Steelers Notebook: Teammates eager for Big Ben's return
October 4, 2010 4:00 AM
Rashard Mendenhall picks up yardage against the Ravens Sunday at Heinz Field. Mendenhall finished with 79 rushing yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns.
By Chuck Finder Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Daniel Sepulveda, backup quarterback Byron Leftwich and kicker Jeff Reed dressed Sunday afternoon for the final, fall weekend with a noticeably vacant locker stall in their midst.
The locker belongs to Ben Roethlisberger.
"We're looking forward to having him back, absolutely," Sepulveda said of the Steelers' quarterback, who sat out the last contest of his four-game NFL suspension.
Today, Roethlisberger may reconvene football conversations with his teammates and coaches, return to the Steelers' South Side facility, rejoin meetings and practice this off week, and resume his on-field play and off-field persona that has attracted detractors since a March incident in Milledgeville, Ga.
"I like the character of this team," receiver and offensive captain Hines Ward said after their Roethlisberger-less record fell to 3-1 with a last-minute, 17-14 loss to Baltimore at Heinz Field. "I like the players that we have. And we get our franchise guy back."
"I'm excited to have Ben back," added linebacker Lawrence Timmons, after a game-high 13 tackles and one of the Steelers' two quarterback hurries. "A Pro Bowl quarterback. Two-time Super Bowl champion. Just get ready for Cleveland."
Gone with the wind
Jeff Reed missed two of his 10 previous field-goal attempts this season. Then he missed two in the third quarter Sunday, both into the windy, open end toward the Heinz Field scoreboard.
Reed, 3 for 7 at Heinz Field this season, went 0 for 2 at home for the first time in his career. He clanged a 49-yard attempt off the right upright on the Steelers' first possession of the second half, after the defense recovered a Ravens fumble at the Baltimore 22. He pushed left a 45-yard try on the second-to-last play of the third quarter. His only previous misses this season were from 55 and 40 yards.
Just one made attempt could have sent this game into overtime, mathematically speaking. But Reed wasn't ready to look at the subjective side of the defeat.
"You can't look back and say, 'If we had Ben, we'd be 4-0,' " Reed said. "Because nobody expected us to be 3-1 [without him]."
On Baltimore's second possession of the second quarter, cornerback Bryant McFadden was flagged for a 29-yard interference penalty on a play where he blindly swiped at a pass to the Ravens' Anquan Boldin, but the visitors wound up punting away the ball.
No, it was his final defensive play that wouldn't fade from memory so easily.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, long a nemesis from his Cincinnati Bengals days, gave McFadden a double-move, out and up in sync with a Joe Flacco pump fake on a first-and-10 in the final half-minute. McFadden later swore he didn't bite so much on the pump as he did the multiple moves. Houshmandzadeh streaked behind him to snare the winning, 18-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left.
"A tough situation, a tough pass," McFadden said. "I actually didn't jump [the pump]. I kind of opened it up, and that allowed him to get by me.
"It's kind of hard to explain. But playing football and playing in the secondary, things of that nature happen. It's tough on me. Regardless of the situation -- a double-move, a triple-move -- I have to be where I need to be.
"Playing against great teams, you don't want to give them second chances. We had opportunities to win, and we didn't execute. It's something to learn from."
Coincidentally, Houshmandzadeh caught Baltimore's final two passes after snagging as many receptions in his previous three games: "I haven't played much, and I've had some things going through my head. But I got a chance to play today and made the most of it."
The Steelers celebrated joyously almost exactly two minutes earlier when William Gay came up with pass break-ups on consecutive plays in the end zone. He had but one in the previous three games.
No, he maintained, nobody on the home sidelines figured the game was sewn up.
"After those two plays, there was like, what, two minutes left?" nickelback Gay said. In actuality, there was 2:40 remaining when the Steelers' offense took over at its 3. "Even though we had two good plays, the [Ravens drive] still ... put the offense in a bad situation. [That] left it up to the defense to do it."
Gay reached over top a diving Derrick Mason on the right at the goal line on third-and-goal. He kept Boldin from catching a fade in the end zone's back, left corner on fourth down.
Shades of 2009?
The Steelers' defense failed to keep a grip on the lead against the Ravens. Was it reminiscent of last season, when the team lost five games in which it held fourth-quarter leads and a sixth that was tied?
"No, it's 2010," said Gay, a starting cornerback through most of those trying times in last year and later replaced when the Steelers traded Arizona to bring back McFadden. "We're 3-1 right now. Rest this week and get everybody healthy, and get ready to start on a 12-game run."
On four consecutive second-half possessions, the Steelers' offense managed two field-goal tries, a clock-burning drive that included two first downs and 10 plays, plus the 93-yard, 13-play drive from their 7 for the go-ahead touchdown midway through the final quarter.
Yet, when the Steelers were backed up to their 3, when they needed just one first down in the final two minutes, the offense couldn't muster one.
"We get a first down, the game's over with," receiver Hines Ward said. The Ravens used their final timeout with 2:35 left after a 2-yard gain on first down to the Steelers' 5. "That's what I kept telling the guys [in the huddle]. We had two false-start penalties [on guard Chris Kemoeatu and tight end Matt Spaeth], that's what hurts the most. As an offensive player, it was in our hands, and we didn't execute the plays."
"We beat ourselves in that situation," quarterback Charlie Batch added. "That's something that you can't have down there. In hindsight, I would like to have those back and not maybe do a hard count. Just get the play [off] and run some time off the clock and not lose time in the process."
Asked if a pass play was required in that situation, using the element of surprise, Batch replied: "They had no timeouts, no. If we were at least able to make a first down, the game is over because they would never get back on the field."
Most Valuable Punter
Sepulveda rocketed his final punts 53 and 47 yards -- the last one utilizing fewer steps and coming under pressure because he was crammed into the back of the Steelers' end zone. Both resulted in fair catches, although a holding penalty gave Baltimore 10 extra yards on that last one.
Still, he wasn't happy with his first-half work: a 52-yarder returned 3 yards, a 38-yarder returned 6 and a 57-yarder returned a game-high 10 yards.
Imagine that: a 49.4-yard average and 45.6-net average day that, to him, was half bad.
"I didn't like my first half," said Sepulveda, who entered Sunday with a 47.4 average and 38.6 net. "I'm just glad to come back and give our guys a chance out there. It's hard to say you had your best game of the year and we didn't win."
After two 40-something touchdown receptions the week before at Tampa, Batch and receiver Mike Wallace tried again Sunday in the third quarter to work their long-ball magic. Both times, Baltimore's Lardarious Webb knocked away the ball, the second one in the end zone.
"My whole week was focusing on No. 17, making sure No. 17 didn't beat me deep," Webb said of Wallace. "We didn't have a game on me. The defensive rush rushed Batch and made him underthrow it, overthrow it."
"We felt we had a good matchup there," Batch added. "When you are in those situations, you just try to get them to play honest by letting them know that we're going to take our shots deep. Didn't connect on them."
• The sum total of the injury report: Brett Keisel left and later returned after left leg cramps, but wasn't in the game on the final defensive series.
• The Steelers in one afternoon equaled their season output to date in penalties and backward yardage: 11 penalties for 88 yards, including four infractions that gave Baltimore first downs, were the same total (11) and 8 more yards than their three-game total entering Sunday. "We didn't play smart enough. The penalties hurt us, no question, in the football game," coach Mike Tomlin said.
Added safety Ryan Clark, "Penalties are what you do to yourself. Those are things that we can control that they don't force us into -- kind of unforced errors."
• Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco: "There's not too many better ways to win a game when you're coming to Pittsburgh. I mean, you blow somebody out, and that's fun and all. But when the game is that close through it all, and you go and win it on the last drive? Once you win it, there's no other better way to win a game. It was awesome."
• Timmons' 13 tackles wasn't a career high or even season high to date: He had 15 total Week 2 at Tennessee.