Rooney sides with referee on penalty

The team owner gave coach Bill Cowher another strong vote of confidence, despite the latest postseason flop.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Coach Bill Cowher may be surprised to learn who doesn't believe the Steelers were victimized by a bad call in their 34-31 playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney said Monday that referee Ron Blum's crew followed the letter of the NFL rule in calling a critical running-into-the-kicker penalty that led to the game-winning field goal.
As Joe Nedney missed a 31-yard field goal attempt in Saturday's divisional game, Dewayne Washington was called for the 5-yard penalty. Nedney then kicked a 26-yarder to end the Steelers' season and send the Titans to Sunday's AFC championship game in Oakland.
Cowher, still furious a half-hour after the game ended, called the penalty "ludicrous" and said no game should be decided on such a minor judgment call. Nedney suggested he embellished the contact to make it look more severe than it really was.
Still, Rooney said, "There's no question there was contact and when there's contact, they make the call. I think in a situation like that, it would have been better if he had not made it (the call), but ..."
Rooney also wouldn't criticize Blum for seeking clarification from a league official whether Cowher could seek a replay review of a long punt return. Cowher argued that Derrick Mason's knee hit the ground during the return.
Blum initially announced that he did not think the play could be reviewed, only to be told that it could. He then upheld Cowher's challenge.
"The official should know the rules, but the league said -- and I'm not sticking up for the league -- that he did the right thing," Rooney said. "It's the old story, if you don't know something, you get a book and read it."
Rooney gave Cowher another strong vote of confidence, despite the team's latest postseason failure.
Successes, failures
The Steelers fell to 7-8 in the playoffs under Cowher. Since Cowher's hiring in 1992, they have advanced to the Super Bowl only once despite winning their division seven times and playing host to the AFC championship game four times.
Still, Rooney said, "It was maybe one of his best jobs. Before the thing even started, everybody has us on a plateau that we were automatically in the Super Bowl without playing any games."
Rooney liked how Cowher kept the team together despite unexpectedly bad season-opening losses to New England (30-14) and Oakland (30-17) and a massive overhaul of the offense in which Tommy Maddox unexpectedly replaced Kordell Stewart at quarterback.
"We struggled a little bit at the beginning, because of a change in the way people were attacking us," Rooney said. "We also changed quarterbacks. But we showed the ability to come back and the team really did well. This is a tough league with a lot of competition.
"I thought Bill Cowher did a great job, motivating the team."
Stewart, the starter for most of the previous five seasons, is expected to be traded or released during the off-season. Stewart's salary cap value would be $7.9 million next season, far too much for any team to pay for a backup quarterback.
"Kordell and I talked, and I'm hoping the best for him and he's hoping the best for me," Maddox said. "All those things will work out for the best."
Batch may be back
With Maddox now locked into the starter's job, the Steelers may try to re-sign former Lions starter Charlie Batch to be Maddox's backup. Batch did not play a down this season as the Steelers' No. 3 quarterback, making $450,000.
Rooney declined to comment on Stewart's situation. However, Stewart seems eager to move on next season to a team that will offer him the chance to start.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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