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lamberts-lost-tooth
11-12-2007, 07:03 AM
Ben big in comeback over Browns
By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Monday, November 12, 2007


The results haven't reflected the emphasis the Steelers placed on special teams during training camp.

When asked Sunday if he's more surprised or disappointed about kickoff coverage unit's struggles, given how much practice time was devoted to special teams, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "Imagine what it would have looked like if we hadn't done that."

That would have qualified as gallows humor following a wild game Sunday had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger not played brilliantly when the Steelers needed him most.

Roethlisberger engineered three touchdown drives in the second half, as the Steelers overcame a double-digit halftime deficit and their own atrocious play on special teams to beat the Cleveland Browns, 31-28, at Heinz Field.

In beating the Browns (5-4) for the ninth consecutive time, the Steelers (7-2) took a commanding lead in the AFC North.
They are two games ahead of the second-place Browns in the standings with seven games remaining, but they essentially have a three-game lead over Cleveland based on a head-to-head tiebreaker.

"We had an opportunity to do something we hadn't done and that's show our mettle and come from behind and pull it out," said Tomlin, whose team plays the 1-8 New York Jets next Sunday in the Meadowlands. "It was far from perfect. The reality is we were good enough to win, so we're not going to apologize for style points."

Roethlisberger, who went 23-of-34 passing for 278 yards, threw a pair of touchdown passes in the second half, and his 30-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter gave the Steelers their first lead.

After Joshua Cribbs returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, Roethlisberger calmly led the Steelers on 14-play, 78-yard drive.

He twice converted on third-and-long, finding a wide-open Heath Miller over the middle for 20 yards when the Steelers needed 18 to move the chains and scrambling for 10 yards when the Steelers needed 9 to get a new set of downs.

The run in which he delivered a wicked stiff-arm to Browns linebacker Willie McGinest gave the Steelers the ball at the Browns' 2 and set up his game-winning touchdown pass to Miller.

Victory, however, seemed anything but certain after Miller's sixth touchdown reception of the season, not with three minutes to play and Cribbs taking the field as the deep man for the ensuing kickoff.

His 90-yard kickoff return in the first half had set up a Browns touchdown, and his 100-yard return in the fourth quarter had to be even more galling to Tomlin.

Cribbs misplayed Jeff Reed's kickoff after the Steelers had taken a 24-21 lead, and when he picked up the ball on the goal line, the Steelers appeared to be in perfect position to drop him for a minimal gain.

But Cribbs, who finished with 204 kickoff return yards (Cleveland had just 163 yards of total offense), sliced through the first wave of defenders. He broke a tackle near the 20-yard line and took off down the Steelers' sideline.

"One thing that is for certain," Tomlin said, "is we stink as a kickoff coverage unit."

With LaMarr Woodley hurt, Tomlin turned to starting outside linebacker James Harrison to replace him on the coverage team for Reed's final kickoff of the game.

"There were other guys on the starting defense that wanted to get in, but they didn't get the practice reps that I did, so I was the guy that went in," said Harrison, who played primarily on special teams prior to this season, combined with special teams co-captain Clint Kriewaldt to tackle Cribbs after a short gain on Reed's kickoff.

After the Browns and Steelers traded punts, Cribbs appeared to give Cleveland excellent field position.

However, a holding penalty on Darnell Dinkins wiped out Cribbs' punt return that would have put the Browns in Steelers territory with a little more than a minute to play. Instead, the Browns took possession at their 33.

The Browns reached the Steelers' 35-yard line, but Phil Dawson's last-second, 52-yard field-goal attempt fell just short.

"To come back from behind, it just says a lot about our team and how we have a bunch of fighters in here that never quit," defensive end Brett Keisel said.

The game, however, tested many things, including Tomlin's patience with his special teams and the players' nerves.

"Maybe fun and exciting for the fans," strong safety Troy Polamalu said of playing in the back-and-forth game, "but not for us."


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Coaching comparison (ninth game)
Here's a look at how Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his two predecessors, Bill Cowher (1992) and Chuck Noll (1969), fared in their first season:

TOMLIN (7-2)
Steelers 31, Browns 28

COWHER (6-3)
Bills 28, Steelers 20

NOLL (1-8)
Browns 24, Steelers 3