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12-04-2006, 06:02 AM
Forgettable redemption

By Mike Prisuta
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, December 4, 2006


Averting a shutout by kicking a field goal with four seconds remaining was not something Steelers coach Bill Cowher would have done, as Cowher had proven a week ago in Baltimore.

Still, those hoping for a little postgame rhetoric directed by Cowher to Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden were left sadly disappointed, much as Gruden must have been while watching his offense Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

"In the greater scheme of things, does it really even matter?" Cowher finally responded when pressed on the subject.

The same could be said for this: Steelers 20, Buccaneers 3.

A season-low gathering of 59,843 pushed its way through the turnstiles on what turned out to be a pretty good day for football, the first time all season the Steelers had played before fewer than 60,000 fans at home or on the road.

Those that found something better to do probably won't be kicking themselves for having missed seeing the Steelers improve to 5-7, something they were able to do with relative ease given the ineptitude of the Tampa Bay offense.

Still, the game was not completely lacking in redemptive qualities, as far as the Steelers were concerned.

A win, after all, is a win. And this one featured the Steelers looking much more like the team they thought they'd be this season back when 64,927 jammed Heinz Field on opening night against Miami.

That's either frustrating or reassuring, depending on your perspective.

Either way, it'll all be long forgotten by next September.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw his 20th interception on the Steelers' first possession. He responded by hanging in there and finding ways to make plays even though wide receiver Hines Ward couldn't play (knee) and wide receiver Cedrick Wilson couldn't continue (ankle) after coming up lame with just over six minutes left in the first quarter. Roethlisberger's 36-yard sideline hookup with wide receiver Nate Washington and a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller were examples of improvisation at its best.

Cornerback Bryant McFadden turning a dreaded jump ball-fade into an end zone interception when it was still a close game at 10-0 with two minutes left in the third quarter was likewise encouraging. The Steelers have been scorched in such instances more times than they care to remember.

This time, McFadden wasn't even sure what coverage the Steelers were in because of a late substitution out of the goal-line defense. He responded by playing a man and playing the ball.

The Steelers' special teams also rose up and dictated field position, as had been their habit a year ago. The Buccaneers managed all of 9 yards on four punt returns (a 2.3 average) and 90 yards on five kickoff returns (18.0 per). In the process, cornerback Anthony Madison, wide receiver Sean Morey, safety Mike Logan, linebacker James Harrison, running back John Kuhn and safety Anthony Smith came up with big hits and/or impressive open-field tackles on kicking game plays.

And the defense hawked the ball, particularly linebacker Larry Foote, who finished with an interception, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery.

The sure touchdown that Tampa Bay's Michael Clayton dropped helped, too.

In light of all of that, the Steelers couldn't have been too upset that Gruden took the easy way out of denying their defense a shutout.

"I'm sure I'll be criticized for that," Gruden said of the last-play three. "I just wanted our quarterback (Seton-La Salle's Bruce Gradkowski) to leave Pittsburgh with something. We left Pittsburgh with a field goal.

"Whether we kicked it or went for it, it's really beside the point."

In the greater scheme of things, so was everything else.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_482572.html