It began as an experiment in deception, but the creation is out of control. He has grown bigger and badder than anyone expected, leaving, indelibly, his footprint on every opposing defense. But by which method of assault? Run? Pass? Catch?

You thought Deion Sanders was the most multi-dimensional player in the National Football League? The Pittsburgh Steelers' Kordell Stewart makes him look like the pace-car driver in the Indianapolis 500."This is a guy who can make plays," offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt said. "And we're trying to get people in the game who make plays."

Stewart is producing such a steady diet of plays that he no longer is used merely as the team's fifth wide receiver. Erhardt is using the No. 2 draft choice from Colorado when the Steelers employ only three wide receivers, a sure sign that Stewart has become something more than a decoy for Yancey Thigpen.

Somebody, though, better tell the Cincinnati Bengals. Or some other NFL team that will try to stop what has suddenly become the most pass-happy unit in the 30-team league. The Bengals saw Stewart line up in the slot on first down Sunday and never dreamed Neil O'Donnell would try to throw him the ball. But he did.

Stewart not only caught it, he turned it into a 71-yard touchdown, the winning score in a wacky, 49-31 victory at Riverfront Stadium. What's next . . . defensive back? Left wing on Mario Lemieux's line?

"They caught us off beat with Stewart in the slot," said Bengals cornerback Corey Sawyer. "We didn't think he was going to run up the seam, but he did. He caught us slipping. Usually, he runs across the field or he runs an out route."

The touchdown was the Steelers' longest since O'Donnell and Dwight Stone connected on an 89-yarder in September 1991. Still, it is not the longest TD catch by a quarterback in club history. Mark Malone holds that record with a 90-yarder from Terry Bradshaw against Seattle in 1981.

On a day in which Stewart also helped execute the Steelers' first two-point conversion of the season, it was his touchdown that put the defining touch on an 18-point comeback.

With each stride, Stewart further enhanced the reputation he is rapidly establishing as a three-dimensional threat. He displayed all three facets against the Bengals, with varying success.

He caught two passes for 86 yards, took a handoff and ran the option on the two-point conversion that resulted in a pitch to Erric Pegram, and even attempted a pass off another handoff from O'Donnell. That play was snuffed out, though, before Stewart could attempt the pass - a throwback to O'Donnell in the left corner of the end zone.

"I didn't want to make a dumb decision," Stewart said. "Three points there was better than nothing."

This is what the Steelers are doing with Stewart. They are using him in more ways than a Veg-o-matic, and he is slicing and dicing enough defenses that Erhardt can't always wait to get back to the offensive drawing board.

"We got a kid who can do some things," Erhardt said. "It's not just the arm. He ran the option, we put him up on the line of scrimmage. They know he's in there. He's making plays, and they have to put someone on him."

The Bengals know that now. But, leading, 31-28, late in the third quarter, the Bengals still weren't looking for Stewart when the Steelers lined up with three wide receivers on first down at their own 29. They had their nickel defense in the game and were expecting a pass over the middle to Thigpen, who lined up as the lone wide receiver on the right side.

The safety, Darryl Williams, never reacted in time. Stewart, lined up in the slot on the left, ran up the field, through the seam of the defense. It was the same play the Steelers ran earlier this season at home. Erhardt remembers the instance because he said the crowd groaned when the replay board showed Stewart wide open in the middle of the field.

This time, he was open again, and O'Donnell got him the ball. Stewart caught the ball in the seam between Sawyer and Williams and just behind Sawyer. The only question was whether Williams would trip up Stewart when he dove at his legs. He didn't.