Steelers lose division lead with 20-3 loss in San Francisco

Chance to have a one-game advantage in AFC North goes dark as hobbled Roethlisberger, offense can't get much going



SAN FRANCISCO -- A power outage occurred Monday night at Candlestick Park -- and the lights in the old ballpark went out on two occasions as well.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, playing with a brace on his high left ankle sprain, threw three interceptions and lost a fumble that led to three scores. The punchless Steelers never came close to the end zone, losing the game to San Francisco, 20-3, and a chance to take a firm grip on the AFC North Division lead.

The lights flickered three times in Candlestick, twice delaying the game a total of 36 minutes and the other time dimming the Steelers chances for one of the top two seeds in the AFC.

The Steelers find themselves back where the weekend started -- tied with Baltimore at 10-4 -- after it began on a promising note for them when the Ravens lost Sunday night in San Diego. Instead, Baltimore again holds the tiebreaker against the Steelers heading into the final two games of the regular season.

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A victory Monday night would have put the Steelers in position to earn the No. 1 seed in the playoffs in the AFC. They clinched a wild-card berth and would need the Ravens to lose again to give them a chance to win the division with victories against St. Louis and Cleveland in their final two games.

But their chances of earning a top seed even with a division title were diminished by their loss to San Francisco. The 49ers, who clinched the NFC West crown, remain in the hunt for a top seed by improving to 11-3.

Roethlisberger, showing little noticeable effects of his injury from 11 days previous, completed 25 of 44 passes for 330 yards, 82 on five catches by Heath Miller. Rashard Mendenhall led the Steelers in rushing with 64 yards on 15 carries.

The Steelers did not score until the third quarter of a close game, but things fell apart quickly after that.

Shaun Suisham's 51-yard field goal barely cleared the crossbar as the Steelers cut the 49ers lead to 6-3 in the third quarter.

It was all 49ers from there. San Francisco responded on its next drive by scoring the game's first touchdown and then added another in the fourth quarter after Roethlisberger lost a fumble when he was sacked.

The 49ers responded to Suisham's field goal by scoring the game's first touchdown and did so all through the air, most of it by tight end Vernon Davis. Until that drive, the longest pass completion by Alex Smith was 14 yards. He hit Davis for 31, found rookie Kendall Hunter on a screen for 27 and then completed a 21-yard pass to Davis, who slipped past linebacker Lawrence Timmons to catch it at the 1.

From there, Smith faked a handoff and found Davis wide open for a 1-yard touchdown pass and a 13-3 lead with 3:44 left in the third quarter.

The Steelers next drive reached a first down at San Francisco's 30 after a 36-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery. But it bogged down there and Suisham then sailed a 48-yard field-goal try wide to the left.

Not long after that, Roethlisberger dropped back on first down from his 28 and was met rudely by the Smiths -- linebacker Aldon Smith sacked him and forced a fumble that tackle Justin Smith recovered at the 17.

San Francisco settled for a 28-yard field goal, but Timmons would not allow it. He was penalized on the kick for illegally leaping in the air using an opponent for leverage and the 49ers had a first down at the 5.

Frank Gore ran it in from there, virtually ending the suspense by giving San Francisco a 20-3 lead.

Two blackouts delayed the game a total of 36 minutes, once before the kickoff and the other in the second quarter.

The Steelers managed little on offense through the first two quarters and trailed, 6-0, at halftime.

Roethlisberger's two interceptions in the first quarter turned into two David Akers field goals for San Francisco.

The Steelers moved downfield smartly on the game's first drive, the big play a 36-yard reception off a short pass to Mike Wallace that carried to the 49ers 22.

That's when things began going poorly for the offense.

On second down at the 19, Roethlisberger threw a pass for Wallace into the end zone and into double coverage. Carlos Rogers picked it off for his sixth interception and returned it to the 27.

The 49ers, in typical West Coast offense form, moved 69 yards on their first drive on 17 plays. They had a first down at the 2, but Gore lost 2 yards on a run and two passes were incomplete and Akers kicked a 22-yard field goal to give San Francisco a 3-0 lead. The 49ers had scored touchdowns on just three of their past 20 trips inside the 20.

The Steelers' second drive reached their 42 when Roethlisberger threw high to Heath Miller, who could not pull it down and safety Dashon Goldson came up with it for his sixth interception.

That interception led to another Akers field goal, from 38 yards.

Roethlisberger's third interception came late in the game when cornerback Tarell Brown pulled down his pass at the San Francisco 2.


First Published December 20, 2011 5:00 AM


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