Jonathan Dwyer is doing his best to make coach Mike Tomlin have a difficult decision when his top two running backs return from injuries.
Dwyer did something Sunday that hadn't been done in four years when he recorded his second consecutive 100-yard rushing performance in the Steelers' 27-12 victory against the Washington Redskins. The previous back to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games was Willie Parker in 2008.
Dwyer rushed for 107 yards on 17 carries after running for 122 yards on 17 carries in the victory last week at Cincinnati.
"He's answered the call and taken advantage of the opportunity and that's what we expect from our young people," Tomlin said.
Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall and backup Isaac Redman are close to returning, but Tomlin would not divulge if he was leaning toward keeping Dwyer as the starter.
"I'll see what they look like next week," Tomlin said. "You're not getting it today."
Many of Dwyer's yards came after first contact, including most of his game-long 34-yard run in the first quarter. When Dwyer wasn't bulling over Redskins defenders, he was stiff-arming them or neatly sidestepping them to get more yards.
"That's an amazing feeling," guard Ramon Foster said. "You get your guy on the ground, and you hear the crowd explode. He's a unique running back. Coach always said he's a good running back. Now we're starting to see him get into his mode. He's clicking right now. He has a good skill set. He's hitting that second level. He can break a tackle on the first level and go 30-plus yards."
Dwyer's hard-nosed running style is well-received by his teammates.
"When you put the ball in his hands, he's going to give you everything he's got," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He brings a little bit of power, a little bit of quickness, a little bit of speed -- not a lot of speed -- but a little bit of speed. He runs hard. He runs with a passion, and it's fun to watch."
Roethlisberger got in a little good-natured dig at Dwyer, who is 5 feet 11 and weighs 229 pounds. What Dwyer lacks in 40-yard dash speed he makes up for with quickness and his ability to run through would-be tacklers.
"I knew if I stayed patient my opportunity would come," Dwyer said. "It's just about using the opportunity to make a statement and taking advantage of it. That's what I'm trying to do."
Dwyer joined his running back mates on the injury list by game's end. Tomlin said he had a quad injury, but Dwyer said: "I'm fine. I'll be all right."
It was Dwyer's third career 100-yard rushing game. He rushed for 107 against Tennessee last season.
Reserve tight end Leonard Pope's 1-yard touchdown catch was his first in more than a year. Pope had one touchdown catch for Kansas City last year on Sept. 25. Pope, a seven-year veteran who also played for Arizona, was brought in to be Heath Miller's backup, but the touchdown grab was just his second reception of the season.
"Sometimes you have to be patient, and when your number is called you have to deliver," he said. "This is not my first rodeo. You have to stay on your game day in and day out."
Fullback Will Johnson scored the first touchdown of his NFL career when he reeled in a 1-yard pass from Roethlisberger in the third quarter to make it 27-9.
The Redskins forgot to cover Johnson much in the same way they forgot to cover Pope near the goal line earlier in the game.
"We're all getting lost in the shuffle on some play-action passes," Johnson said. "It was good to us guys who don't usually get touchdowns score."
The Steelers finished the game with their two backup safeties after Ryan Clark sustained a concussion in the third quarter when he attempted to tackle Washington running back Alfred Morris. Ryan Mundy replaced him. Will Allen started in place of Troy Polamalu, who missed his third consecutive game with a calf injury.
Clark said "I'm fine" as he walked past reporters on his way out of the locker room.
The only other injured player was linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who strained his right hamstring.
Tight end Heath Miller caught his 37th career touchdown pass in the second quarter, tying the franchise record for most touchdowns by a tight end. Elbie Nickel, who played with the Steelers from 1947-57, also had 37 touchdowns.
Miller now has 4,200 receiving yards and Sunday passed Plaxico Burress for seventh most in franchise history.
Though it had no direct effect on the outcome of the game, the ejection of Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall late in the fourth quarter capped a frustrating day for his team.
After a run up the middle for no gain by Dwyer, Hall got tangled up on the outside with Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The two went to the ground, and as Hall got up, he and Sanders exchanged words. When an official came in to restore order, Hall removed his helmet and started talking in an animated way to the official. He then pointed to the large video board at Heinz Field indicating that he wanted the official to look at a replay.
Hall then began approaching head linesman Dana McKenzie, still talking in an animated way, and as McKenzie backed away, he threw a penalty flag. Some of his teammates then started to intervene and when Hall resisted their efforts, another official threw a second flag. It cost the Redskins 30 yards and essentially salted away the game for the Steelers.
"I'm not going to discuss the play," Hall said to a crowd of media members in front of his locker. "I will talk with [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell [today]. My agent called Roger Goodell and the NFL. We're going to watch the film on it."
When he was informed that the NFL offices would be closed today because of the threat of Hurricane Sandy to New York City, Hall didn't acknowledge the information. Hall said his agent is attempting to set up a meeting with Goodell.
"I'm very disappointed," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "We talk all the time about keeping your composure regardless of what happens, regardless of what the situation is. You never put your team in that type of situation."
Shanahan said he wouldn't share what Hall said to the official.
"I'm not going to share it with anybody anyhow, but it was enough to draw the flag."
Linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said: "Obviously, Hall plays with his emotions on his sleeve, and we love him for it. But at the same time, you've got to keep things in check the best you can."
A trick play that involved Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III in the second quarter was run according to plan. The only problem was the Steelers actually covered the play. And Griffin committed a penalty.
With the Redskins trailing, 17-6, and facing a third-and-4 from their 43, Griffin threw a backward pass to the right to wide receiver Joshua Morgan. As the Steelers converged on Morgan, Griffin began racing down the opposite sideline.
Cornerback Ike Taylor was trailing Griffin, and Clark was running over to offer support. Morgan's pass was just out of the reach of Griffin, and Clark then put a jarring shoulder hit on Griffin at the end of the play.
Adding insult to almost injury, Griffin was called for offensive pass interference.
"We weren't counting on that hit," Shanahan said. "I've run that play a lot of times and the quarterbacks have walked in. We got the wrong coverage to throw it. Usually when a guy throws it to him [the quarterback-turned-receiver] he's wide open. It's man-to-man coverage. They did a good job of changing it up there with a zone."
Griffin said in practice the play worked well.
"I'm not going to sit here and tell coach Shanahan not to call plays like that," Griffin said. "They feel like they're going to work. Every time in practice versus that look it worked. It was a look we had seen on film. That look on film, the play was successful. It was successful in practice. It just didn't work out in the game."
Unofficially, the Redskins were credited with seven dropped passes in the game. And on many occasions, drops stopped drives or prevented scores.
"It was a rainy day and the ball slips out of your hands," Morgan said. "It was bad weather and a slippery field, that's all it was. And a lack of concentration. At halftime, we were changing to longer studs [spikes] and trying to dry off our jerseys, because they were wet and slippery."
For his part, Griffin said working with his receivers is a work in progress.
"I'm going to have to look at it on film and say, 'Hey, I could've given him a better ball here, a better ball there.' Like I told them, we're all working in this thing together. It's not one guy's fault ever. We just have to make sure we go out and execute better."Steelers
Sports editor Jerry Micco and staff writer Ron Cook contributed to this report. Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published October 29, 2012 4:00 AM