THE STEELERS 1978 REGULAR SEASON BEGINS IN BUFFALO

The Steelers would travel to Rich stadium to play their season opener and were heavy favourites to beat the Bills. After a 3-11 season, Buffalo brought in Chuck Knox from Los Angeles as head coach.

Although the Bills were winless in their exhibition games, Coach Noll was cautious and said how surprised he was by how well preseason the Bills had looked on film. Buffalo were expected to come out playing ball control and run and run.

“They don’t monkey around,” observed Steelers defensive coordinator George Perles. “They are not going to give anything away. You have to beat them. Knox is starting to build a foundation. He’s not getting away from his philosophy. “

The Bills had drafted Terry Miller to replace O.J. Simpson, who had been traded to the 49ers and although he might not start, the Steelers were expecting to see a lot of him. Pittsburgh were also hoping their running game would begin to roll. Terry Bradshaw stated he had seen signs of improvement during the week’s practice.

1978 Game 1: The Pittsburgh Steelers at the Buffalo Bills

Photo by Vicki ValerioAfter a scoreless first quarter, Tony Dungy ignited the Steelers offense when he picked off a deflected pass to set up a Steelers drive on their 35. Eight plays later John Stallworth danced around the Bills cornerback Charles Romes to score with a 28-yard touchdown pass.

On the first play of the Steelers next drive, Stallworth moved the chains 38 yards and then five runs and a one-yard touchdown carry by Franco Harris put the Steelers two scores ahead at halftime.

If Stallworth was the star Steeler in the first half, it was Bennie Cunningham who took over that roll in the second earning him a game ball with his three catches for 70 yards. Sidney Thornton’s 2-yard touchdown run increased the Steelers advantage at the beginning of the final quarter.

After Buffalo had replaced quarterback Joe Ferguson with veteran Bill Munson, the Bills found some form. Munson threw a touchdown pass to former Steeler Frank Lewis before the Bills added a field goal reducing the Steelers lead to 21-10.

When Terry Bradshaw guided the Steelers on a drive of 73 yards that finished with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Theo Bell, the Steelers win looked complete. Buffalo hit back though with a 3-yard touchdown catch of their own to reduce their deficit, but the Steelers took a 28-17 victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 28 at the Buffalo Bills 17
Rich Stadium September 3 1978; 65,147

Passing: Bradshaw 14-19-2TD-1INT-217
Ferguson 3-10-0-1INT-20, Munson 10-16-0—2TD-0-171

Rushing: Harris 27-96-1TD, Thornton 7-33-1TD, Bleier 6-19, Bradshaw 3-(-6)

Receiving: Stallworth 3-86-1TD, Cunningham 3-70, Bell 1-15-1TD, Harris 3-32

“I’ll take 28 points every game,” acknowledged Coach Noll.

“A lot of credit should go to Bradshaw,” said John Stallworth. “He was picking up what they were doing. All we did was catch the ball.”

“Chuck kept telling us to relax and let the good times roll,” offered Terry Bradshaw, who had struggled through preseason with a broken nose. “That’s easier said than done. I was a little unsure. I didn’t want to make mistakes. I hadn’t really taken the team on any long drives. I knew I could do it, but I hadn’t done it. I could eat and I couldn’t sleep this week.”

AFC Central
Cleveland 24 San Francisco 7
Kansas City 24 Cincinnati 23
Atlanta 20 Houston 14

A BUOYANT COACH NOLL

After their win in Buffalo, Coach Noll was unusually vibrant and full of praise for his players at his weekly press conference. His major accolades went to L.C. Greenwood, John Stallworth, Bennie Cunningham, John Stallworth, Terry Bradshaw and the defense, of which the coach acknowledged, “Except for the last three Buffalo drives, played superb football.”

Coach Noll described Greenwood as having an exceptional day and Cunningham’s blocking as well as he’s ever blocked before adding Bradshaw had “one of his better days running the football and throwing it”. The offensive line showed, “crispness.”

The coach even managed to praise rookie Tom Beasley, who was subbing for Steve Furness, “as someone who brings a lot of hustle to our football team.”

ALVIN MAXSON REJOINS THE STEELERS

Stealing a leaf out of the Al Davis Book of Tricks, the Steelers reinstated Maxson onto their roster after trading “an unspecified past consideration” to the Chicago Bears for the player. “Jim Finks is a former Steeler,” laughed Dan Rooney as he referred to the Bears’ general manager Finks to explain the past considerations.

The Bears did the Steelers a favour by signing Maxson and placing him on their roster for their game against St. Louis to enable the Steelers to make a trade that overcame the NFL’s waiver restriction. Maxson didn’t even travel to Chicago, spending the weekend in a Pittsburgh hotel waiting for the transaction to become official.

THE 1978 STEELERS

After the maneuvering that put Maxson on the roster, the Steelers 1978 squad was finally in place. They would begin the second week of the regular season with 22 players having two Super Bowl rings and John Banaszak with one while 22 had never played on a Super Bowl team.

After a bad 1975 draft that saw only Banaszak remaining, the team had five players from the 1976 draft and nine from 1977 still in the squad. All bar two players were drafted or picked up as free agents by the Steelers with only Roy Gerela and Alvin Maxson having played for another NFL team.

Art Rooney Jr., head of the scouting department, acknowledged, “If you have two bad years in a row in the draft, there’s reason to worry, but that hasn’t happened.”

RANDY REUTERSHAN

Randy Reutershan media guide photoWhen the Steelers were decided to bolster their special teams, they selected Pitt’s Randy Reutershan in the sixth round of the draft. As captain of their special teams, Reutershan had been instrumental in helping Pitt to a national championship and his 4.4 speed helped that cause.

“A lot of people are surprised that I’m here,” Reutershan admitted before adding, “but that just gives me something to work for. People say that if I can’t do something, I shouldn’t be here, but that just wants me to prove them wrong.”

Reutershan’s assignment on special teams is to restrain the outside men who attempt to block a kick and then prevent the return up the middle. “It gives me a little more freedom to go for the ball,” he says. Reutershan began training camp at defensive back so is still studying his new position.

“John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Theo Bell have been a big help to me with learning the patterns,” he told the Pittsburgh Press. “In college we ran mostly against man-to-man. Here, with all the complex zones, you’re running a pattern into an area as opposed to a man.”

Recognising the talent he is playing with, Reutershan acknowledged, “This team has the two best receivers in the league. I’m learning things here I couldn’t learn with any team anywhere else.

SEAHAWKS NEXT FOR THE STEELERS

Game two for the Steelers would be the visit of the Seattle Seahawks who lost their season opener 24-20 to San Diego. Seattle head coach Jack Patera said, “We played about as well as I thought we could play and we lost last week,” before observing, “We can play with the Pittsburgh Steelers. We can play with anybody, but of course the outcome of the game is what you’re concerned about.”

The second year expansion team had a 5-9 season in 1977 that included a 30-20 loss in Pittsburgh after going into the final quarter tied at 13-13. The Seahawks have limitations on defense, but behind quarterback Jim Zorn, there was always the chance they could outscore their opponents.

1978 Game 2: The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) vs the Seattle Seahawks (0-1)

Jack Lambert media photoThe Steelers and Seahawks ground out a close fought game under a hot September sun. Defense dominated the first quarter and the Steelers took advantage of a Jack Lambert fumble recovery with a 50-yard drive that took the game into the second period and saw the first points scored. The Steelers took a lead when Terry Bradshaw found Lynn Swann with a touchdown pass of 4 yards.

With Seattle stifling the Steelers running game Bradshaw, despite an injury to his throwing hand after hitting an opponents helmet, went to the air with some success and added another score after leading his team 76 yards. The drive finished with his 20-yard touchdown pass which found Sidney Thornton crossing in the end zone in the middle of a crowd and Pittsburgh went 14-0 ahead.

Seattle reduced their deficit when quarterback Jim Zorn moved the Seahawks 80 yards in eight plays highlighted by a 42-yard completion to his tight end Ron Howard. The Seahawks surprised the Steelers with an onside kick they recovered, but were unable to benefit from the enterprising play when they were held to a field goal attempt that they missed.

The Seahawks added to their score in the third quarter with a 20-yard field goal, but with both defenses prevailing scoring opportunities were scarce.

In the final period, the Steelers drove 74 yards before stalling on their opponent’s one. With a four on the down box, Chuck Noll who is a firm believer in the “sure three” philosophy sent in the field goal unit.  After calling a timeout and being urged by his players to go for it, Noll sent the offense back on. Franco Harris went over right guard and the decision was vindicated.  

The Steelers failed twice to add to their total in the final six minutes when Roy Gerela missed a 31-yard field goal attempt and Bradshaw fumbled, but they moved to 2-0 after their 21-10 victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 21 vs the Seattle Seahawks 10
Three Rivers Stadium September 10 1978; 48,277

Passing: Bradshaw 17-33-2TD-0INT-213
Zorn 11-22-0-1INT-174

Rushing: Harris 18-64-1TD, Bleier 12-48, Moser 2-20, Thornton 5-13, Bradshaw 3-6

Receiving: Swann, 6-65- 1TD, Cunningham 4-45, Stallworth 2-38, Thornton 1-20-1TD, Grossman 1-11, Bleier 2-30, Harris 1-4

Chuck Noll told the post-game press conference, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is we won. The bad news is we didn’t do some of the things we wanted to… like possess the football.”

Noll went on to explain, “They loaded up against the run. That’s why the play-action passes worked. I’d be fine with me if everyone forced us to throw.”

Jack Lambert, who had an interception, recovered a fumble and made five solo tackles said, “I can’t wait until it gets down to 10 degrees. It’s too hot for football.”

DIVISION RIVALS BENGALS NEXT

As Coach Noll was grabbing some lunch before his weekly press conference, it was suggested by one reporter that the win over the Seahawks the previous Sunday had been dull. The coach was quick to retort, “It might have been dull to you, but Jim Zorn scared the hell out of me. You must be used to reading your own stories.”

Addressing his unbeaten Steelers at his press conference, Coach Noll acknowledged, “We still have a long season ahead of us. The one thing I’ve learned from history is that there are certain truths, those old truisms like, ‘you play them one at a time.’”

Next on the team’s schedule was a trip to Cincinnati. The previous visit on a cold December afternoon in 1977 had not been an enjoyable one for the Steelers as they were frozen out 17-10 after Coach Noll slipped and broke his arm the night before.  

This season, the Steelers will face a winless Bengals who would be without their starting quarterback Ken Anderson who had fractured his finger. His replacement John Reaves has completed 25 of 50 passes, but has managed to miss his receivers at key moments.

“I’m sure the fans are probably down,” admitted Bengals fullback Pete Johnson. “We lost two in a row and they’re wondering whether the Bengals are going to have a good season or not. But the only loss we really feel bad about is the first one, against Kansas City. Last Sunday I think we played a helluva game.”

Looking at the visit of the Steelers, Johnson said, “They look very good. To me, the Steelers have always been a real disciplined team. They have some older guys and they really know what they’re doing out there.”

The stats reveal the Bengals are ranked 12th in total offense and also on defense compared to the Steelers 4th ranking on offense and 3rd in total defense. Bengals coach was realistic when he said, “We can’t look back. They’re a tough team. Our games with them are always hard fought.”

1978 Game 3: The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) at the Cincinnati Bengals (0-2)

Franco Harris Pittsburgh Press photoThe Steelers controlled this game from the initial 37-yard run from Franco Harris (picture left) until their first punt two minutes from the end of the third period. In between, the Steelers offense dazzled while the defense suppressed everything the Bengals could muster.

Rocky Bleier finished Pittsburgh’s first drive with a 5-yard touchdown run and the offense was soon back on the field after Ron Johnson intercepted Cincinnati’s John Reaves first play. Four plays later a touchdown run of 15 yards from Harris saw the Steelers take a 14-0 lead six minutes into the first quarter.

Cincinnati scored their only point at the beginning of the second quarter with a 33-yard field goal, but it was the Steelers who were dominating despite Roy Gerela missing his fourth straight field goal after Bleier had carried 5 times for 46 yards in one drive.

As the half time approached, Bradshaw, who began the game as the AFC’s leading passer, completed a 48-yard pass to Bennie Cunningham before throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass to his tight end.  

Midway through the third quarter, Lynn Swann hauled in a touchdown catch of 12 yards for the Steelers final score while a Tony Dungy interception ensured the Steelers defense prevailed as the Steelers took the 28-3 victory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 28 at the Cincinnati Bengals 3
Riverfront Stadium September 17 1978; 50,760

Passing: Bradshaw 14-19-2TD-1INT-242
Reaves 16-32-0-2INT-114

Rushing: Bleier 12-75-1TD, Harris 16-73-1TD, Thornton 15-45, Bradshaw 1-10, Moser 2-7, Maxson 2-5

Receiving: Cunningham 4-107-1TD, Swann 5-78,1TD, Stallworth 2-27, Grossman 1-18

“It was a good day for us,” Coach Noll acknowledged.

Asked if he was playing his best football, Terry Bradshaw replied, “Yes and I don’t know why, but I don’t even want to find out. Whatever it is, maybe it’ll last all year. Maybe it will be one of those dream years people have been wanting me to have.” Bradshaw was philosophical when adding, “It’s a quarterback’s dream. It’s not supposed to happen to me, but it has.”

AFC Central
Houston Oilers 20 San Francisco 19
Cleveland Browns 24 Atlanta Falcons 16

Pittsburgh Steelers 3-0
Cleveland Browns 3-0
Houston Oilers 2-1
Cincinnati Bengals 0-3

NOLL PRAISES MIKE WEBSTER

At his weekly press conference, Coach Noll reflected on the Steelers win over the Bengals and started with plaudits for Mike Webster. “He did a fantastic job with a guy (Bengals nose tackle Wilson Whitley) over him who’s eventually going to be a hell of a football player. If they can manhandle your center, they can screw up your whole running game. Webster didn’t let that happen. He did a magnificent job, a great job. That was just a beginning.”

The coach went on to lavish praise on his team. “Our football team is functioning with a pretty good concept of what it’s all about, what it takes,” Noll said. “Things aren’t out of perspective at all.”

LOREN TOEWS EARNS HIS STRIPES

Loren Toews media photoLoren Toews had played in the shadow of the Steelers veteran linebackers, but assistant coach Woody Widenhofer felt he played better than Jack Ham or Jack Lambert during preseason.

“Our people couldn’t handle him,” acknowledged Widenhofer, but an injury before the final exhibition game sidelined the player until the Cincinnati game. “I’ve got five guys who can start, but I can only put three linebackers out there at one time,” Widenhofer admitted, but the coach felt Toews time had come.

“He’s been through an awful lot,” conceded the coach. “Last year he was carrying the load with a partially torn cartilage in his knee. It really hindered his mobility and that’s his strongest suit.”

BENNIE CUNNINGHAM ESSENTIAL PART OF THE OFFENSE

Vito Stellino suggested in the Post-Gazette that if there was one improvement from the Steelers Super Bowl offense, it was Bennie Cunningham’s emergence as a pass receiving threat that had made the team’s passing game even more portent.

During the Super Bowl years a tight end was simply another blocking back in disguise. Stellino used the move of Larry Brown to an offensive lineman as confirmation of the concept acknowledging that as a tight end, Brown never caught more than 17 passes with Terry Bradshaw looking mostly for his wide receivers.

Cunningham had now become an integral part of the offense ensuring that defensive backs could no longer double-team Lynn Swann or John Stallworth and when Cunningham catches the ball, he’s the hardest to bring down.

UNBEATEN BROWNS NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE

The unbeaten Browns might be travelling to Pittsburgh without their main offensive weapon running back Greg Pruitt. In the first two games of the season, he rushed for 226 yards and caught eight passes. The Browns managed a win over Atlanta without Pruitt, but facing the Steelers was a different matter.

Although undefeated, Rutigliano was realistic saying, “The teams we’ve played just haven’t had Pittsburgh’s balance,” and he acknowledged a more accurate assessment of his team can be made after the game in Pittsburgh.

The Browns new head coach Sam Rutigliano was pleased with the performance of quarterback Brian Sipe, who suffered a season ending shoulder injury against the Steelers the previous season. “Each week he is getting more and more control of what we’re trying to do.”

NO RECOGNITION FOR STEELERS OFFENSIVE LINE

The Steelers were the only team to win two Super Bowls and not have a single offensive lineman win All-Pro or Pro Bowl recognition. “I always thought you just did your job every week and those things took care of themselves,” said Jon Kolb.

“We can’t be like a bunch of ladies at the social club worried about whose canned goods look the best,” granted Kolb, “but I think we have the best line in pro football.”
Mike Webster admitted, “I really don’t care. I’d just as soon win the Super Bowl and make a lot of money.”

Vito Stellino in the Post-Gazette recognised the rotation system of the Steelers had made it difficult for the players to get individual recognition, but now that was a thing of the past.
Recognising the performance of Mike Webster in the Cincinnati game, Kolb said, “I don’t see how Webby can miss this year.”

Stellino suggested the line’s only problem is spending too much time sharing the credit. “I got a lot of help from the guards last week,” acknowledged Webster. “And the guys like Kolb, Moon and Riggy have been around a lot longer than I have and deserve their shot first.”

“Riggy” was a reference to Sam Davis, who had earned the nickname rigor mortis and aged 34 was continuing to turn in Pro Bowl performances. “He’s playing a lot better than he did before he got old,” Webster joked.

“Riggy’s man hasn’t reached the quarterback once in four exhibition and three regular season games,” said Kolb. “But nobody keeps track of stats like that. What about Moon? Who’s better at downfield blocking than he is? And Larry Brown? Who could have learned how to play offensive tackle as fast as he did?”

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL

After the Steelers game against the Browns, Sunday Night Football will make its debut with the New England Patriots playing at the Oakland Raiders. The experiment was a result of the success of Super Bowl XII which started at 1800 after previous championship games had kicked off earlier.

The NFL would also be playing a Thursday Night game for the first time when the Dallas Cowboys would host the Minnesota Vikings.

BROWNS HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED A VICTORY IN THREE RIVERS STADIUM

Cleveland’s coach Sam Rutigliano brushes off the fact the Browns had never won in Three Rivers saying that is a “ghost” from the past. “I’ve never been there with the Browns,” Rutigliano declares.

“The key to Pittsburgh is number 32,” Rutigliano predicted while indicating stopping the run will force Terry Bradshaw to throw too often. “If we can get Bradshaw to put the ball up 35 times, we’ll win the game,” Rutigliano forecast.

“We’re in better shape to face the Steelers than we have been in years,” Browns quarterback Brian Sipe said. “We’re in a better frame of mind. We’re more relaxed because there is such a loose atmosphere around here. I’ve never won a game in Pittsburgh, but we’re ready for a big win – and I think we’ll get it.”

1978 Game 4: The (3-0) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (3-0) Cleveland Browns

Roy Gerela recovers his onside kickIn a defensive contest that saw six field goals kicked and the game go into overtime, it eventually took a trick play to win the game.

Although Roy Gerela put the Steelers in front with his 19-yard field goal in the first quarter, Pittsburgh’s offense took the day off. While they were in hiding, Cleveland’s Don Cockroft gave the Browns a 9-3 lead as the game entered the final period of regulation.

The Steelers reduced their deficit after Gerela kicked a 33-yard field goal. Gerela (picture left) recovered his onside kick to provide Pittsburgh with the opportunity to extend the game into overtime. Gerela’s field goal attempt from 36 yards gave the Steelers the tie.

The last play of regulation time saw Cleveland’s Brian Sipe hurl the football from the Steelers 45 into the end zone and watched Tony Dungy win the ball and return his interception 65 yards before being pushed out of bounds.

The Steelers won the coin toss to receive the ball first in overtime. The Steelers dodged an early bullet when the officials ruled Larry Anderson down before he fumbled while the Browns believe they had recovered a loose ball.

Nearly four minutes into overtime after moving the ball from their own 21 and successfully converting a fourth down, the Steelers had a second and nine at Cleveland’s 37. Bradshaw handed off to Rocky Bleier who gave it to Lynn Swann. The Browns bit on the ruse believing it to be a run. Swann pitched it back to Bradshaw and the quarterback found a wide open Bennie Cunningham in the end zone.

Cunningham's 37-yard touchdown catch saw the Steelers take a 15-9 victory that moved them to 4-0.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 15 vs the Cleveland Browns 9
Three Rivers Stadium September 24 1978; 49,513

Passing: Bradshaw 14-32-1TD-2INT-208
Sipe 14-32-0-2INT-139

Rushing: Harris 26-84, Bleier 9-28, Bradshaw 2-27

Receiving: Swann 6-83, Cunningham 2-69-1TD,Stallworth 2-40

“When you have to win on a ‘gadget play’ like that, that’s not run of the mill, that’s certainly not standard in our playbook,” commented Coach Noll before adding, “It was getting so dull around here, we felt we would liven things up. Give you writers something to write about except those up-the-middle, off-tackle plays.”

“It was definitely a letdown for us,” admitted Bradshaw. “We didn’t play football today. That first half we looked like we were out milking cows. We were in another world. It actually took a miracle play to bail us out.”

AFC Central
Los Angeles Rams 10 Houston Oilers 6
New Orleans 20 Cincinnati 18

Pittsburgh Steelers 4-0
Cleveland Browns 3-1
Houston Oilers 2-2
Cincinnati Bengals 0-4

STEELERS TRAVEL TO NEW YORK TO FACE THE JETS

The New York Jets team would be without their quarterback Richard Todd who broke his collar bone the week before and Jets Coach Walt Michaels acknowledged  they would play their second-string quarterback Matt Robinson against the Steelers.

Michaels told the Pittsburgh media that Robinson, who had only started five games, had been in every quarterback meeting which had prepared him mentally, but the only thing lacking was his field experience.

When New York’s task against the Steelers came up, Michaels responded, “No question about it, they a Super Bowl contender. They take the show to you.”

Robinson had faced the Steelers in 1977 and had only completed 7 of his 19 passes and thrown three interceptions in a 23-20 loss before being pulled from the game. “I really don’t think about it until you mention it,” he admitted, “but so far Pittsburgh hasn’t been too good to me, has it?”

In New York there was a newspaper strike so Robinson was enjoying the absence of the usual media scrutiny. “The attitude has been good at practice,” Robinson acknowledged. “Nobody’s pouting. Everybody’s maybe even a little more excited because they don’t want me to be nervous out there.”

Robinson knew the task he faced. “I can’t hurt the team by putting them in a hole, “ he conceded.  Playing in the shadow of Todd, Robinson accepted he wouldn’t try to do what the injured quarterback did.

The Steelers had allowed the least rushing yards of any team in the NFL and Robinson admitted, “They’re as hot as hell.”

STEELERS WILL SET A RECORD WITH WIN IN NEW YORK

Mike Wagner media photoOnly once before in 1973 had the Steelers gone 4-0 before they then lost 19-7 in Cincinnati. Having played a Bengals team without Ken Anderson, the Browns without Greg Pruitt and travelling to a Jets team without their starting quarterback Richard Todd, it would appear the football gods were looking down favourably on the Steelers.

Rocky Bleier thought differently. “I think the last two years have taught us a lesson,” he told the Pittsburgh Press. “It’s not like it was when we came off those two Super Bowl wins. We’re not as cocksure as we used to be. Our attitude back then was that we can beat everybody if we play our game. Well, those ifs became big question marks.”

Even though they were 4-0, the veteran Steelers knew how quickly a streak can change. In 1976, they began 1-4 before finishing 10-4.

Terry Bradshaw reflected on the Browns game, “A lot of things didn’t work last week, but we were still in the game,” before adding, “I honestly don’t think our team ever thought about losing.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Mike Wagner (picture left) was realistic saying, “The important part of the season will be the last half. We know that our tough games are ahead of us.”

STOP PITTSBURGH’S RUNNING GAME AND YOU STOP THE STEELERS

Traditionally the Steelers passing game has complemented their running game and opponents believed stopping the run was the way to stop the Steelers. The 1978 season revealed a change in their offense. After four games, Pittsburgh were ranked number one in passing offense.

Before the game against Cleveland, their coach Sam Rutigliano had boasted if he could stop the Steelers run and make Bradshaw throw 35 times, the Browns would win. As Pittsburgh’s ground game faltered, Bradshaw put the ball up 32 times. When his last pass went for a touchdown that won the game, Rutigliano’s theory was blown away.

1978 Game 5: The (4-0) Pittsburgh Steelers at the (2-2) New York Jets

The Steelers began their first series with five straight running plays before Terry Bradshaw took to the air and finished the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Lynn Swann.

The Jets then took over in the second quarter with their defense restricting the Steelers to just one first down in their next two possessions. The Jets’ offense unsuccessfully gambled on a fourth down for a score before on their next series they were successful with an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game.

While the Jets ground game was proving more effective than the Steelers, Bradshaw moved to an aerial assault. He completed five passes before John Stallworth’s 14-yard touchdown put the Steelers back in front while a New York field goal from 47 yards reduced Pittsburgh’s advantage to 14-10 at the half.

Bradshaw rolled over the Jets on the Steelers first two possessions of the second half. Moving the chains 63 yards on Pittsburgh’s first series, the Steelers extended their lead with Swann’s 26-yard touchdown catch. On their next possession, Pittsburgh added another touchdown with Sidney Thornton’s one-yard plunge and the Steelers were coasting.

With a lead of eighteen points, the Steelers appeared to ease off with Bradshaw throwing an interception setting up a Jets touchdown to reduce New York’s deficit. The Steelers then eventually got their running ground going to ensure they took the 28-17 victory.

The only sour note for Pittsburgh was the hit Bradshaw took just before the end of the game. Bradhsaw was helped off the field by his teammates.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 28 at the New York Jets 17
Shea Stadium October 1 1978; 52, 058


Bruce Crawford photo of a Matt Robinson lateral during the game

Passing: Bradshaw 17-25-3TD-1INT-189
Robinson 9-22-0-1INT-192

Rushing: Harris 20-67, Thornton 8-29-1TD, Bleier 6-22, Bradshaw 1-0, Moser 3-14, Maxson 1-6

Receiving: Swann 7-100-2TD, Stallworth 4-43-1TD, Smith 1-14, Bleier 2-18, Harris 1-7, Thornton 1-4, Cunningham 1-2

“It wasn’t one of our better games. We gave up 17 points, but we’re glad to have it. We’re 5-0 and they’ve got to chase us,” said Donnie Shell.

“The story was the offense,” offered Joe Greene.

“I’ve had great pass protection all year… I had all day to throw it… what are the chances of getting hurt?” acknowledged Terry Bradshaw.

“When you stop a great running team, you concede a few things,” offered New York’s Coach Walt Michaels. "We conceded some short passes."

“They’re the same Steelers,” said Jets guard Randy Rasmussen. “They’re a good team.”

AFC Central
Houston 16 Cleveland 13
San Francisco 28 Cincinnati 12

Pittsburgh 5 0
Cleveland 3 2
Houston 3 2
Cincinnati 0 5

STEELERS OFF TO FINEST EVER START

The headline in the Coshocton Tribune confirmed the Steelers had begun a season winning five straight for the first time. The newspaper went on to suggest Terry Bradshaw’s new found maturity was the reason why.

“Bradshaw, who had been criticised for impatience in previous seasons, took what the Jets defense gave him – including a crashing hit by blitzing linebacker Mike Hennigan  with 1:35 remaining that had the quarterback writhing in pain.”

At his weekly press conference, Coach Noll conceded the Steelers effort against the Jets wasn’t one of the team’s better ones. “It was good enough to win. That’s what counts, but we probably made more mistakes Sunday than we have in a long time.”

Most of the questions from reporters centred around the Bradshaw’s injured knee and whether he would be playing against the Steelers next opponents Atlanta. X-rays on the injury had proved negative, but the coach was cautious and he acknowledged that he didn’t know what his status was for the next game.

Although Bradshaw was listed as questionable, there was no doubting by his backup Mike Kruczek that Bradshaw would play. “I figure he’ll play,” said Kruczek. “He’s a tough guy. He comes back from injuries like this. He plays with a lot of pain and he is used to it.”

Coach Noll had changed the way his quarterbacks practiced at the start of the season. Previously the quarterbacks had split the snaps, but now the coach had Bradshaw taking all of the offensive snaps while Kruczek worked with the opposing team’s offense.

Kruczek thought the extra work in practice for Bradshaw was having a positive effect. “He has more confidence this year,” observed Kruczek. “He’s taking the stuff they’re giving him. He’s taking the intermediate pass instead of trying to win it on one play and he’s getting those long, sustained drives.”

RAY PINNEY TO START AGAINST THE FALCONS IN PLACE OF LARRY BROWN

Ray Pinney media photoThe third-year veteran offensive lineman Ray Pinney could be a starter on several other teams, but he was realistic about his role as a backup with the Steelers. “I’ve thought about that a lot,” Pinney revealed, “but I’m happy with my role. I have to be ready for everything. I'm like the 'finger in the dike type.'"

“Those people playing when they’re younger are on teams not in the playoffs. Linemen on those teams get beat up. This way, I can play three or four years longer.

I played more than half the games last year. It’s not like I’m riding the bench and never got off it.”

Taken in the second round of the 1976 draft, Pinney acknowledged his development years had been worthwhile, both physically and financially. The Steelers had made the playoffs both years, but it was only just now he was beginning to realise the personality of the Pittsburgh team that reached the Super Bowl.

“When I first came here, it just wasn’t what I thought it would be like,” Pinney admitted. “There were problems and we didn’t win a lot of games. It seemed like a lot of guys were living on past glory.”

He now sensed a change with the old guard and players like himself forming an effective partnership. “The older people give their experience. The younger guys are hungry and can give them a little bit of our enthusiasm.”

STEELERS FACE NFC'S FALCONS

The Falcons will fly into Pittsburgh with a familiar game plan with the intent of stopping the Steelers running game. Despite Terry Bradshaw’s prowess this season in a run-orientated league, opposing teams can always entertain the belief that quarterbacks can have an off day.

Atlanta had only allowed an average of 115.6 yards per game with 73 of those yards coming from Houston’s Earl Campbell on a pass play that was later reviewed and changed to a run. The Falcons aim was to stop the Steelers ground game and create the opportunity for an interception.

With Bradshaw throwing well, the Steelers had slipped to 6th in the AFC rushing standings while gaining more yards in the air than the ground. Despite his success with the passing game, Bradshaw hadn’t forgotten the run. “We’re definitely going to try to run the football,” he acknowledged. “We always try to do that.”

The Steelers had won eight straight against NFC opponents and were leading the AFC in total defense and against the run with 17 sacks. Although nine-point underdogs, Atlanta’s quarterback Steve Bartkowski suggested, “We’re not going to roll over and die. You know how it is in pro football. On ‘Any Given Sunday’ anything can happen.”

In 1977, the Falcons had the top defense in the NFC which provoked Bradshaw to pronounce their blitz as, “It’s like a whoosh… they send everybody in there.”

1978 Game 6: The (5-0) Pittsburgh Steelers vs the (2-3) Atlanta Falcons

On their first series of the game, the Steelers went 85 yards in nine minutes. Although they only came away with a 21-yard field goal, the drive set the tone for the rest of the sixty minutes that the Steelers dominated. Scoring on three of their first five possessions, Pittsburgh’s ground game rolled over their opponents

In the second quarter, the Steelers extended their lead with an 80-yard drive that began with a Lynn Swann catch of 37 yards and continued with runs from Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. An 8-yard run on the outside from Bleier saw the touchdown scored.

The two running backs combined again on the Steelers next drive with Randy Grossman adding a completion of 16 yards before Terry Bradshaw rolled left for a 6-yard touchdown. The Steelers took a 17-0 advantage into the locker room at half time.

Late in the third quarter, John Stallworth caught a pass of 70 yards, only to be brought down on Atlanta’s two yard line. Bleier scored the touchdown of 2 yards.

In the final period, Loren Toews intercepted a Steve Bartkowski pass that put the Steelers on their own 30. Bradshaw took less than two minutes to go the distance finishing with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Stallworth.

With the Steelers having a comfortable lead, Mike Kruczek was given the opportunity to field some snaps. The Falcons closed the scoring when Bartkowski connected on a fourth down to extend a 54-yard drive.

The Steelers set a team record 28 first downs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 31 vs the Atlanta Falcons 7
Three Rivers Stadium October 8 1978; 48,202


LC Greenwood about to tackle Falcons QB Bartkowski - photo by Albert Herrmann

Passing: Bradshaw 13-18-1TD-0INT-231
Bartkowski 17-33-1TD-2INT-188

Rushing: Harris 20-104, Thornton 8-30, Bleier 13-46-2TD, Bradshaw 2-3-1TD, Maxson 1(-2)

Receiving: Stallworth 6-114-1TD, Swann 3-64, Cunningham 2-28, Grossman 1-16

Atlanta Coach Leeman Bennett praised the Steelers recognising, “They’re the first team that’s taken the ball and run on us.”

Franco Harris recognised the contribution of the offensive line. “Sometimes it takes longer to get the attitude of a running game going. But if our line makes up its mind, it can do anything really. If they have to keep everybody off Terry, they can do that. If they have to get our running game going, they can do that.”

Joe Greene admitted, “It was a good game,” before adding, “but the only one we get excited about is the last one. I’m not saying what the last one will be, but I just hope we get the chance to get excited about it.”

AFC Central
Cleveland 24 New Orleans 16
Oakland 21 Houston 17
Cincinnati 0 Miami 21

Pittsburgh 6-0
Cleveland 4-2
Houston 3-3
Cincinnati 0-6

STEELERS TIGHT END CHALLENGES

With tight end Bennie Cunningham suffering a partial ligament tear against Atlanta ensuring at least five weeks recovery time, Coach Noll found himself searching for a backup to Randy Grossman. “One of the things you have to do is weather some of those problems,” acknowledged Noll.

Steelers guard Gerry Mullins was one possible solution. Mullins played tight end at Southern California and had occasionally been used as a tackle eligible receiver, catching a touchdown pass against Cleveland in that role.

“We’re just looking around to see if we can come up with anything,” said Coach Noll. “we’re going to see who we can contact and bring in for a tryout.” Facing an imminent trading deadline, the coach admitted a trade was unlikely.

Former tight end Larry Brown was the obvious answer to the problem, but he was recovering from minor leg surgery. Eventually, the Steelers signed 9-year veteran tight end Jim Mandich to add some depth to that position. Mandich played on three Miami Super Bowl teams before being traded to Washington. To make room for Mandich on the roster, the Steelers released rookie safety Nat Terry.

RANDY GROSSMAN IN THE LIMELIGHT

Randy Grossman media photoNow thrust into Pittsburgh’s starting tight end position, Randy Grossman’s trade mark of anonymity would be shattered as the Steelers attempt to continue their unbeaten streak against their old adversaries the Cleveland Browns.

Grossman’s arrived in Pittsburgh as a free agent in 1974 after being signed by the team trainer. Because of his lack of size, the tight end had led a precarious life with the team ever since, but now was firmly in the spotlight.

When reporters converged at his locker in the Steelers dressing room after practice, Grossman pointed to one of them and said, “The last time I saw him, he asked, ‘What do you think of the trade?’ I said, ‘What trade?’”

It was a reference to the arrival of tight end Paul Seymour in the Frank Lewis deal with the Bills, but Seymour failed a medical and Grossman found his position with the team safe if still fragile.

Grossman was content with keeping a low profile. “When somebody asks me what I do, I don’t tell them I work at football,” Grossman explained. “This is more than a job. It’s something I’ve grown up with. It’s a strange combination of work and play.”

STEELERS PICK UP JACK DELOPLAINE

 In an unusual move, the Steelers picked up Jack Deloplaine. To make room for Deloplaine the Steelers let Alvin Maxson go which puzzled many fans. When Maxson and Deloplaine had been released at the final cut before the season opener, it had been Maxson they chose to bring back with the help of the Chicago Bears.

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