Wide receiver Hines Ward was scheduled to have an MRI on his knee last night after taking a blow from a helmet in the second half of a 37-16 victory against the San Francisco 49ers yesterday at Heinz Field.
Ward was hit hard twice on two incomplete passes near the goal line early in the third quarter. He left the game, returned briefly, then left for good.
He dressed and had been escorted out of the Steelers' locker room before the game ended.
"Right now, it appears to be a bone bruise," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I'll leave it at that. Of course, there will be further tests and we'll have more information on that area later on."
Ward caught one pass for 2 yards to extend his team record of catching a pass in his 136th consecutive game.
Allowing that Allen Rossum had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and cornerback Bryant McFadden a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown, the best comeback of the day still went to Dan Rooney.
The Steelers chairman had surgery on his back to ease a compressed spine Friday. He remained in the hospital overnight but walked onto the field before the game and spent time in the locker room shaking hands with his players afterward.
Going 3-0 helps ease the pain. "It feels pretty good," Rooney, 75, said.
Good hands and feet
The 49ers lined up for an onside kick after they scored their only touchdown, with 2:22 to play, that cut the Steelers' lead to 30-16. They looked up and saw Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda lined up in the front row.
San Francisco punter Andy Lee told Sepulveda they decided right away where Joe Nedney would kick it.
"As soon as they saw me over there, that's the way [they] were going," Sepulveda said.
But Sepulveda is not your ordinary punter. He's a former linebacker who became a punter and, as punters go, he has good hands. It's why he holds for Jeff Reed's kicks, and he easily snatched up Nedney's onside try to end the 49ers' last gasp.
"He didn't hit it [well]," Sepulveda said.
Sepulveda is a backup on the "hands" team that enters the field when the Steelers expect an onside kick. He moved up because Ward was hurt.
"He's an athlete," Reed said. "He's 230 pounds and he enjoys hitting."
Steelers kicker Jeff Reed keeps piling on the points. He led the AFC after two games and was tied for the NFL lead with 24 points. He added 13 more yesterday with three field goals and four point-after kicks.
He also is 9 for 9 on field-goal tries and kicked his first of more than 40 yards this season when he converted a 49-yarder in the third quarter.
That kick soared high and deep into the stands -- and might have been good from 60 yards.
"I'm just glad I got a chance to kick one over 40 yards." Reed said, "Even 49, that's a long one. To get that one out of the way and hit it the way I did makes me more comfortable.
"I got all of it. I told [Sepulveda and long snapper Greg Warren] that may have been the best kick of my career, not because it was a game-winner but because the way I hit the ball, the rotation and the distance."
Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden knew what he was facing. He was just waiting for the right time to strike.
McFadden scored on a 50-yard interception return of an Alex Smith pass in the fourth quarter. His touchdown, which came when the Steelers were in their nickel package of five defensive backs, made the score 30-9 with 4:01 left in the game.
"They ran [three receivers] to the boundary," McFadden said. "They had been running the same route, and I just decided to jump the route and make a play."
McFadden, who played at Florida State, didn't return any of his four interceptions as a Seminoles player for a touchdown. It was his fifth career interception in his three years with the Steelers. Before yesterday, his previous interception return for a score came at McArthur High School in Hollywood, Fla.
"I started running and just saw daylight," he said. "And when I got close, I didn't want the quarterback to tackle me because I'd never hear the end of it [from his teammates]."
Believe it or not
Coach Mike Nolan didn't spend much postgame time arguing a key call that went against his 49ers late in the third quarter. With the 49ers trailing, 17-6, tight end Vernon Davis appeared to make a 22-yard catch to the Steelers' 10 only to lose the ball after he hit the turf after he was upended by a hit from safety Troy Polamalu.
The play was initially ruled a fumble, but, after the 49ers challenged, the call was changed to an incompletion. Referee Gerald Austin explained: "You have to get two feet clearly down and make another football move. If in the process of making the catch [the receiver] gets hit and goes to the ground, then he has to hold on. When he hit the ground and the ball hit the ground, it popped out." The 49ers settled for a field goal.
"That call didn't cost us the game," Nolan said. "Excuses make it OK to lose. We lost today, and it wasn't OK. You get some [calls] and you lose some."
Nolan thought a key to the game was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's ability to avoid the 49ers' rush and make something positive happen.
"Big Ben kept plays alive," Nolan said. "That's on us. I mean, that's Pittsburgh doing a very good job and it's us not doing a very good job. We had our hands on him several times and couldn't tackle him. He's a big man, but you go into the game knowing he's a big man. You're not going to bring Ben down with one arm."
The Steelers recorded their 11th and 12th sacks, with rookie LaMarr Woodley and captain James Farrior each getting their second to tie fellow linebacker Clark Haggans for the team lead.
The victory was the Steelers' first against the 49ers at home in 20 years. It was their 13th win in their past 14 games against NFC teams, including the Super Bowl.
Najeh Davenport's 39-yard touchdown run was his second since joining the Steelers after the first game last season.
Roethlisberger passed Bobby Layne into fifth place on the team's career passing yardage list with 9,082 yards.
The Steelers' inactive list was similar to their previous two games except for two changes, one brought on by injury and the other by a roster change.
Rookie tight end Matt Spaeth, out with a bruised thigh, did not suit up and, for the first time, linebacker Arnold Harrison did. Linebacker Andre Frazier, claimed off waivers from Cincinnati last week, was inactive.
The other Steelers inactives: WR Willie Reid, CB Ricardo Colclough, RB Gary Russell, C/G Darnell Stapleton, OT Trai Essex and QB Brian St. Pierre.
San Francisco's inactives: S Donald Strickland, S Dashon Goldson, G Tony Wragge, OT Kwame Harris, DE/DT Atiyyah Ellison, WR Jason Hill, DE Ray McDonald and QB Shaun Hill.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Staff writers Ron Cook and Jerry Micco contributed to this report.