Steelers start strong in 20-7 victory

Big Ben, Wilson impressive in limited duty; Tomlin captures win in his debut as head coach

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CANTON, Ohio -- It was a perfect start for the man in black. He showed poise, a presence and got right to the point.

Mike Tomlin, dressed in black on the sideline as he made his preseason debut as Steelers coach?

No. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in his only series against the New Orleans Saints last night in a 20-7 Steelers victory.

Roethlisberger, dressed in his home black jersey in the NFL's first preseason game of the summer, was perfect on that opening series and so was receiver Cedrick Wilson. The two connected twice for 73 yards.

Najeh Davenport scored from the 4 and that was that for Big Ben. He was on target on all three of his passes -- the other dropped by Nate Washington -- and got off to the kind of fast start many expected after watching him practice for two weeks.

"It's hard to find a rhythm so early," Roethlisberger said shortly after he found it. "The second play of the game was designed for [Wilson] and pretty much only him, so it was open and I threw it deep to him. The next one to Ced, I was just trying to find the open guy."

It was a good start for Tomlin and his new team. He became the first Steelers coach to win his preseason debut since at least 1965 under Mike Nixon.

"I really kind of took myself out of it," Tomlin said of his first game as a head coach. He said he let his coaches do what they had to do, and things flowed from there.

"We had a good first step tonight. I thought we did some things particularly well."

His quarterbacks threw well and his backs ran hard, including little-known free agent Carey Davis, who rumbled 56 yards like a young Barry Foster down to the New Orleans 14 to set up a field goal. Davis led all backs with 68 yards on seven carries.

Santonio Holmes, listed first on the Steelers' depth chart ahead of Wilson but running behind him after missing the first week of practice, caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Brian St. Pierre.

Wilson remained at split end and continued to thrive after Roethlisberger left. He caught two more passes and finished the night with four receptions for 99 yards.

Wilson complained loudly on Wednesday that his quarterbacks were ignoring him.

"I'm running my routes, I'm doing the right things. You can't help if the quarterback doesn't throw you the ball. ... I just have to focus on the balls I get, I guess, because there ain't a lot of them, I'll tell you that much."

He saw enough of them last night. He caught Roethlisberger's first pass on the second play of the game, a deep heave down the right sideline on play-action. Wilson caught it for a 55-yard gain to the Saints' 23. After Washington's drop at the 10, Wilson ran a slant over the middle and Roethlisberger hit him perfectly for an 18-yard gain to the 4.

From there, Davenport twisted and bounced up the middle like a bus and scored to stake the Steelers to a quick 7-0 lead.

"He came up to me at practice this week and told me he was going to be looking for me," Wilson said of Roethlisberger, showing no apparent fallout from the receiver's midweek criticism. "I appreciate that and can be thankful for that. I just want to go out and make plays for him and make sure he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league."

Much of the rest of the first teams on offense and defense for the Steelers played most of the first quarter, although Tomlin juggled some players. On the second series, he moved right tackle Max Starks to left tackle and put Willie Colon on the right. He took Alan Faneca out and inserted Chris Kemoeatu at left guard. He stuck with that line deep into the second quarter.

That line was on the field when the Steelers scored their second touchdown to take a 14-0 lead with 8:54 left in the half.

Again, the quarterback was near perfect on that drive. This time it was St. Pierre and he also found a favorite receiver. Holmes, who practiced behind Wilson at split end last week, caught one St. Pierre third-down pass for 41 yards. From the 3, St. Pierre lobbed a fade pass into the right back corner, where Holmes beat cornerback Jason Craft to catch the perfect toss for the score.

"I think I was ready to play after catching that first pass and making a couple blocks," said Holmes, who caught three passes for 48 yards but admitted he's still not at full health. "The more opportunities that you get, the better you start feeling."

Jeff Reed, who earlier sent a 42-yard field-goal try wide to the left, kicked a 28-yarder 5:06 before the half to boost the Steelers' lead to 17-0 at the break. The kick came after Davis' 56-yard run down the right sideline, displaying for all to see what those in Latrobe have witnessed for two weeks in practice.

The Saints never threatened with their first offense, nor in the entire first half.

"That is our whole mind-set, to hold them scoreless," linebacker Larry Foote said. "They are a great offense, so we knew it would be a good challenge for us. We're pumped up."

The Saints finally broke through with a score behind their third-string quarterback, Jason Fife, who threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to backup fullback Kevin Dudley in the middle of the third quarter.

Reed kicked his second, from 39 yards, on the last play of the third quarter.

The second half, as usual in first preseason games, was played by the bottom of the depth charts.

"Since we didn't play much, it's more for the younger guys to see what they can do," Foote said. "Our backup guys won't play as much during the regular season so this is mainly for them."

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin share a laugh in the first half of the Hall of Fame game against the Saints last night in Canton, Ohio.
Click photo for larger image.

More Coverage:

Calmer, with less chin and spittle, Mike Tomlin coaches his first Steeler win

Wilson gets his point across with big game

Steelers Notebook: Players pushing LeBeau for Canton

Slideshow: A new era begins

Gene Collier: No critical messages in Tomlin's Steelers debut

Send us your Steelers training camp photos


Listen In:

Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette recaps the Hall of Fame game:
Steelers and Tomlin shine in preseason debut


Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Cedrick Wilson is tackled by Saints Kevin Kaesviharn in the first quarter.
Click photo for larger image.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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