometimes we’ve come up short. But this last stretch, we’ve got to be playing our best ball to get into the playoffs, and then the season starts over again.”
Carolina looks to be a difficult foe as well. The Panthers have followed an eight-game losing streak that included numerous problems off the field with two straight wins over AFC North teams.
After a surprising 13-6 win at Cleveland on Dec. 1, Carolina beat Cincinnati 52-31 on Sunday. Rodney Peete threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns, while Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad each had more than 100 yards receiving.
Smith also had two punt return touchdowns as the Panthers set a franchise record for points.
“It was definitely a game we got going on all cylinders, in particular the passing game,” Peete said. “We were able to move the ball up and down the field on them and take advantage of them. The guys were getting wide open and made some circus catches to keep drives going.”
The Panthers are 3-0 this season against AFC North opponents.
STANDINGS: Panthers - 4th place, NFC South. Steelers - 1st place, AFC North.
PANTHERS LEADERS: Offense - Peete, 2,136 passing yards and 12 passing TDs; Lamar Smith, 737 rushing yards and 7 rushing TDs; Muhammad, 46 receptions; Steve Smith, 681 receiving yards; Wesley Walls, 4 receiving TDs. Defense - Reggie Howard, 60 tackles; Julius Peppers, 12 sacks; Deon Grant and Mike Minter, 3 INTs.
STEELERS LEADERS: Offense - Maddox, 2,197 passing yards and 16 passing TDs; Amos Zereoue, 595 rushing yards; Jerome Bettis, 7 rushing TDs; Hines Ward, 98 receptions, 1,166 receiving yards and 11 receiving TDs. Defense - Chad Scott, 60 tackles; Joey Porter, 8 sacks, 4 INTs.
PANTHERS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 104.8 yards per game (19th in NFL); Passing Offense - 173.8 ypg (29th); Total Offense - 278.7 ypg (30th). Rushing Defense - 103.4 ypg (8th); Passing Defense - 195.4 ypg (8th); Total Defense - 298.8 ypg (6th).
STEELERS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 132.5 ypg (10th); Passing Offense - 247.7 ypg (5th); Total Offense - 380.2 ypg (3rd). Rushing Defense - 87.5 ypg (2nd); Passing Defense - 220.6 ypg (20th); Total Defense - 308.1 ypg (8th).
LAST MEETING: Dec. 26, 1999; Steelers, 30-20. At Pittsburgh, Bettis rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Panthers - Defensive linemen have combined for 33 of Carolina’s 42 sacks. … Walls’ 53 career TD receptions leave him one behind Denver’s Shannon Sharpe for second on the career list for tight ends. … WR Muhammad has six career 100-yard games against AFC teams. Steelers - Maddox has averaged 370.5 passing yards with seven TDs, two INTs and a 112.9 passer rating in two games against the NFC this season. … Five of RB Bettis’ seven TDs this season have come in the first half. … Pittsburgh’s defense allowed only three first downs last week and is giving up 17.6 per game, second-best in the AFC.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 2-4 on the road; Steelers - 3-2-1 at home.
INJURIES: Panthers - OUT: LB Dan Morgan (shoulder). QUESTIONABLE: LB Hannibal Navies (ankle); T Todd Steussie (knee). PROBABLE: WR Muhammad (knee); QB Peete (groin); TE Walls (foot). Steelers - OUT: TE John Allred (concussion). QUESTIONABLE: LB James Farrior (sternum); T Wayne Gandy (calf); WR Ward (hamstring). PROBABLE: LB Kendrell Bell (abdomen); RB Bettis (knee); S Lethon Flowers (quadricep); RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala (pectoral).
Blog Coverage from SB Nation
Logan Brock TE