Stars step up and save the game for Steelers
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Steelers linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley surely will get AFC defensive player of the week consideration for their marvelous play in the 23-20 overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens last night. It almost seemed unfair to turn them loose on Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. They combined for 18 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 quarterback hurries and 2 forced Flacco fumbles. As a topper, Woodley picked up the fumble caused by Harrison and ran it 7 yards for a touchdown that put the Steelers ahead late in the third quarter.
But Harrison and Woodley weren't the brightest Steelers stars on this fascinating Monday night-turned-Tuesday morning at Heinz Field. Those would be wide receiver Santonio Holmes and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Holmes for making the spectacular play that saved the game when all appeared lost for the home team.
Roethlisberger for doing what the truly great ones do, hanging in on a bad night and fairly willing his team to victory.
"We'll take it no matter how ugly it is," Big Ben said when the 31/2 hours of brutality finally ended. "[A] 3-1 [record] sounds a lot better than 2-2."
Who saw this win coming?
You would have bet the mortgage that the Steelers wouldn't come back from ...
That's a bad choice of words these days.
You would have bet just about anything that the Steelers wouldn't climb out of a 13-3 hole late in the third quarter. To say Roethlisberger and his offense were lame to that point would be generous. Roethlisberger threw a terrible interception -- to 345-pound defensive end Haloti Ngata, of all people -- when the ball slipped out of his hand in the first quarter, a play that seemed to swing the game the Ravens' way. The next four Steelers' possessions ended in punts. They went from the seven-minute mark of the first quarter to the nine-minute mark of the third quarter without so much as a first down.
Remember, this was the same Steelers' offense that didn't score a touchdown in a 15-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend and was lucky to get one in a 10-6 win in Cleveland the weekend before.
"I was probably more vocal at halftime than I've ever been," Roethlisberger said. "We were terrible in that first half ...
"I was tired of being booed and tired of being embarrassed on offense. I told our guys there was no need for it. I'm proud of the way they bounced back in the second half."
What made that more impressive was that it came against the NFL's No. 1 defense. Maybe the Ravens didn't brutalize Roethlisberger the way the Eagles did, but they looked awfully impenetrable.
Roethlisberger lobbied for coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to try the no-huddle on the Steelers' pivotal third-quarter drive. They obliged. "We get a rhythm going," Roethlisberger said. "I like it because it's going off what I see, not necessarily what the coaches see."
Holmes, meanwhile, lobbied for the ball.
"I told our guys walking out at halftime that I was going to make the play to spark us. 'I'll be the difference-maker,' " he said. "I told the coaches, 'I'm ready to make a play.' "
Say this about Holmes: He's a man of his word.
On a third-and-4 play from the Baltimore 38, Roethlisberger, under tremendous pressure again, stepped up in the pocket and somehow found Holmes in the middle of the field. Cornerback Fabian Washington made a diving try to break up the pass -- instead of making the tackle for a short gain -- and paid a terrible price when he missed. Defensive back Chris McAlister and All-Pro safety Ed Reed had shots at Holmes, but he eluded them.
The next thing you knew, the Steelers were very much alive.
Down 13-10, but very much alive, thanks to that improbable 38-yard touchdown.
"Sometimes," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said, "all it takes is one play."
Harrison and Woodley took over from there with Harrison sacking Flacco on the next play and Woodley picking up the loose ball for his touchdown and a 17-13 lead.
Two touchdowns in 15 seconds had the big stadium rocking.
It would rock again in overtime when Roethlisberger made two more plays against that proud Baltimore defense. He stepped up to avoid the pressure and found running back Mewelde Moore for 24 yards on third-and-8, then stood tall in the pocket to find Moore again for 7 yards to get kicker Jeff Reed just close enough for his 46-yard winning field goal.
"I wasn't sure what to do there -- run or not," Roethlisberger said of that second pass to Moore, an unlikely hero who was in the game only because of injuries to starter Rashard Mendenhall and backup Carey Davis.
"But I knew we needed a chunk of yards on that play. Not a lot, just a chunk."
It was some finish.
But it wouldn't have been possible if not for Holmes' big-play heroics against a star-studded secondary and Roethlisberger's persistence in the face of that ferocious Ravens' pass rush.
First Published September 30, 2008 1:01 am