A great coach once said, "It was no Mozart," and it certainly wasn't for Ben Roethlisberger. But, after completing just 6 of 18 passes in the first half, he completed 9 of 15 for 141 yards in the second half. What's more, he read an all-out blitz on the 6-yard TD pass to Heath Miller, a play he worked on all week. No interceptions for the third time in four games, but one fumble.
The shutdown defense belonged to the Cowboys, not the Steelers, as they held Willie Parker to 25 yards on 12 carries and Mewelde Moore to 22 yards on five carries. Curiously, the longest run was a 9-yard scramble by Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter. Moore's biggest contribution, though, was as a receiver, catching four passes for 36 yards.
Nate Washington made all the big plays when it mattered, catching three passes for 51 yards on the tying touchdown drive, including a 16-yarder to the Cowboys 6 on a play in which he appeared to injure his ankle. Miller fumbled after a catch in the second quarter, one of two turnovers by the offense in the first half, but he atoned with a 6-yard touchdown catch to tie the game.
It's never good when the average starting field position for eight drives is your own 43 and the offense produces only 3 points. But that's what happened in the first half, with the running game gaining 26 yards on 12 carries. Roethlisberger was sacked five times, mostly because he held the ball too long. Still, the pocket collapsed enough that the Cowboys batted three balls at the line.
For the second week in a row, the defense gave up more yards rushing (95) than their league-leading average -- and it can't blame its nickel defense. Rookie RB Tashard Choice, playing for injured Marion Barber, had 44 yards in each half and finished with 88 yards, the most by an opponent this season. His biggest run was a 22-yarder on third-and-3 that led to the Cowboys' only TD.
It was an uncharacteristic poor outing for the linebackers, even though James Harrison tied the club record with his 15th sack and had his seventh forced fumble. Choice accounted for 166 total yards, including 78 yards on four catches. LaMarr Woodley did not have a sack, but it was his pressure that forced Tony Romo into a poor throw that was intercepted for the winning score.
The biggest play was turned in by nickel back Deshea Townsend, who picked off Romo's poor pass for TE Jason Witten for the winning 25-yard TD. It was one of three interceptions by Romo and one of five Cowboys turnovers. Troy Polamalu had one INT to reach an NFL-best seven. And Ike Taylor's leaping interception on a pass for Terrell Owens set up the only points in the first half.
Jeff Reed missed a 45-yard field goal and had a kickoff go out of bounds, but he also booted two FGs and saved his best for last -- two deep kickoffs returned to only the 15 and 18. Still, the Steelers are going to be burned by poor punting. They should hope for another of Mitch Berger's short punts to hit an unsuspecting opponent and maybe recover the muff, like Lawrence Timmons did.
Mike Tomlin is not interested in style points, and there weren't any to be obtained here. The offense never had any kind of flow. And its failure to convert on back-to-back plays from the Cowboys 1 in the fourth quarter has been a recurring problem. But the team scored 17 points in the final seven minutes to win a game it appeared it would lose. That counts for something.Game Eleven vs. the Patriots, W 33-10Position
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .