Steelers' defense equals game-winning touchdown, four turnovers and three sacks
December 8, 2008 10:00 AM
Deshea Townsend celebrates his winning touchdown against the Cowboys yesterday at Heinz Field.
Peter Diana / Post-Gazette
James Harrison comes away with the football after forcing a fumble against Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo yesterday at Heinz Field.
Deshea Townsend dives in to the end zone for the winning score after intercepting a pass intended for Cowboys tight end Jason Witten in the fourth quarter.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The game tied, Dallas had the ball on its 17 with 1:51 to go and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called a time out?
"Did you all really call a time out?" Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo yelled across the line to the Steelers' LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior.
"Yeah, what's your problem?" Farrior responded.
"I don't know what else he thought would happen. That definitely added a little fuel to the fire."
And on his next play, Romo and the Cowboys imploded. He overthrew tight end Jason Witten, cornerback Deshea Townsend picked off the pass and ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown with 1:40 left that gave the Steelers an improbable 20-13 comeback victory against the Cowboys at Heinz Field.
"Everybody wants to do their part to help the team win and tonight it was my job to help," Townsend said. "It felt good just catching it cleanly."
The Steelers scored 17 points in the final 7:15 to come from 13-3 down to run their record to 10-3. Dallas slipped to 8-5.
It ended appropriately on a day in which the Steelers defense kept handing its offense opportunities only to see them squandered.
Steelers' sack artistsJames Harrison moved into a first-place tie last night on the Steelers’ all-time single-season sacks list:Rk/Player Year
1. Mike Merriweather 1984
James Harrison 2008
3. Kevin Greene 1994
Keith Willis 1983
5. Jason Gildon 2000
"Those guys fought, they believed in one another, and they didn't blink in the face of adversity, most of which was caused by us," Tomlin said.
The Steelers offense, stopped at the goal line early in the fourth quarter, finally broke through when Jeff Reed kicked his second field goal, from 41 yards, with 7:15 left to put them within 13-6.
Roethlisberger, who had a terrible first half and was sacked five times in the game, then strung together a 67-yard drive, mainly by completing three passes to Nate Washington for 51 yards. He scrambled for an important 9 yards and made the first down by half the length of the football on a fourth-and-inches sneak.
Heath Miller tied the game, 13-13, when he caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger with 2:04 left.
"It's always frustrating when you can't put points on the board," Washington said, "but you can't let your frustration get you down. You have to keep playing and work through the things we worked through today.
"Offensively, we didn't play well today but we fought through it."
Fortunately for the Steelers, the Cowboys were having as many problems on offense, if not more. Tony Romo completed 19 of 36 passes for 210 yards and one third-quarter touchdown pass of 12 yards to Terrell Owens to go with two Nick Folk field goals. But Romo was intercepted three times and lost a fumble, among the five Dallas turnovers.
Roethlisberger was 17 of 33 for 204 yards and lost a fumble on a quarterback sneak, but he was not intercepted and he came up big on the tying-touchdown drive.
It was the 16th game in which the Steelers under Roethlisberger have won in the final period when tied or behind.
"It just seems like he tends to grow a cape," offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "We kind of feed off him."
Both offenses stunk in the first half to the point where it may have been more entertaining to just let the two defenses play each other.
The Steelers gained 89 yards and lost two fumbles -- one on what would have been a successful fourth-and-1 sneak by Roethlisberger, the other after a catch and fumble by Miller.
The Cowboys gained 134 yards and committed four turnovers -- interceptions of Romo by Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, a fumble by Romo on another sack by James Harrison, his 15th of the season, and a muffed punt.
Despite those four Cowboys turnovers, the Steelers managed only 3 points, and that came after Taylor's interception gave them the ball on the Dallas 22.
Roethlisberger was dreadful in the first half -- 6 of 18 for 63 yards and that lost fumble.
The Steelers offense wasted Polamalu's interception that ended Dallas' first series. They reached the Dallas 27 with a first down, got no closer, and Reed sent a 45-yard field goal try wide right.
The Steelers defense was heroic in the first half, twice stopping fourth-down thrusts by Dallas in their territory to go along with those two interceptions and forced fumble.
But the Cowboys tied the score on the final play of the first half, then took the lead on their first drive of the second.
Nick Folk kicked a 44-yard field goal on the final play of the half for Dallas, and the Cowboys drove 67 yards to take a 10-3 lead on Romo's 12-yard pass to Owens with 9:36 left in the third quarter.
They stretched the lead to 13-3 with 3:32 to go on Folk's 33-yard field goal. It came after rookie halfback Tashard Choice took a 2-yard pass and turned it into a 50-yard gain.
The Steelers offense looked to be on its last legs when Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes breathed some life into it. They hooked up on a 47-yard pass from their 20 on third-and-long.
"It was just a big, big play at an appropriate time," Tomlin said. "Third-and-16 under those conditions, based upon what we had done through that point in the game, was a dire situation. It was big-time protection, a big-time throw and a big-time catch."
They moved to a first down at the five, but did not score. Willie Parker ran for two yards each on two consecutive plays to the one. Roethlisberger threw a play-action pass to fullback Carey Davis, who caught three passes all season. He caught this one too, but was tackled where he caught it for no gain.
Gary Russell got the call on the next play and was tackled for a 2-yard loss and the Steelers turned it over to the Cowboys at the 3.
There was 12:20 left in the game and the Dallas defense celebrated as if it were over.
"I just told the guys the game is not over -- it's not close to over," said Farrior, the defensive captain.
The defense held field position at the 18 and the offense got another shot when Holmes returned a low punt 35 yards to the Dallas 25. It barely made it count after Roethlisberger was sacked back to the 23 on third down and Reed kicked a 41-yard field goal.
It did bring the Steelers to within one score, however, and they made the next one count, driving 67 yards to tie it on Miller's touchdown catch.
That set up Townsend's dramatic interception.
"We wanted to get our offense the ball back," Townsend said.
They did that too, with 51 seconds left, and they ran out the clock.