Steelers' Wallace, Roethlisberger on verge of history


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Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth played together for 10 seasons. Bubby Brister and Louis Lipps played on the same team for six years.

Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace have been teammates for only 31 games, but they already are on the verge of becoming the most prolific big-play combination in franchise history.

When Roethlisberger and Wallace hooked up for a 43-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the Steelers' victory Thursday against Carolina, they tied a club record for most touchdowns of 40 yards or more by a quarterback-wide receiver combination.

It was the seventh time Roethlisberger and Wallace had combined for a touchdown of 40-plus yards. Brister and Lipps also combined for seven touchdowns of 40 or more yards. Bradshaw and Stallworth and Jim Finks and Ray Mathews had six such hookups.

Five of Wallace's 40-plus yard touchdowns have come this season.

"He's a great player," Wallace said of Roethlisberger. "He has a real good feel for the game. It's not hard for me as a receiver when you have a guy that good. I have the easy job, especially when you're playing with a guy like that."

Early in the season, Wallace was making his big plays on long passes over top of the coverage. He twice got behind defenders for long touchdowns against Tampa Bay, did it again three weeks later against Cleveland and once more the following week against Miami.

Defensive coordinators caught on and have been cognizant of Wallace's ability to get behind safeties. Wallace, a second-year speedster out of Ole Miss, earned the nickname "one-trick pony" from coach Mike Tomlin because of his desire to run deep routes, but he has been showing his coach a new trick or two in recent weeks.

Wallace's last two long touchdowns have been short passes with big yards after the catch. His 43-yarder against the Panthers came on a "hot" read by Roethlisberger. Wallace caught the pass down the seam and sprinted past linebackers and converging defensive backs for an easy score.

Wallace's 52-yard touchdown against the Raiders Nov. 21 was a short crossing route that he turned into a big play because of his ability to accelerate quickly.

"They don't really want me to get deep anymore, so they kind of try to prevent that," Wallace said of opposing teams in recent games.

"Guys are really falling off. They always have a safety over the top. It's kind of hard for me to get deep. I want to, but you always have to do other things. You always have to be able to improvise and do it another way. If you can't get it one way, work hard and get it another way. That's what I try to do."

Wallace is hopeful that his catch-and-run skills will force opposing coaches to rethink their approach to defending him.

"It's going to make the defenses come back down," Wallace said. "If I can catch it and run that means I'm going to score anyway. Sometimes, you'll have to play it honest. They'll have to come down anyway.

"Hopefully, with me doing that, the defenses are going to come back down, and we can get back over the top again."

Either way, Wallace's big-play abilities are opening things up for others. The Steelers have not been scoring a lot of touchdowns lately, but they have been piling up yardage. Tight end Heath Miller had five receptions for 73 yards against Carolina and rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown combined for six receptions for 74 yards.

"It helps the offense a lot," running back Rashard Mendenhall said of Wallace's big plays. "The defenses have to be sensitive to his skill set, and it opens up everything for everyone else on the field."

Wallace had four receptions for 104 yards against the Panthers. It was his sixth 100-yard game this season. Only one receiver in club history has seven 100-yard receiving games in a season.

Stallworth did it in 1984 with Mark Malone at quarterback.

All team records are regular-season records and do not include playoff games. Stallworth is in the Hall of Fame because of his ability to make big plays in Super Bowls. Stallworth had a 75-yard touchdown catch in Super Bowl XIII against Dallas and a 73-yarder against Los Angeles in Super Bowl XIV. The one against the Rams came when the Steelers were trailing early in the fourth quarter.

Wallace will have an opportunity to compete in the playoffs for the first time in a few weeks. He knows he will be remembered for what he accomplishes in the postseason much more than the regular season because of the uniform he wears. And he knows the Steelers won't last very long if their red-zone struggles continue.

That's why he was not pleased after the 27-3 victory against the Panthers that left a lot to be desired for the offense.

"We won the game, but I feel like we left a lot of things out there," he said. "We feel like we should have scored more points. That's the type of mentality we have to have, especially this close to the playoffs. It's time to be perfect. No one is satisfied."


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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