Cook: Not having Wallace would hurt Steelers' chances to win
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For a pulled hamstring waiting to happen, as Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace has been called by his many critics who still are angry at him for missing training camp in a contract disagreement, Wallace looked pretty good Sunday night in a loss to the Denver Broncos.
Don't expect an I-told-you-so from the man, though.
"I don't care about those people," Wallace said. "They're worried about me. I'm not worried about what they think. I only care about what my teammates think. I know they're 100 percent with me."
Wallace was a bright spot in the Steelers' 31-19 loss in the so-so debut of new coordinator Todd Haley's offense. Each of the three young wide receivers -- Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders -- played well, as did old tight end Heath Miller. The four combined for 16 catches, 216 yards and two touchdowns.
No one was quite sure what to expect from Wallace, who missed all of camp and practiced just one week before the game. Would he be in shape? Would he understand Haley's offense? Would he be disgruntled after failing to reach a long-term contract with the Steelers?
It turns out Wallace is in good condition. He made it through the game without pulling that hamstring or a groin, for that matter. He fit quite nicely into the offense, catching one touchdown pass and seeing another left on the field when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn't see him wide open deep down the middle in the fourth quarter. He said he isn't sweating about having to play out the season for the Steelers' one-year tender for slightly more than $2.7 million.
"It was cool because I put points on the board for my team," Wallace said of his 3-yard touchdown catch that gave the Steelers a 19-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. "I don't care about personal things. That was nowhere on my mind. I just wanted to win. I just wanted to come out and do whatever I could to help my team. It was nothing about me. There was no personal satisfaction. We lost."
That doesn't mean that Wallace's touchdown catch wasn't terrific. He used his body to screen cornerback Tracy Porter. Roethlisberger put the ball in the perfect spot.
"To me, that's a sign of how far Mike has come as a receiver," Roethlisberger said. "That's not a play you usually expect him to make. He's a speed guy, an over-the-top guy. That was a big-man catch over the middle."
Roethlisberger will kick himself this morning when he reviews the game tape and sees Wallace streaking alone down the field on that fourth-quarter play. Under pressure, Roethlisberger threw incomplete for Miller on the other side of the field. There were 8 1/2 minutes left. The Steelers trailed, 22-19.
But Roethlisberger knows he and Wallace will have other chances to connect on the deep ball. They have combined for a franchise-record 11 touchdown passes of 40 yards or longer.
That's why Roethlisberger was Wallace's No. 1 supporter during Wallace's estrangement from the team in the spring and summer. His simple, pointed response when asked about those who say the Steelers don't need a player who had the nerve to skip camp?
Roethlisberger expounded on the topic.
"Mike is such a team player. I know people think he's being selfish, but it's not that way at all. He's an awesome team player ...
"Any time Mike is on the field, he commands two eyes, whether it's the cornerback and the safety, there's always going to be someone keeping an eye on him. Mike gets frustrated sometimes when he's not getting 100 yards a game, but I tell him that's the ultimate compliment when you're being double- and triple-teamed because that means they're scared of you. Mike brings that to this team."
It's nice to think Haley will take more deep shots with Wallace. But that's just one offensive issue that needs to be addressed before the Steelers play the New York Jets Sunday at Heinz Field. The offense was most effective against the Broncos when it was running no-huddle with Roethlisberger calling the plays. Its running game was ineffective, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry on 26 attempts. It also had trouble protecting Roethlisberger late. He was sacked on three of the final four plays after the Broncos took a 31-19 lead.
"That was a meltdown by us," guard Willie Colon said of the offensive line. "We've got to do better than that. That's when bad things happen. If nothing else, you want [Roethlisberger] to be able to walk away from the game clean."
Roethlisberger said he is fine, the normal bumps and bruises aside. He will be ready for the Jets. So will Wallace. He's smart enough to realize he needs to have a big year to make the big money next season as an unrestricted free agent or as the Steelers' franchise player. He figures his four-catch, 37-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Broncos is just a start.
"I'm going to keep fighting and trying to make as many plays as I can for my teammates."
A pulled hamstring waiting to happen?
Wallace is a player who's going to help the Steelers win.
First Published September 11, 2012 12:00 am