It's difficult to find a recipient in a game where the offense failed to score a touchdown and managed its fewest points this season, but Cotchery made several big plays in the second half when the Steelers appeared to be ready to make a run at the 49ers. He had five catches for a team-high 93 yards, including four in the fourth quarter. One of those was a 20-yarder on third-and-10 to dig the team from its own 8-yard line, a catch that was wasted a play later when QB Ben Roethlisberger lost a fumble after being sacked.
Right after the Steelers cut the lead to 6-3 on Shaun Suisham's season-long 51-yard FG, QB Alex Smith picked on LBs James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons for three big pass plays on a 79-yard drive that produced their first TD. It started when TE Vernon Davis got isolated on Farrior for a 31-yard catch on the first play of the drive. Then, on successive plays, Timmons got turned around on a 27-yard catch-and-run by RB Kendall Hunter, then got beat on a 21-yard catch by Davis. One play later, Smith used nice play-action to throw a 1-yard TD to a wide-open Davis, and the game was never the same.
A quick look at the top moments from Sunday's game:
1. Costly interception. As they have done so many times this season, the Steelers took the opening kickoff and looked as though they were ready to turn their first possession into a touchdown. It was even more impressive because the injured Roethlisberger had completed his first three passes for 46 yards. But, two plays after a 36-yard catch-and-run by Mike Wallace to the SF 22, Roethlisberger tried to jam a throw to Wallace that was intercepted by CB Carlos Rogers in the end zone. His 31-yard return sparked a 79-yard drive that ended with a field goal.
2. Bad play. One play after the Steelers cut the lead to 6-3 on Suisham's 51-yard field goal, TE Vernon Davis got behind LB James Farrior for a 31-yard catch, instantly changing the momentum and sparking a 79-yard drive that resulted in a touchdown.
3. Bad play II. When 49ers safety Dashon Goldson intercepted Roethlisberger's high pass for TE Heath Miller, Mike Wallace was slow to make a play on Goldson when he fell to the ground, Goldson got up and ran 21 yards, putting the 49ers in better field position on a drive that resulted in a field goal and a 6-0 lead.
4. Sack master. Rookie LB Aldon Smith, who had 10 ?? sacks in his previous 10 games, had three more against Roethlisberger, the most damaging occurring when he forced a fumble from the Steelers 28 that the 49ers converted into a field goal for a 20-3 lead.
5. Big kick. Shaun Suisham had not made a field goal beyond 50 yards and was xx of xx between 40 and 49 yards this season. But, needing a lift, he hit a 51-yard field goal to cut the lead to 6-3 -- a boost that was short-lived when the 49ers scored on the ensuing possession.
QB Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three interceptions and lost a fumble to the 49ers: "I feel like I let down the team, the fans, the coaches. It's very frustrating. I was probably the best 49er tonight."
That was the number of turnovers by Roethlisberger, the second time this season he has committed at least that many in a game (5 in Baltimore on Sept. 11). Roethlisberger's three interceptions also tied his season high, set in the same game against the Ravens.
The decision to start Roethlisberger was not a desperation move to win the game and gain the inside path to the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. Rather, the decision to use him was made even before the Baltimore Ravens lost in San Diego Sunday night -- a defeat that put the Steelers in position to win the division title and get a first-round bye if they won their remaining three games. But, after being sacked three times and hit on several other throws in the fourth quarter, why did the Steelers continue to put him back in the game when trailing by more than two touchdowns? With no first-round bye on the horizon, risking injury to their star quarterback was not the wisest decision.
UP NEXT: The Steelers (10-4) return home to play the St. Louis Rams (2-12) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field. This is only the fourth time since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1994 that the teams have met. The Steelers are 2-1 in those games.