Off next week, Steelers can't say bye to opening frustration


PITTSBURGH - Next on the Pittsburgh Steelers' schedule comes Idle. So that means, officially speaking, another week of being pointless in Pittsburgh.

"After a loss like that, not scoring any points, the first game ...," Pittsburgh rookie receiver Plaxico Burress was saying after yesterday's 16-0 loss to the Ravens. "This is probably one of the worst times for a bye week."

The Steelers had to go back 11 years and 93 home games for the last time they were shut out at Three Rivers Stadium; that was the time they opened a season with a 51-0 loss to Art Modell's Cleveland Browns. This was 35 points closer, yet still just as disconcerting.

The defeat marked the Steelers' seventh in their past nine home games and 16th in their past 22 games anywhere. Almost every one of those losses came with insufficient offense. Only 10 times during that span did Pittsburgh score as many as two touchdowns.

Yesterday brought a new Steelers starting quarterback, Kent Graham (17-for-38 passes for 199 yards), and a new receiver threat, Burress (four catches for 77 yards), and a remodeled offensive line - but the same result. Actually, a worse result: Only once in the Steelers' previous 119 games were they shut out, and that came in a monsoon at Miami in 1998.

"The quarterback stayed on his back the whole entire game," receiver Troy Edwards said of Graham. "Sometimes, he was getting hit on three-step drops. I can't get up there and block. I thought the receivers, we got open and stuff. We just had a lot of pressure on the quarterback."

"I don't really think their secondary was all that great," Burress added. "It was one of those days when [the quarterback was] getting pressured. He must've gotten hit a hundred times."

The Ravens' first score came courtesy of a pressured Graham. Rob Burnett beat right guard Rich Tylski and clouted the Steelers quarterback, who fumbled off Burnett's right shoulder and into the open arms of Sam Adams at the Pittsburgh 14-yard line. Four plays later, Matt Stover booted the 23-yard field goal that would prove to be all the points the Ravens needed this day.

Graham threw for two first downs the first half, and that was it for Pittsburgh - which gained 39 yards (to Baltimore's 217) and failed to convert any of five third-down attempts during a boo-filled half.

In the second half, the Steelers staved off the Ravens' rush somewhat and mounted two offensive threats. They reached the Baltimore 27 on their opening drive, but Kris Brown hooked a 45-yard field-goal attempt. And, on their third possession of the half, they covered 84 yards in 14 plays, reaching the Ravens' 1 midway through the fourth quarter.

In came Kordell Stewart, back in his "Slash" situational role, yet his three plays at quarterback resulted in a Jerome Bettis carry for a 1-yard loss, an incomplete pass and a fumble on a Bettis handoff. Down rained more boos.

Graham returned on fourth-and-goal, and overthrew Burress on a fade pattern in the end zone. In all, the home team had seven plays from the Ravens' 5 or closer, and came away with nothing.

"I really didn't think anything like that could happen to us," rookie offensive tackle Marvel Smith said.

Same old Steelers - at least, the past two seasons.

"One time, I thought [Richard] Huntley made a great run, and he tripped over our own guy," linebacker Earl Holmes said, referring to a sweep that saw Huntley fall over a prone Dermontti Dawson. "We kind of helped them."

"Whenever you don't put any points on the board, you should get embarrassed, because that's your job," said Bettis, held to a Steelers' career-low 8 yards on nine rushes.

"You go down there first-and-five on the 5, and you had a couple of mistakes, and you just can't have them there. Embarrassed is the best way to kick yourself in gear."

Just two weeks of embarrassment until the Steelers get to play again, at Cleveland.

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