Collier: Sacking of Roethlisberger the latest misdeed


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CLEVELAND -- So which is the largest number, as of this morning: The number of alleged Tiger Woods mistresses, the number of Pitt fans who really want to go to the Fender Bender Bowl, or the number of people on the bitter shores of Lake Erie last night who can claim they sacked Ben Roethlisberger?

Unbeaten against the Browns in his career (10-0) and coming off a 417-yard passing performance against them in his most recent appointment, Roethlisberger went down faster and more often than an inflatable Christmas reindeer in the high winds of the front yard.

The defense of a Super Bowl championship went with him.

"It was like every time I go out for a pass, when I looked back, he'd be getting hit," said wideout Mike Wallace, who caught only two of Big Ben's ineffective 18 completions, none of which covered more than 24 yards. "I'd just be coming out of my break and he'd be going down."

It wasn't a terribly favorable sign for Mike Tomlin's team when the Browns had more sacks on the Steelers' first three possessions (three) than the offensive line had allowed in the previous two games. And by the time three quarters of this frostbitten chunk of prime time were finished, Cleveland had seven sacks, the most it had strung together in a game in seven years.

The Steelers' chronic inability to keep Roethlisberger upright emerged as the latest strategic atrocity in a series of stunning failures that extinguished the final flickers of pointless playoff fantasies.

The Steelers didn't have to drop an interception, give up 200 passing yards in the final eight minutes, get out of the way of a kickoff return for a touchdown (although Joshua Cribbs turned in the obligatory long return -- 55 yards with a punt), or any of the things that had been strung together to cause them to lose six times by a total of 21 points.

But how many sacks did Cleveland have in that big sack of sacks last night.

Eight?

And did I mention that this was a Browns defense ranked 32nd in a 32-team league, a Browns defense missing two starting defensive linemen, two starting linebackers and a starting safety? Of course, when you're the Browns, maybe that's the good news.

In any event, Marcus Benard got two sacks, Corey Williams got two, Brian Schaefering had a sack and a half, David Bowens had one, Hank Poteat had one for the Pitt Panthers' sake and Kaluka Maiava had half a sack.

Now there's a parade of household names among your fans of defensive football.

In the grim Steelers locker room, no one was offering any particulars on what made this Browns defense so suddenly indecipherable, it being a diminished version of the one the Steelers outgained, 449-197, Oct. 18 at Heinz Field.

Instead, explanations more resembled the testimony of people who weren't quite awake, who still haven't snapped out of a nightmare that now stretches to five consecutive losses.

"It hurts right along with the rest of them," said left tackle Max Starks. "But this is little more bitter of a feeling, coming against a division rival."

A division rival the Steelers had beaten 12 consecutive times, eight consecutive times at this venue, 18 of the past 19 times, and pretty much as a matter of policy for the past 20 years.

Tomlin will survive all this and doubtless head to his fourth Steelers training camp next July with a whole lot of work today. As for anyone else on his coaching staff or on most of his roster, I wouldn't e-mail any room preferences to the Saint Vincent housing office just yet.

Midway through December, Tomlin's third team looks awfully close to helpless in a lot of areas, but the offense that trotted onto the Browns' frozen lawn last night with 6:16 remaining and 79 yards to go to tie the score looked like they had a better chance of landing on Pluto.

Roethlisberger found Heath Miller for a first down at the 32, and Rashard Mendenhall got him another at the 46 at the four-minute mark, but eight seconds after Hines Ward converted a third-and-6 to the Cleveland 43, Benard arrived with sack No. 8, effectively ending the Steelers' final threat.

Roethlisberger hadn't been sacked eight times since September 2008 in Philadelphia, and had been sacked more often only once in his career, which was at Baltimore in '06 during another Super Bowl hangover.

This one might feel worse. At least Bill Cowher had the coaching decency to start off 2-6, removing any mystery.


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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