Steelers drop preseason opener, 16-7

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LANDOVER, Md. -- It's a good thing the NFL owners did not get their way and reduce the preseason to just two games. Neither the Steelers nor Washington Redskins appear anywhere near ready to play for keeps in two weeks.

And the Steelers' newest bonus baby, cornerback Ike Taylor, might have to open with something to protect his broken left thumb. Taylor, who signed a four-year, $28 million contract last week, left during the first series on defense with the injury.

Team president Art Rooney II broke the news at halftime on KDKA-TV's broadcast of the game.

Defensive backs have been known to play with broken bones in their hands protected by a soft cast and Taylor has a month to heal before the Steelers open in Baltimore Sept. 11.

Other than that, the first preseason game was typical and not as sloppy as many suspected these early games would be, based on the the lack of spring practices and workout sessions during the NFL lockout. The first penalty in the game did not occur until late in the second quarter and the Steelers had just one for five yards all night. Neither team had a turnover.

By the time the first, second, third and fourth teams cleared, the Redskins won 16-7 on three second-half field goals by Graham Gano that snapped a 7-7 halftime tie.

Steelers halfback Rashard Mendenhall put the first preseason game into perspective.

"It's just a day to build and get some more work," he said after just five plays and one carry. "We'll come back, go back to camp, get some more work in and try and do it again the next week."

Two players who seem more than ready to start the season are backups. One is halfback Isaac Redman, who has grown bigger both physically and in the offense during his third training camp. Redman, who weighs a sculpted 245 pounds now, ran 22 yards for a touchdown and the Steelers only score in the first half. He finished the half with 42 yards on five carries and called it a day.

Rookie defensive end Cameron Heyward made his pro debut a good one, making his presence known often. On one play he pushed starting guard Kory Lichtensteiger back into Grossman, who threw incomplete because of it. On another, he held off a tackle's block and tackled the runner in the backfield.

Ben Roethlisberger (2 of 3, 22 yards) played only five plays in one series before bowing out along with Mendenhall (1 carry, 4 yards). The rest of the offense played a second series and another seven plays with quarterback Byron Leftwich without scoring.

The Steelers first-team defense, though, did not have such an easy night. Coach Mike Tomlin promised to keep them on the field for only about 10 plays. Instead, they stuck around for 20, two long series worth into the second quarter.

The Redskins pounded them on the first drive, moving 88 yards, starting from their one. They got it in big chunks, too, behind quarterback Rex Graham and halfback Tim Hightower early on. That stout Steelers run defense was gouged for runs of of 6, 16, 11, 8 and 5 yards around two pass completions of 16 and 11 on the first seven plays of the game.

The Redskins, though, failed to score because Shayne Graham yanked a 29-yard field goal attempt badly to the left.

"I think we allowed them to drive the ball down the field a little bit too long, maybe 90 yards,'' linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "But we just need to get back on the field and correct that. That's why it's called the preseason, so we can go back and correct mistakes like that."

Washington had 104 yards in the first quarter to the Steelers' 32 with nothing to show for it.

Playing the entire first half, Grossman completed 19 of 26 for 207 yards and one touchdown of 8 yards to Santana Moss on a third down in which the Steelers blitzed seven.

Leftwich completed 6 of 10 for 70 yards before he gave way to Charlie Batch to start the second half at quarterback. Dennis Dixon finished up the final 9:53 of the game.

Another highlight for the Steelers was the punting of Daniel Sepulveda, whose ACL was torn last November for the second time with the Steelers and the third time since his senior year at Baylor. Sepulveda launched his first punt 62 yards and it was downed at the one. His next traveled 51 and his third 54.

The Redskins, with Kellen Clemens at quarterback in the third quarter, moved 82 yards on 14 plays and -- after Graham missed his second attempt from 49 yards to end the first half -- this time Gano kicked a 32-yard field goal to put the home club on top 10-7 late in the third quarter.

Gano added another from 34 yards midway through the fourth quarter and a 13-7 Washington lead. Gano kicked another with 2:23 left that traveled 45 yards.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @EdBouchette.


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