Cook: The 'other' receivers catch on
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No Hines Ward.
No Cedrick Wilson.
Forget the odds you would have given in the summer that the Steelers wouldn't drag a 5-7 record into their early December home game against the Cleveland Browns. How much would you have bet against wide receivers Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, Sean Morey and Walter Young being heroes in a 27-7 Steelers' win?
You would have lost big.
"I couldn't be more proud of those guys," Ward said afterward, much like a beaming father.
OK, a beaming big brother.
It's no real surprise that Holmes -- making his first NFL start because of injuries to Ward and Wilson -- had a huge impact on a frigid night that wasn't made for catching a hard football thrown at high speeds by strong-armed Ben Roethlisberger. The kid has come a long way since his preseason arrests and his early season fumbling problem. His 17-yard catch on a third-and-4 play on the Steelers' first possession provided an early field-position edge. His 16-yard catch on third-and-4 late in the first quarter set up the Steelers' first touchdown and a 7-0 lead. His 23-yard catch on third-and-7 early in the third quarter was the big play in the Steelers' 12-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that bumped their lead to an insurmountable 17-0. His 25-yard catch in the fourth quarter topped a terrific night, considering the horrid conditions.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
It might be a while before Wilson gets back his starting spot.
It also wasn't such a shock that Washington had a couple of important catches last night. Steelers coach Bill Cowher praised him for his progress earlier in the week despite his unwanted notoriety for dropping three would-be touchdown passes. On this night, he held on to one when the team really needed him. He beat Browns cornerback Leigh Bodden with a sweet double move and pulled in Roethlisberger's gem of a throw "into the teeth of the wind" -- Cowher's words -- for a 49-yard touchdown and that early 7-0 lead. He later made an 18-yard reception to set up a Jeff Reed field goal for a 10-0 lead.
No, Ward -- the leader of the Steelers' wideouts -- doesn't have to worry about his job, but Washington's performance was impressive nonetheless.
"People were down on Nate earlier and said he couldn't catch," Ward said. "But he's a young guy. I just tried to keep his confidence up. He's going to be a good one."
It was Morey and Young who would have cost you the really big money.
Morey -- ordinarily a special teams wiz -- had just one catch. But, it was a big one -- a 15-yarder on a third-and-9 play on the second-quarter field-goal drive. It was his second catch of the season and just the third of his NFL career, which started in 1999 and included three separate stops with Barcelona of the NFL Europe League. Just say it was an unlikely reception.
"He's always looked at as just a special teams player, but he's a good football player," Cowher said. "He knows what to do out there."
Then, there was Young. He looked fairly ridiculous dancing and prancing after his 17-yard catch on a third-and-9 play on that second-quarter field-goal drive. Then again, it was his first NFL catch. You think it was a long time in coming? This is a guy who spent all of the 2004 and '05 seasons and most of this one on the Steelers' practice squad before being signed to the active roster late last month after Ward's knee injury.
You probably would have pranced, too.
"I got the ball for him to keep," Ward said. "That guy has worked his tail off."
Maybe the efforts of the Steelers' receivers weren't as big in the win as Willie Parker's franchise-record 223 yards rushing, but you can argue they opened a few running lanes for Fast Willie.
The catches were especially impressive considering the troubles the Browns' receivers had hanging on to the frozen pig. They dropped at least seven passes, three by wide receiver Dennis Northcutt, who always will be remembered fondly around here because of his killer drop in the Steelers' playoff win against the Browns in '02.
Northcutt's follies are one of the many reasons the Browns are a dreadful team with a 4-9 record and playing as if they want to get coach Romeo Crennel fired.
The play of Holmes, Washington, Morey and Young, meanwhile, is a reason the Steelers kept a pulse and inched a little closer to ?
No, not the playoffs.
Let 'em get to 9-7 before we start worrying about the playoff implications.
First Published December 8, 2006 12:00 am