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11-20-2006, 01:41 AM
Collier: Roethlisberger gives Steelers temporary relief from all that trouble
Monday, November 20, 2006

By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


CLEVELAND -- With a first-half passer rating that looked more like a birth weight (6.4), with a suddenly chronic inability to even throw off the correct foot, with an operationally defective offense that gagged on its first seven possessions and hacked through most of the first three quarters, Ben Roethlisberger still never got the feeling the Steelers were in trouble at Cleveland Browns Stadium yesterday.

Well, that was one of us.

"He was off," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. "I don't know if it was the ball, the rain ..."

The season ... the year.

"Whatever it was," Whisenhunt finished, "what matters is he came back."

This, for future reference, is why you don't go to Charlie Batch at halftime.

Roethlisberger overcame three first-half interceptions with some kind of complete psychic inversion, going 18 for 29 for 224 yards and two touchdowns in a fourth quarter that included touchdown drives of 87, 79 and 77 yards.

That it was all barely enough to beat the Browns, who haven't won two games in a row in more than three years, didn't seem to matter all that much in a relieved Steelers locker room.

"It was a gutsy effort by Ben," coach Bill Cowher decided in the minutes after a 24-20 victory that had all the aesthetic appeal of the miserable Cleveland afternoon. "I don't know if we've dug ourselves too big a hole and maybe we have, but these guys are still playing and they're playing hard."

Cowher said he was glad the offense "got unglued." He meant "unstuck," but unglued was the better choice for most of this affair. Against the 30th-ranked run defense in the NFL, the Steelers ran for all of 77 yards on 20 carries, with Willie Parker back to averaging 2.9 after his 213-yard performance a week ago against New Orleans. Generally when you have three consecutive possessions end with interceptions, when one is returned for a touchdown and a kickoff is returned for a touchdown as well, you're going to lose in the very way the 2006 Steelers have grown so accustomed to losing.

But it was just about at that point, when Joshua Cribbs returned a Jeff Reed kick 92 yards for a touchdown and immediately drew an excessive celebration penalty (tell me, somebody, what is there to celebrate excessively with these two teams?), that someone on the Steelers' offense finally took a look around and asked a very useful question: Wait a minute, aren't these the Browns?

Oh boy, were these the Browns.

On the Steelers' next possession, in the minutes after Cleveland had erected its second 10-point lead of the game with only 9:21 remaining, the Browns committed three personal foul penalties on eight plays, one for yanking Roethlisberger's facemask, one for pulling Parker's and one for hauling Hines Ward down by the collar. That drive, which pulled the Steelers to within 20-17, was twice sustained by clutch catches on the part of rookie Santonio Holmes.

"I guess he was motivated by the Ohio State win [Saturday]," Roethlisberger said. "He dropped one early but I told him, 'Forget about it, I'm coming right back to you.' I'm getting more confidence in him every week."

Holmes, who had five catches for 75 yards and his first pro touchdown, jump-started an offense that was gradually figuring out that an unusual reliance on crossing patterns from the no-huddle was the key against the Browns' secondary, particularly in the fourth quarter.

"I've got to give these receivers a lot of credit," Roethlisberger said. "They were getting tired running all over the field, and when I'm scrambling, they really don't know what's going on. They've got to be careful not to block in the back, there's a lot to remember in that situation. They're the ones making plays in that situation. I'm just running around throwing it."

While he was whipping another to Holmes for 15 yards and a first down a couple of minutes later, Browns linebacker Kamerion Wimbley rode him into the turf and appeared to injure Roethlisberger's right shoulder.

Roethlisberger walked dramatically to the sideline at the two-minute warning, where Cowher asked if he could throw.

"What if I can't?" Roethlisberger said.

"I'll put Charlie in," Cowher said.

"I can throw," Roethlisberger said.

Two plays later, Roethlisberger whipped an 8-yard strike to Holmes on third-and-6, and three plays after that, Wimbley was back on him, putting his right paw right on Roethlisberger's front number, but the quarterback who had thrown so many awkward passes in the first half had one more awkward pass left. He got his right arm free and scrambled left, shoveling one to Parker inside the 5 on which Parker turned and leaned into a winning touchdown.

"Things weren't going well for a while," Roethlisberger said, "but I never got the feeling, you know, that we were in trouble."

Maybe that's the kind of lens you need to play quarterback in this league. But they were in trouble, and as it happens, they still are.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06324/739772-150.stm