Ben Roethlisberger's only mistake was a costly one -- his interception on the second play of overtime set up the winning field goal. Otherwise, he was magnificent, completing 13 of his final 17 passes for 230 yards and finishing with 339 yards and two touchdowns. The play he made at the end of the first half to produce a touchdown and tie the score looked as though it would energize the comeback and maybe turn out to be one of those defining moments of a postseason run. Instead, it was just a highlight.
After a lackluster first half in which they didn't have a run longer than 6 yards, the offense got some life from Isaac Redman, especially with a 22-yard run to start the scoring drive that gave the Steelers their first lead. But that was the sum of their production. Fullback Will Johnson had two catches for 34 yards and Redman had a 12-yard reception. But this notion of force-feeding Chris Rainey into the lineup isn't producing much.
Heath Miller made all the big catches in the first half, including a 30-yard touchdown with 34 seconds remaining. He had six of his seven catches in the first half. Mike Wallace was shut out in the first half, but his 60-yard catch to the Dallas 2 set up the second touchdown. Antonio Brown had eight catches and a nice stretch for a 7-yard touchdown, but what's he doing running out of bounds on third down late in the game? And can Emmanuel Sanders drop another ball at midfield after he appears to make a catch?
The protection was much better than a week ago, at least until the end of the fourth quarter. That's when back-to-back sacks on Roethlisberger with 1:34 remaining killed a drive that made it to the Steelers 46. Otherwise, the line was solid in protection, especially with two players at new positions -- rookie David DeCastro at right guard and Ramon Foster at left guard. But no running game to speak of, except for Redman's 22-yard run.
The Cowboys ranked 30th in the league in rush offense but had 67 of their 87 yards rushing in the first half, including a 28-yarder by DeMarco Murray. But the Steelers tightened in the second half, allowing just 20 yards on nine carries, though Murray scored easily on a 3-yard run. Still, the Steelers needed to get pressure up front to help protect an injury-depleted secondary and that just didn't happen.
James Harrison continues to be disruptive, coming up with a big forced fumble in the first quarter when the Cowboys were ready to score at the Steelers 7. And his sack on Tony Romo on third-and-1 was big for the defense because it came after one Steelers touchdown drive and helped ignite another. Lawrence Timmons had a big sack, but he bit on a play fake that allowed tight end Jason Witten to get behind him for a 17-yard score.
Tony Romo was nothing short of sensational, killing the secondary with timing and precision and becoming the first 300-yard passer against them in 20 games. Romo was 10 of 10 in the third quarter, completing all seven passes for 89 yards on the drive that ended with a 24-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant on Keenan Lewis. At one point, he completed 12 in a row. Romo continually picked on Josh Victorian, who started for injured Cortez Allen.
Antonio Brown had two good punt returns, but his fumble after a 22-yard return led to the tying touchdown and changed the complexion of the game. Later, his decision to not catch a short punt was a big error in judgement. The returns have been few and far between this season, but even when it gets them, the offense hasn't capitalized. That's what happened when the Steelers went three-and-out after Brown's 29-yard punt return to midfield at the start of the third quarter.
Bad fundamentals and poor decisions were as much to blame for this loss as anything. Yes, Romo took advantage of a depleted secondary, but the Steelers were in position to win the game when the offense and special teams had breakdowns at the wrong time. This is four losses in five games for a team that kept talking about a late-season run. It's become apparent the players are deluding themselves.
First Published December 17, 2012 5:00 AM