Steelers Praise Henry Interception
Dec. 31, 1997
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ In Boston, it's called simply The Interception. In Pittsburgh, it's the Immaculate Interception _ in deference, of course, to the 25th anniversary of Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception.
To Steelers defensive end Kevin Henry, who made the play that potentially altered the course of the AFC playoffs, it was merely the most fortunate gamble of his career.
Henry was everywhere he shouldn't have been when he made the remarkable interception that led to the Steelers' 24-21 overtime victory over New England on Dec. 13. Because he did, the Steelers are in Pittsburgh _ not Foxboro, Mass. _ for Saturday's AFC divisional playoff rematch against the Patriots.
``I felt like we had nothing to lose,'' Henry said. ``We were struggling. We needed a big play, and I just took it upon myself to follow my instincts.''
With 2:10 remaining and the Patriots needing only a first down to run out the clock and secure a 21-13 victory, the 283-pound Henry stepped in front of a Drew Bledsoe pass and returned it 36 yards to the Patriots' 15-yard line.
The Steelers subsequently tied it on Kordell Stewart's touchdown pass to tight end Mark Bruener and 2-point conversion pass to Yancey Thigpen, then won it in overtime on Norm Johnson's 31-yard field goal.
Remarkably, Henry was intentionally out of position, roaming a strip of turf normally patrolled by linebackers or safeties, isolated in a zone where a running back or receiver could have easily sprinted by him for a big gain. He was supposed to shadow running back Dave Meggett, who had scored earlier on a 49-yard reception, yet something in his head told him to do otherwise.
Funny how a player can do everything wrong on a play, yet things can turn out so right.
``I probably shouldn't have been out that far,'' Henry said. ``I was just acting on instinct and I think he (Bledsoe) had a couple of guys in his face. That was the only place he could release the ball. But the grace of God, I was there and I picked the pass off.''
And by the grace of Kevin Henry, the Steelers (11-5) will be in Three Rivers Stadium for Saturday's divisional playoff game rather than Foxboro, where the Patriots (11-6) eliminated them 28-3 one year ago this weekend.
The Steelers got a double bonus by winning. They locked up not only the AFC Central and a first-round bye, but also secured an extra week for their injured regulars to heal.
Because the Steelers' Dec. 21 game at Tennessee in effect became meaningless when they won at New England, key starters such as running back Jerome Bettis and tackle Justin Strzelczyk haven't had to play since the Patriots' game.
By contrast, the Patriots played three significant games in a 13-day span, two against rival Miami, leaving them admittedly tired and banged up for an opponent that has beaten them six times in their last seven meetings.
They've also grown weary of explaining how they blew an eight-point lead with so little time left and so much to gain by winning.
``They stole that one from us,'' said cornerback Ty Law, who returned to his native Pittsburgh on the Patriots' day off Tuesday. ``It's really disappointing when you play your heart out like that, only to get slapped in the face.''
However, the Steelers get testy when it is suggested that luck was the key element in one of their most significant regular-season victories in years.
``There was nothing lucky about that game. We don't feel like we went in there and stole something,'' coach Bill Cowher said.
``The thing about this team is it finds ways to win games,'' receiver Charles Johnson said. ``It's not luck when you keep rising to the occasion.''
In New England, many still haven't gotten over the way the Patriots lost it _ their only loss in their last six games, but one that might prevent them from making a return trip to the AFC championship game.
``That's about as disappointing as a football game can get,'' Bledsoe said. ``Really.''