Steelers win 10th consecutive home opener

Stubborn second-half defense, big plays from Roethlisberger help team bounce back from Denver loss


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The Steelers bounced back from their season-opening loss to do what they always seem to do, win their home opener and beat the New York Jets.

They made it 10 consecutive home-opening victories at Heinz Field, 27-10, Sunday.

The Jets, who scored more points than any NFL team in the first week when they trounced Buffalo, 48-28, were shut out in the second half by a Steelers defense missing two All-Pro players.

"This is sacred ground here at Heinz Field," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "It's a very tough place for opponents to come in and play."

The victory left them in a three-way tie for first place at 1-1 in the AFC North Division with Baltimore and Cincinnati. The Steelers have not lost their first two games of the season in the past 10 years.

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"It was an appropriate response to last week's performance," coach Mike Tomlin said about his team's turnaround after a 31-19 loss in Denver. "That's what good football teams in the National Football League do."

Ben Roethlisberger did what he has done since he arrived in 2004, no matter what kind of offense they run. He threw touchdown passes, escaped pressure to keep drives going and tacked on another victory to an impressive list. He completed 24 of 31 passes for 275 yards, no interceptions and touchdown passes to Heath Miller for 1 yard and Mike Wallace for 37, the second this season for both.

"Ben is one of the top quarterbacks in the game," Wallace said. "I'd ride with him against whoever."

Ten different receivers caught his passes, including seven by Antonio Brown for 79 yards, and Wallace's five for 74.

"That's a lot of people," Miller said. "I think that's just what we had in our offensive rhythm."

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As with last week, it took the Steelers a little while on offense and defense to get into their rhythm, but once they did they beat down the Jets as they have so many times in the past -- they ran their record to 18-4 since they first met in 1970.

Shaun Suisham staked them to a 3-0 lead when he kicked his first of two 45-yard field goals to end the game's first drive.

The Jets responded with a drive that ended when Santonio Holmes caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez.

New York was clicking but Sanchez and Holmes did little after that. Sanchez completed only 10 of 27 passes for 138 yards. LaMarr Woodley and Cameron Heyward sacked him, and he had a miserable 66.6 passer rating. Eleven times he targeted Holmes and connected on just three with the former Steelers receiver for 28 yards.

"They did a great job of press coverage," Jets coach Rex Ryan said of the Steelers cornerbacks. "These guys have really big physical corners and they did a great job of being physical against us."

After a good start, Sanchez did not look the same after linebacker Lawrence Timmons slammed into him with a high hit as the quarterback scrambled right and pulled up to pass. It occurred early in the second quarter, and while the Jets finished that drive with a field goal to take a 10-6 lead with 9:35 to go, it would be their final score.

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It was all Steelers from then on.

The Steelers broke to a 10-point lead with consecutive touchdown drives, one that ended in Miller's catch at the end of the first half, and their opening series of the second half when Wallace scored.

They put the game away with a 14-play, 75-yard, fourth-quarter drive that consumed 10:13. Isaac Redman ended that series with a 2-yard touchdown run with 3:34 to go in the game, one of the few positive runs on the day for the Steelers in a 66-yard effort on the ground.

"We felt that we probably could have called a pass down there and got it in, but it was special to run it in," Roethlisberger said. "We ran a little power run behind Willie Colon pulling. The linemen love that."

And Roethlisberger loves throwing deep to Wallace. They did it for the first time this season on third-and-16. Roethlisberger heaved the ball into the right part of the end zone. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie seemed to have Wallace well covered, but at the end, Wallace ducked inside to catch the ball and barely keep both feet in bounds for the 37-yard touchdown.

"I knew that Mike was streaking down the field with a one-on-one," Roethlsiberger said. "I knew he didn't have the defender beat down the field, they were running next to each other. I wanted to just throw it up and let my guy make a play."

Playing without two of the NFL's defensive players of the year over the past four seasons, injured linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu, the Steelers held the Jets to 219 total yards, 90 rushing. The Jets had 12 chances on third down and converted only four of them.

What is fast becoming a trademark of the new Steelers offense under coordinator Todd Haley is its ability to string together long drives. They had touchdown drives in the second half of 11 plays for 80 yards, and 14 plays for 75. Against Denver they had touchdown drives of 79 yards on 14 plays, 80 yards on 14 and a field-goal drive of 16 plays.

"That's what we are capable of," Miller said. "We have the tools to put drives together like that and give our defense a break and stay on the field."

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Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com. First Published September 17, 2012 4:30 AM


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