DENVER -- Let me see if I have the scenario right ...
You went to the bathroom last night immediately after Denver linebacker Robert Ayers picked up a fumble by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and rumbled 54 yards for a touchdown that gave the Broncos a 10-7 lead early in the third quarter. You still were cursing Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu for getting beat to the outside by defensive end Kenny Peterson and giving up the sack that forced the Roethlisberger fumble. You stopped at the fridge for a cold adult beverage on the way back to the TV room, all the while muttering a few more choice words about Kemoeatu. You plopped down in your favorite soft chair, looked at the score and were pleasantly shocked to see the Steelers ahead, 14-10.
Honest to goodness, it happened that fast.
Just as Roethlisberger predicted, as it turned out.
It was the best part of an impressive 28-10 win that kept the Steelers in a first-place tie with the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North Division heading into their suddenly intriguing matchup Sunday at Heinz Field.
You should have seen Roethlisberger during the TV timeout after the Peterson-Ayers splash play. He went to each member of his offensive unit, told them to forget about it and promised that things were going to be OK. Of course, he spent an extra moment with Kemoeatu, who said he "felt sick in the gut" after the sack.
"Let it go," the big guard recalled Big Ben saying. "Move on to next play. Do something to make up for it."
Said Roethlisberger: "Everybody makes mistakes. It's like when I throw a pick. There's nothing you can do about it. I know he was hurting. All you can do is head-butt him and encourage him."
And, in Roethlisberger's case, make sure the sack and fumble were minor footnotes to the Steelers' fifth consecutive win.
Four plays and 80 yards later ...
On first down from the Steelers' 20, running his pet no-huddle offense, Roethlisberger threw a dart of a sideline pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace for 18 yards. Running back Rashard Mendenhall, who had a huge night with 155 rushing yards, followed that up with a 24-yard gain around right end to the Broncos' 38. Roethlisberger then saw that All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey had wide receiver Santonio Holmes in single coverage. Bailey is great, but he couldn't stop a sweet 35-yard pass to Holmes that gave the Steelers a first-and-goal at the Denver 3. Next play? Roethlisberger fired the ball perfectly through traffic to wide receiver Hines Ward in the back middle of the end zone.
If the Steelers go on to win the division, they'll look back at those four plays as one of the most critical sequences of the season.
"Yeah, I get mad after plays like that," Roethlisberger said. "But I also have to laugh because there's nothing you can do about it. I guess it's like when you're playing basketball and you're driving to the basket and the defender takes the ball from you and scores on the other end. You want the ball right back so you can go at him again."
That 14-10 lead held up until midway through the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger made one more big play. He stepped up in the pocket on a third-and-10 play and found Wallace behind safety Brian Dawkins for a 25-yard touchdown.
On a night when the offense wasn't at its best for much of the game -- it had 54 total yards in the first half -- Roethlisberger made sure it was good enough to beat a Broncos team that came in 6-1, the second-best record in the AFC. He threw another touchdown pass to Ward in the final two minutes, his second three-touchdown game of the season.
I can't get past those four plays in the third quarter.
" 'Keep on truckin'. I have all the faith in the world in you guys,' " guard Trai Essex said of his sideline conversation with Roethlisberger. "When someone like him tells you that, you believe him."
You might remember this same sort of thing happened in the Steelers' 28-20 win Oct. 11 at Detroit. Roethlisberger threw a second-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown that cut the Steelers' lead to 14-13. Roethlisberger went right to coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians on the sideline and asked to go to the no-huddle. Six plays and 52 yards later ...
Roethlisberger was 4 of 4 for 47 yards on that drive, which also ended with Ward catching a touchdown pass.
"Ben doesn't blink," Tomlin said after that game.
Certainly, Roethlisberger didn't last night.
I'm wondering if maybe he should start the big game Sunday against the Bengals by throwing a pick-six.
OK, just kidding.
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published November 10, 2009 7:00 AM