He didn't just step in and start for Ryan Clark, who was held out because of potential health risks in high altitude. He had two of the three interceptions against Broncos QB Kyle Orton, including a 48-yard return for touchdown that gave the Steelers a 7-3 lead on the fourth play of the second quarter. His other interception came at the end of the game and was the final exclamation on a performance in which the Broncos had just 59 yards and three first downs in the second half.
A quick look at the top performances from last night's game:
1. ROETHLISBERGER'S QUICK COMEBACK: The Broncos scored their only touchdown of the game when QB Ben Roethlisberger was stripped on a sack and LB Robert Ayers returned the fumble 54 yards for a TD. But Roethlisberger wasted little time atoning for the turnover, completing three passes for 56 yards on a four-play, 80-yard drive that took 2:07 and ended with a 3-yard TD pass to Hines Ward. The big play on the drive was a 35-yard pass to Santonio Holmes over cornerback Champ Bailey.
2. MENDENHALL'S BIG RUNS: After rushing for just 25 yards in the first half, Rashard Mendenhall had runs of 24, 28 and 36 yards in the second half to finish with 155 yards on 22 carries against the league's No. 3 rush defense. Two of the three runs led to Roethlisberger touchdown throws.
3. ANOTHER DEFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN: Carter's interception return for touchdown in the second quarter was the third defensive TD in a three-quarter span for the Steelers. It followed LaMarr Woodley's 77-yard fumble return and Keyaron Fox's 82-yard interception return against the Vikings.
4. WARD'S BIG SECOND HALF: Hines Ward had only one catch for 4 yards in the first half, but he had six for 40 yards and two touchdowns -- both 3-yarders -- in the second half. The latter, with 1:22 remaining, came when he leaped over CB Champ Bailey's diving tackle attempt.
5. ANOTHER POLAMALU PICK: Since returning after missing four games with a knee injury, S Troy Polamalu has two interceptions in three games. His pick of an overthrown pass at the Broncos' 25 set up Roethlisberger's 25-yard TD pass to Wallace that made it 21-10.
That's the number of offensive plays the Steelers ran in the first half, tying their fewest of the season. Nonetheless, they held a 7-3 halftime lead. Curiously, they ran only 18 offensive plays in the first half of their Sept. 27 game against Cincinnati and led at halftime then, too, 13-3.
Mike Tomlin's decision not to play Ryan Clark against the Broncos was made early last week, and he is to be commended for it. Clark is not unlike a lot of pro football players: He has a gladiator's mentality and does not want to miss any game. But, Tomlin stepped in and took the decision away from Clark, a preemptive strike that not only relieved the free safety of any guilt or regret he might have felt by not playing; it prevented Clark, had he played, from worrying if his health was being compromised.
"We struggled offensively, we struggled defensively, and they took over the game. They were trying to throw some short passes, get some rhythm, and they did that."
-- Josh McDaniels on the Steelers' second half
vs. CINCINNATI BENGALS, 1 P.M. SUNDAY: The Steelers will meet a division leader for the third consecutive game when they play Cincinnati. The Bengals won the first meeting this year, ending the Steelers' eight-game winning streak in Paul Brown Stadium.
The Sporting News magazine recently voted Ben Roethlisberger as the best NFL QB at keeping a play alive, and he showed why on one play in the third quarter. On third down at the Broncos' 25, Roethlisberger avoided the pressure, rolled to his right and patiently waited for WR Mike Wallace to come free over the middle for a 25-yard touchdown that made it 21-10 with 7:03 left. It was all part of a second half in which he completed 15 of 20 passes for 184 yards and three TDs. "We went no huddle and did a good job picking up the blitz and making plays," Roethisberger said.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .