Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Wednesday, October 8, 2003
Some Steelers don't receive Ward's comments well


PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, upset at being shut out of the offense, pleaded with quarterback Tommy Maddox to "Throw me the ball," then upset some teammates with comments made during a team meeting.

Ward acknowledged Wednesday that he yelled for the ball while being held to two catches in the Steelers' 33-13 loss to Cleveland on Sunday. But he said his impromptu talk a day later was meant to motivate his teammates, not anger them.

"It was definitely an unfortunate incident," linebacker Jason Gildon said. "Hines is a guy who definitely plays with a lot of passion. I think at that moment he was just experiencing a lot of frustration."

Gildon didn't hear Ward's speech -- he was in a defensive meeting -- but was told about it later by teammates.

"I definitely would have handled it differently," Gildon said. "Given where we are, there's bigger things to worry about. We're sitting here 2-3, and the biggest problem we have is righting the ship, and I think that's what we should be concentrating on."

Ward, a Pro Bowl receiver who made a team-record 112 catches last season, has since absolved Maddox of blame, saying he realized while watching game tape that the quarterback was under constant pressure.

"Maybe people felt my reaction after the game was `Throw me the ball' or `I didn't get enough passes," Ward said. "Maybe some players took that the wrong way as me being selfish. I apologize if anybody thought that way. That's the first thing I got up and said to the team Monday. I didn't want people to think I was selfish. It was me being frustrated. To go out there and to lose to the Cleveland Browns on national TV, I was disgusted."

Ward decided to talk to his teammates because he sensed they were down 12 hours after being blown out at home for a second consecutive week. The Cleveland loss followed a 30-13 loss at home to Tennessee.

"We were just sitting in there, everybody's head was down, feeling bad," Ward said. "There's still a lot of games left and I wanted to let everyone know there has to be a sense of urgency of going out there and not having too many mistakes. Every game we lost was because of mistakes."

Ward was supportive of Maddox following the meeting, calling him "my guy" and urging the offense to rally around him.

Maddox didn't take offense at Ward's remarks, saying, "For him to step up in front of the team and challenge us and let us know that we are all in this together was great to see him do."

The Steelers (2-3) have lost three of four since beating Baltimore 34-15, allowing 30 or more points three times after doing so eight times last season. Maddox has been intercepted eight times, three returned for touchdowns.

But the Steelers' problems extend beyond the quarterback and the defense. The offensive line has provided only minimal time for Maddox to throw or for the NFL's 26th-ranked rushing offense to generate a running game.

As a result, coach Bill Cowher experimented with some different line combinations in practice Wednesday, with All-Pro guard Alan Faneca saying afterward he took some snaps at tackle.

The growing frustration with the way the Steelers are playing heading into Sunday's game at Denver (4-1) might be one reason why Ward's remarks weren't universally received as uplifting.

"It's just one of those situations like it doesn't really need to be said," Faneca said. "In my mind, we all know we've got to start playing better."