Steelers Notebook: Injuries compound painful loss

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Steelers had injuries added to the insult of their upset loss to the Arizona Cardinals yesterday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Two Pro Bowl defensive players were knocked out of action in the second half when strong safety Troy Polamalu left with an abdominal strain and nose tackle Casey Hampton departed with a hamstring injury.

Late in the game, Hampton's veteran backup, Chris Hoke, left with a neck strain. No. 3 cornerback Bryant McFadden also departed in the second half with a sprained right ankle.

Others left but came back, including Deshea Townsend (neck) in the first quarter.

These were in addition to players who already missed yesterday's game because of injuries: wide receiver Hines Ward (knee) and rookie tight end Matt Spaeth (bruised thigh).

"They are not the reason we lost this football game," coach Mike Tomlin said. "The Arizona Cardinals outperformed us. Injuries are a part of the game."

Big deal after all

Ben Roethlisberger and Ken Whisenhunt never managed to say hello before or after a game which the Steelers quarterback finally acknowledged was different than many.

"I wouldn't say emotional, but it was a big week. I told Bruce [Arians] going into this week, this is my Cleveland for you. He was fired up about Cleveland."

Arians, who once was fired as offensive coordinator by the Browns, succeeded Whisenhunt as the Steelers' coordinator this year. Roethlisberger and Whisenhunt had a frosty relationship during their time together.

"I didn't get a chance to'' talk to Whisenhunt yesterday, said Roethlisberger, who did chat with former Steelers coaches Kevin Spencer and Russ Grimm, now on the Cardinals' staff.

"I congratulate him on a great win."

Roethlisberger completed 17 of 32 passes, and his 244 yards are a season high. He was intercepted twice and now has three, and threw two touchdown passes to give him eight. He had a 72.9 passer rating on the day.

Broken tackles and hearts

Cardinals kick returner Steve Breaston knows he broke a lot of hearts in Pittsburgh when he returned a fourth-quarter punt 73 yards for a touchdown. That included at least one in his family home in North Braddock. "My brother, Michael, he's a die-hard Steelers fan," Breaston said. "There's black and gold in my whole house."

It's pretty safe to say Michael Breaston was proud of his kid brother after he avoided the Steelers' Clint Kriewaldt, Larry Foote and Greg Warren and broke a Najeh Davenport tackle on his way to the touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 14-7 lead. Their parents, Michael and Charlene, certainly were. They made the trip for the game.

"It was real exciting for all of us," said Steve Breaston, a rookie, who was a star at Woodland Hills High School before playing at Michigan.

Breaston got a second chance after a 3-yard punt return to the Arizona 25 when the Steelers' Carey Davis was called for an ineligible-man-downfield penalty. Daniel Sepulveda had to punt again, and Breaston took off with this one. "Once you start breaking tackles, you're going to get to the open field," he said. "I just didn't want to get caught from behind."

It was the Cardinals' first punt return for a touchdown in more than 14 years. "I'm just glad I could be the one to do it," Breaston said.

Small comfort

Santonio Holmes led all receivers with 128 yards on six receptions yesterday, scoring both of the Steelers' touchdowns.

He is the first Steelers receiver to pass 100 yards in a game this season. He had his career high in yards and tied it in catches.

"That's what I do, I catch the ball and make plays,'' Holmes said.

He leads the Steelers with three touchdowns.

Kicked around

Sepulveda, off to a fast start as an NFL rookie, experienced a few firsts yesterday, not many of them good. Four games into the season, he finally had a punt returned for positive yards, he also had his first touchback and, of course, he had his first punt returned for a touchdown.

Sepulveda entered the game with nine punts -- five of them were downed inside the 10, the most in the NFL, none had gone for a touchback and only one was returned, for 0 yards.

Yesterday, he punted seven times for a 51.4-yard gross -- four were returned for a total of 101 yards, including Breaston's 73-yard touchdown. Sepulveda had two punts downed inside the 20.

Extra incentive

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald brought back memories from his glorious playing days at Pitt with 11 catches for 123 yards, his first 100-yard receiving game this season and the 10th of his career.

"I know a lot of people were watching back in Pittsburgh," said Fitzgerald, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2003, his final season at Pitt. "I really wanted to play well."

Fitzgerald's best catch came when he pulled in a 38-yard pass from quarterback Matt Leinart in the fourth quarter -- outleaping cornerback Ike Taylor to do it -- to set up the clinching touchdown. "Ike had good coverage, but there was no way I wasn't catching that ball," Fitzgerald said.


The Steelers inactives: WR Hines Ward, TE Matt Spaeth, CB Ricardo Colclough, RB Gary Russell, G/C Darnell Stapleton, OT Trai Essex, LB Andre Frazier and QB Brian St. Pierre.

The Cardinals inactives: C Chukky Okobi, WR Anquan Boldin, OT Levi Brown, FB Tim Castille, LB Brandon Johnson, DT Alan Branch, DE Quentin Moses and DT Ross Kolodziej.

Quick hits

Nate Washington made his second pro start, replacing Hines Ward at flanker. He had two catches for 18 yards.

Willie Reid dressed for his first game of the season as a replacement for Ward. He had two catches for 23 yards.

Edgerrin James led the Cardinals with 77 yards rushing, the 29th consecutive game the Steelers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher. Second to them in a current streak are the Tennessee Titans and Cardinals; each has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the past nine games.

Arizona's Neil Rackers sent the only field-goal try of the game wide, from 52 yards.

Mike Tomlin did something not seen very often in the NFL. On fourth-and-inches from the Steelers' 29, he ordered his offense to go for it. Ben Roethlisberger picked up 2 yards on a sneak.

Aaron Smith and Clark Haggans were each credited with a sack. Cardinals tackle Darnell Dockett had three of Arizona's four sacks.

Staff writer Ron Cook contributed to this report. First Published October 1, 2007 4:00 AM


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