Two touchdown catches move Ward past Stallworth on team's all-time list


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In an attempt to prepare his team for the giant waterslide known as Heinz Field, Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis had extra water pumped on his team's practice field last week -- the better to get his players accustomed to a wet, slick surface.

Instead, it looked as if his offense learned only how to get stuck in the muck.

Maybe the Bengals should take some pointers from Hines Ward. Either he has Gore-Tex hands that repel moisture or he practices catching the ball in the shower.

"Unbelievable," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

"Concentration," Ward said.

Ward's performance the past two games at Heinz Field has been as uncanny as it has been improbable, given the elements under which he was playing. Six days after he caught nine passes for 88 yards on a horrid field in driving rain, Ward came back last night and caught 11 more passes in a steady downpour, including seven in the first half when the Steelers built a 17-7 lead.

In the process, he also caught two touchdowns, giving him 64 in his career and breaking Hall of Fame receiver John Stallworth's franchise record for touchdown receptions.

Like the rain, Ward never stopped until the Steelers had posted a 24-10 victory against the Bengals, a game that gave them a two-game lead in the AFC North and a 5-0 record against division teams.

"That's just the type of player he is," tight end Heath Miller said. "He's going to get the job done, no matter the situation, no matter the conditions."

Ward's performance against the Bengals -- 11 catches for 90 yards -- was two shy of his career-high of 13 catches against the Bengals in 2003.

But, in the past two games, Ward has 20 catches and 178 yards, his best two-game total since he had 21 catches in back-to-back games against Atlanta and Tennessee in 2002.

That he did it in conditions that were less than ideal made his two-game totals all the more amazing.

"That's being on the same page with a guy like that who's so talented," Roethlisberger said. "I put it anywhere close to him, he's going to make plays."

"Any game you can get the ball to Hines, he's going to make plays," said injured receiver Santonio Holmes, who missed his second game in a row and had to admire Ward's showing from the sideline. "He's been our leader for 10 years. When we need big plays to be made, he's going to make them."

Ward caught two touchdowns to surpass Stallworth -- a 2-yarder near the end of the first half that gave the Steelers a 17-7 lead and an 8-yard touchdown in the third quarter that boosted the advantage to 24-10.

That drive, though, was punctuated with a signature Ward catch -- a 14-yarder over the middle in which he held on to the ball despite a vicious hit by safety Madieu Williams.

"That was classic No. 86 right there," said Miller, who had four catches for 30 yards. "He's going to make plays and get the job done. He's going to lead the team and we're going to follow him."

"He's a tough guy," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's a football player first, a wide receiver second."

It didn't even matter that the Steelers were playing for the second game in a row without Holmes, their big-play receiver who has been out with a high-ankle sprain. Holmes, though, said he will play when the Steelers play the unbeaten New England Patriots Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.

"I heard them saying, 'Watch Hines on this, watch Hines on that,' " Roethlisberger said. "I don't think he gets enough credit for the way he played tonight."

That, of course, has been something of a trademark of Ward's career. He was a third-round draft choice in 1998 who has risen to become the team's all-time leader in receptions and touchdown catches, not to mention a Super Bowl MVP.

"This should satisfy all the naysayers, the people who doubted me, who still doubt me," Ward said. "Nothing was ever given to me. There are a lot of guys I caught touchdowns from. I got to give credit to those guys and to Ben. He said let's go out there tonight and get the record."

And he did, rain or no rain.




Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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