Stewart caps Steelers' recovery

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American football


It has been an odds-defying season, and when the half-time score from Riverfront Stadium was flashed across America's TV screens a nation of armchair punters could be forgiven for concluding that they had just found this week's shock. The Pittsburgh Steelers were trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 31-13, and another upset seemed there for the staking.

The biggest surprise was still to come though. The Steeler offense, which has frequently carried all the menace of a UN mandate, did not so much slip into gear, as zoom into warp factor eight. Thirty-six unanswered points later the Steelers had won 49-31.

Neil O'Donnell threw two touchdown passes and the much-criticised Bam Morris ran for three more in the final 22 minutes, but the name really to look out for in future is Kordell Stewart.

Stewart, an outstanding quarterback in college, plays back-up to O'Donnell and at wide receiver. He created a sensation when he threw a TD 10 days' ago against Cleveland, and on Sunday caught a 71-yard TD pass for the go-ahead score. "Kordell Stewart gives them a different dimension on offence, he's tough to defence," the Cincinnati head coach, Dave Shula, said.

Normal service was resumed by the Dallas Cowboys, after their error-ridden defeat by the San Francisco 49ers last week. They travelled to Oakland to take on a Raider team widely regarded as being the closest to them in terms of overall talent. A 34-21 Cowboy victory put both teams' seasons in perspective: the Cowboys are still the best in the league, the Raiders still some way from matching their bravado. Emmitt Smith ran for 111 yards and a hat-trick of TDs.

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, the Cowboys play host to the Kansas City Chiefs, whose 10-1 record is the best in the league. The Chiefs, who appear to play better without Joe Montana than with him, warmed up for their severest test with a victory at home to Houston that was a lot closer than it should have been. With the score 13-13 inside the final minute, the Chiefs seemed destined for their fourth overtime game of the season. But with 15 seconds left Mark Collins scooped up Todd McNair's fumble for a late matchwinner.

The annual Wayne Fontes job-saving exercise is already underway in Detroit, with the Lions head coach, whose beleaguered status has become almost as traditional as the Thanksgiving game, this time having his insecurity made official. William Clay Ford, who awarded Fontes a new contract at the end of last season, said recently: "Take our roster and evaluate it. Put our team up against just about anybody else's personnel.We're pretty good. Three and six [the Lions' record at the time] is pretty bad."

Five and six, the Lions' record after the defeat of the Chicago Bears, is a bit better but Fontes knows that unless the Lions make the play-offs this year he will attain the same status in Detroit as the Model T. History.