Well last weekend’s game was certainly too close for comfort. If the Steelers aren’t going to finish their opponents, they might want to get their acts together before playing New England and Baltimore in the coming weeks as Brandt discussed yesterday. Anyways, I’ve just gotten word that I will be unable to attend this weekend’s game up in Phoenix due to work constraints later on Sunday down in Tucson, so that kinda sucks. Still I’ll be able to watch the game, and hopefully the Steelers can bring the same energy they brought in the 1st Half of last week’s game here to the Valley of the Sun. Much like every Wednesday I’ll be doing a countdown and discussing the best games played between the Steelers and their upcoming opponents.
For this countdown I will be only including the Top Games from the series since 1988 when the Bidwell’s moved the Cardinals franchise to Phoenix. Why you may ask? Well, much like the Colts list I constructed, I figured that the Cardinals have become Arizona’s team now. So with that in mind I decided to only discuss three games this week, because the Steelers have only played against the Cardinals six times since their move to Arizona. Anyways, hit that “Continue Reading” button and take a look at what I consider to be the Top 3 games from the Steelers vs. Cardinals series:
November 30, 1997
Steelers Escape a Desert Trap Game by Bus with O.T. Win
Steelers 26 – Cardinals 20 (O.T.)
If you asked me to pick any game from Jerome Bettis’ career with the Steelers that exemplified how much of a bad-ass that he truly was that nobody ever remembers, I’d have to choose one in particular. It was Bettis’ outstanding day at Sun Devil Stadium in 1997 that almost nobody remembers, yet Jerome came up with one of the biggest statistical games of his career to win the game for the Steelers.
Heading into their Week 14 matchup against the lowly Arizona Cardinals, the (8-4) Steelers were coming off a tough loss the week before to an Eagles team that was certainly no juggernaut. Luckily for the Steelers they were still able to maintain their lead in the A.F.C. Central because Jacksonville had been upset that same week by Cincinnati and the status quo in the division stood.
Arizona (3-9) on the other hand was languishing in last place in the N.F.C. East, had a Rookie in Jake Plummer starting at QB, and outside of CB Aeneas Williams and WR Rob Moore, their fans had very little to cheer about. Still, the conditions were right for the Steelers to fall into a “trap game” if they were not focused: road game, lowly team with nothing to lose, and a game against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos the next week.
As a 10 year old I figured that the Steelers would roll over Arizona and I was proven correct when the Steelers came out on fire to start the game. Kordell Stewart marched his team down the field on their opening possession and Jerome Bettis eventually took the ball into the end zone from 2 yards out to put the Steelers ahead 7-0 early in the 1st Quarter. It certainly appeared that it would be smooth sailing from there for the Steelers, but as would be the theme all day, they couldn’t pull away from the Cardinals, and ASU’s own QB Jake Plummer never gave up.
Arizona put their first points on the board after Plummer drove his team into the Pittsburgh Red Zone but couldn’t turn their drive into 6 points. The Cardinals douche-tastic Kicker Joe Nedney came out and made a 32 yard Field Goal that made the score 7-3. The Steelers eventually responded before Half Time, and Norm Johnson increased the Steeler lead back to 7 with a 40 yard Field Goal that made the score 10-3 at the break.
The 1st Half was exactly what the Steelers didn’t want in this game, and as a 10 year old I was perplexed as to why my mighty Steelers weren’t dominating this game against such a pathetic foe. To me, having 5 more wins made them far and away the better team, and the concept of a “trap game” and the fact that the Steelers had to travel all the way across the country to play the game against a team with nothing to lose and young talent didn’t factor in at all.
The 3rd Quarter was a nightmare for me to watch because the Cardinals were not only moving the ball, but scoring TD’s to boot. I became distraught when the Cardinals took their opening possession of the 2nd Half all the way down the field for a TD to tie the score at 10 on a 3 yard TD pass from Plummer to WR Frank Sanders. The Steelers answered with a scoring drive of their own on their ensuing possession to alleviate some of my adolescent yet overly obsessive stress. Led by some bulldozing running by Bettis (who had been eating up clock and yards all game long), the Steelers went ahead 17-10 on a 7 yard TD run by Jerome. Unfortunately the Steelers’ Defense which had done a phenomenal job in the 1st Half allowed Jake “The Snake” (even though there are other Pac-10 teams I despise way more) to tie the score again when he hit his TE Chris Gedney on an 11 yard TD! As the 4th Quarter started, the Steelers found themselves in a dogfight at crappy Sun Devil Stadium with a team that was nowhere in their league.
The Steelers eventually took the lead again on a 39 yard Field Goal by Johnson, and all Pittsburgh needed was a defensive stop and successive score to win the game. Yet sure enough, Plummer would not quit and he drove the Cardinals all the way inside the Steelers’ 5 yard line with under 6 minutes to go in the game. In a stroke of luck for the Steelers, the Cardinal ‘ 3rd and Goal attempt from the 1 yard line was stoned when FB Larry Centers was stopped at the two and Joe Nedney came on to tie the game at 20 on a 19 yard Field Goal with just over 4 minutes remaining. The Steelers had a clock eating drive aided by some power running by Bettis net zero points and the game eventually went to Over Time. I was so nervous because if the Steelers lost the game, they would be a game behind Jacksonville who had just squeaked by the Ravens earlier in the day.
Arizona won the coin toss, but the Steelers’ Defense stepped up and thanks to sacks by ILB Levon Kirkland and OLB Jason Gildon, Arizona was forced to punt. The Steelers found themselves 52 yards away from a TD, and a couple of First Downs away from a makeable but long Johnson Field Goal attempt. Stewart, who had an average but intelligent and efficient day (18 for 35 for 179 yards 0 TD’s but 0 INT’s) found his favorite target of 1997 WR Yancey Thigpen on passes of 22 and 12 yards to get the Steelers deep into Cardinals’ territory. Then with just under 10:00 left in O.T. the Steelers found themselves knocking on the door to win the game and gave it to their “closer” that was in his prime in 1997: Jerome Bettis.
From the 10 yard line, the Steelers could have easily sent in Norm Johnson who was for all intents and purposes a lock to make that chip shot. Yet this was the 1997 Steelers, and excitement was their forte. Stewart turned around and gave the ball to Bettis who headed right and followed great blocks by RT Justin Strzelczyk, C Dirt Dawson, and backup FB Jon Witman into the end zone to win the game for the Steelers 26-20!
Bettis’ (and the O-Line’s) ass-busting and above-and-beyond performance of 36 carries for 142 yards and 3 TD’s had saved the game for the Steelers, and would eventually win the Division for them and earn them a 1st Round Bye in the playoffs. The Defense had accumulated 10 sacks, (3 by Carnell Lake and 1.5 Kevin Henry were the Top leaders that day) and had done just enough to thwart a comeback by the Cardinals.
The Steelers had dominated the entire game on both sides of the ball and despite the Cardinals’ best efforts, the Steelers survived the trap game by riding “The Bus” to a victory. When people ask me what I think of when I think of how much of a bad-ass Jerome Bettis was, I’ll always point to this game. This game was a classic that many don’t remember, but it was one of Jerome’s best days as a Steeler and he saved the game for them with his awesome performance.