His role has changed this year with the development of Bryant McFadden, going from starter to nickel back. But he made one of the most satisfying plays of his 11-year career, sitting in zone coverage and picking off Tony Romo's errant pass for tight end Jason Witten and returning the pick 25 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:40 remaining. It was one of three interceptions the secondary managed against Romo, but it was the defining moment of a fourth quarter in which the Steelers scored 17 points in the final 7:15 to pull out an improbable victory.
A quick look at the top performances from the win yesterday:
1. TOWNSEND'S PICK SIX: James Farrior called this the most satisfying victory of the season, and the reason the Steelers could celebrate was Townsend's interception return for a touchdown, his first pick-six since a 39-yard return against New England in the 2004 season. Usually, Townsend is in man coverage when he lines in the slot in the nickel defense. But defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau changed to a zone defense on second-and-8, allowing Townsend to face Romo instead of playing with his back to the ball. "All I had to do was see the quarterback," Townsend said.
2. NATE'S GREAT STRETCH: Nate Washington had a team-high four catches for 58 yards -- three on the drive that produced the tying touchdown. The biggest was a 21-yarder on a slant to the Dallas 32. "You don't want the ball coming to you and you not make that play," Washington said.
3. HEATH WON'T BE BARRED FROM THE END ZONE: Miller atoned for a rare fumble in the first quarter with a 6-yard touchdown catch with 2:04 remaining that tied the game, 13-13. The 67-yard drive was set up by a poor 23-yard punt that, for a change, was not by Mitch Berger.
4. WOULD YOU LIKE A COFFEE WITH THAT TURNOVER? The Steelers had five takeaways for the second game in a row, including three interceptions against Romo. In the past four games, they have had 13 takeaways, including eight interceptions.
5. IKE HOLDS ON TO THE BALL: After letting a number of would-be interceptions go through his hands, including one in the end zone in New England, Ike Taylor made a leaping play to pick off a sideline pass for Terrell Owens in the second quarter, setting up Jeff Reed's first field goal for a 3-0 lead.
That's the number of yards Santonio Holmes had on the two longest plays turned in by the Steelers. One was a 47-yard catch on a drive that ended with another failed goal-line stand. The other was a 35-yard punt return, the longest of the season, to set up Jeff Reed's second FG.
It was a play that used to send Bill Cowher into a tizzy -- Jeff Reed kicking out of bounds with 7:15 left. Reed, though, said he was trying to kick toward the right sideline to avoid the middle of the field but misjudged the strength of the wind. He bombed the next two kickoffs down the middle of the field, one to the goalline, the other 2 yards deep. The Cowboys didn't return either past the 18. "As impressive as anything was our coverage on the last two," coach Mike Tomlin said.
"What a beautiful game. I mean that. People get too preoccupied with style points. ... Are we far from perfect? Yes. But this is our football team. They didn't blink in the face of adversity." -- Mike Tomlin, Steelers coach.
The Ravens have won the past five meetings in Baltimore, but the Steelers won the first meeting this season, 23-20, in overtime. The Ravens are one game behind in the AFC North division.
One of the plays the Steelers worked on to combat the Cowboys blitz was exactly what they used to tie the game: Ben Roethlisberger's 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller. After a 16-yard pass to Nate Washington to the Cowboys 6, he anticipated the blitz pressure with a pass in the left flat to Miller, who shook off a tackle from safety Ken Hamlin. His other option was Hines Ward cutting across the middle. "You're not going to stop Heath one-on-one in that situation," Roethlisberger said.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com .