Roethlisberger downgraded; Maddox ready in case

Roethlisberger downgraded; Maddox ready in case

PITTSBURGH – Steelers coach Bill Cowher downgraded Ben Roethlisberger to questionable for Sunday's game in Houston.

Even though Roethlisberger returned to the practice field Thursday, Cowher said: "He has just not responded as quickly as I had hoped and his status is day-to-day."

In the locker room, Roethlisberger winked and said "I don't miss games."

If Roethlisberger's optimism overreaches his reality, the Steelers will turn to Tommy Maddox, who's coming off what he called one of the best training camps of his career.

"Like a fine wine, you get better with age," said the 34-year-old Maddox. "I worked real hard this off-season at getting back to working on my release and my feet. It felt good early in camp and it continued throughout."

"He had a good camp. He really did," said Cowher. "I thought he performed very well which is why I didn't even need to see him in the last preseason game. He had an excellent training camp."

Maddox threw a team-low 18 preseason passes and had a team-high 61 percent completion percentage with his 11 completions. He said he's ready to return to the starting position he held for most of the 2002-03 seasons.

The Houston Texans would be the ideal opponent, based on Maddox's past, but Maddox doesn't see it that way.

"I don't think you go into games thinking like that," he said. "I think if you go in with any ulterior motives that's when you do things you probably shouldn't do."

Against the Texans in 2002, Maddox made a miserable return after missing two games. He suffered a back injury at Tennessee that caused temporary paralysis, and in his return against the Texans Maddox fumbled and threw two interceptions. Each turnover was returned for a touchdown and the Steelers lost, 24-6, despite outgaining the Texans, 422-47.

Maddox was asked if that's a game he'd like to erase from his memory.

"No, not really," he said. "The circumstances were such that if I'd have played well I probably would've been shocked with myself coming off what I'd dealt with. I knew I had to get back in there sometime and get that game out of the way, and it didn't go very well.

"I was happy to walk off the field given the last three weeks and what I'd been through. To play a full game and walk off the field, it was very successful."

The rest of the Steelers were dumbfounded by the final score. Running backs coach Dick Hoak told players this week the Steelers would've won had they punted on first down.

"Obviously you wish you had a couple plays back," Maddox said. "But you can go through every game and wish you had a couple plays back.

"If that would've started a downward slide and we wouldn't have played well the rest of the year, than yeah, you probably would look back at that and wonder what if. But to be a play away from being in the AFC Championship game, that was just a blip on the radar. There were so many things that happened that year, and so many great things that happened after that game, that I didn't think about it too much."

The Steelers rebounded from the 13th-week loss to the Texans with three consecutive wins. They finished the regular-season 10-5-1. In the first round of the playoffs, Maddox rallied the Steelers from a 24-7 deficit to an overtime win against the Cleveland Browns. He passed for a team post-season record 367 yards in the win. The Steelers were eliminated the following week by the Titans in overtime.

Maddox returned in 2003 as the starting quarterback, but he never could recapture the magic of that 2002 season, Texans game and all.

"The good thing is I don't think there's anything this league can dish out that I haven't seen before," Maddox said after Thursday's practice. "I'll be well prepared. I prepare every game like I'm going to start. If they need me to go in there, I'll be ready to go in there and help the team win."

NOTES – Cowher said Ike Taylor will start at left cornerback in place of Willie Williams. "Willie's getting close to 100 percent," Cowher said, "but I've felt Ike's played well enough at this point and I feel comfortable with him being out there." … Cowher also said that running back Duce Staley "probably had his best day of work but he will still be questionable, and Jerome (Bettis) is coming along quite well."

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