Roethlisberger used to slow starts, fast finishes


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When all the fireworks stopped and the music finally quit pulsating from Point State Park, Ben Roethlisberger turned in what is becoming just a typical day (or night) at the office: Passing for 363 yards, the third-highest total of his career, and engineering the 18th comeback victory of his six-year career to defeat the Tennessee Titans.

It was not without a shaky start, even though the ending was pretty good.

Roethlisberger completed four of six passes for 27 yards in the first quarter of the NFL season opener, but he was sacked twice and threw one interception. His only completions were short passes to Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller, each of whom finished the night with eight or more catches.

"I struggled early," Roethlisberger said. "That's just jitters and excitement."

Consider:

The one long pass he attempted was on the first series when he badly underthrew rookie receiver Mike Wallace cutting deep across the field. The play was the same one on which Roethlisberger later would throw a 34-yard touchdown to Holmes that gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead.

"If he just throws it instead of trying to get it there, it's an easy touchdown," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

After that, though, it was pretty much a repeat of what the Steelers have come to expect from their quarterback.

He ended the fourth quarter and began the overtime just as he ended the Super Bowl -- adroitly running the hurry-up offense and looking as precise as a Swiss watchmaker.

Roethlisberger missed only four passes after halftime, completing 18 of 22 passes for 183 yards, and that included completing his final 12 passes of regulation.

Running the no-huddle offense, he led the Steelers to Jeff Reed's tying field goal with 2:57 remaining, then looked as if he would produce another last-second finish until Ward fumbled at the Titans' 4 after a 30-yard catch-and-run with 51 seconds remaining.

No problem.

The Steelers won the coin toss and Roethlisberger quickly completed 5 of 7 passes for 60 yards on the first series of overtime to set up Reed's 33-yard winning field goal, capping a maddening 13-10 victory.

"I told Coach, I didn't want to start this already, these fourth-quarter comebacks," Roethlisberger said.

But he did. After doing it six times last season, Roethlisberger is already 1-for-1 in 2009.

"He did it in the Super Bowl and now this first overtime," Arians said of Roethlisberger's ability to run his two-minute offense. "I would think that people would start giving him his due as a player."

The Steelers needed it, too, because their running game, coming off a season in which they finished with the lowest average of any playoff team in franchise history, managed just 36 yards on 23 carries. It was their lowest total since they rushed for 33 yards in Week 3 last season in Philadelphia.

"We don't want to be a one-sided team," said Willie Parker, who saw his streak of 100-yard games in four consecutive season openers end on a night in which he managed 19 yards on 13 carries. "With the run, we'd be lethal."

The Titans dressed eight defensive linemen -- the Steelers, by contrast, dress only six -- and they did that deliberately because they used every one of them in rotation to pressure Roethlisberger, who was sacked four times.

He was also hit hard on several other occasions, the most vicious coming early in the third quarter when he was drilled by defensive end William Hayes.

Don't blame the offensive line for that. Roethlisberger twice changed the play at the line of scrimmage and rookie receiver Mike Wallace, who was lined farthest from the quarterback, did not hear the audible.

When the play broke down, Hayes came free and drilled Roethlisberger, who got up slowly from the hit.

"They are very physical, Baltimore-esque if you will," Roethlisberger said of the Titans. "I told the guys up front that I was really proud of the way that the third and fourth quarter, and then overtime, went. One or two of those sacks, maybe all of them, were my fault. You're excited and you're trying to make plays."


For more on the Steelers, read the PG's Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at post-gazette.com/plus . Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com .


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