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11-17-2008, 04:47 AM
Steelers' fourth-quarter drive sets up winning FG by Jeff Reed
Monday, November 17, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


.Mike Tomlin vowed he did not have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on a pitch count, and there was no movement in the bullpen as the bend-but-don't-score Steelers offense lined up for one final time at its 13, trailing San Diego by two points.

Defensive end Aaron Smith said he had "all the confidence in the world" that the offense could pull it out, even though it had given him no reason to believe that it would.

But pull it out the Steelers did. On a cold, snowy day in which they moved up and down the field almost like no other this season, but never officially reached the end zone, the Steelers' offense mounted a 13-play, 73-yard drive that covered 6 minutes, 30 seconds. Jeff Reed ended it by kicking his third field goal, from 32 yards with 11 seconds left and the Steelers managed an 11-10 victory against the San Diego Chargers. It was the first time an NFL game was decided by that score.

"I think that was important for us to do that," Smith said of the final drive. "We've been in close games that we haven't won."

They also had not won at home in their previous two at Heinz Field, they did not score a touchdown, and they barely beat a team with a losing record. But that final drive could mean everything to the Steelers by the end of the regular season.

The victory boosted them into a one-game lead in the AFC North Division at 7-3 over Baltimore, which lost to the New York Giants yesterday.

"It was a great team victory for us," said Tomlin, who challenged what he called his 'A' players in their hotel Saturday night to pick everyone up. "All parties involved had an opportunity to ante up and kick in."

While he did not throw a touchdown pass and was sacked four times, Roethlisberger stemmed his flow of interceptions by throwing none. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 308 yards, his sixth 300-yard game without completing a deep pass all day.

"We were taking what they were giving us and playing pitch-and-catch," Tomlin said.

Roethlisberger certainly outplayed his draft-class rival, San Diego's Philip Rivers, who came into the game with the second-highest passer rating in the NFL at 106.3. Rivers left Heinz Field with a 43.6 rating and completed just 15 of 26 passes for 159 yards and interceptions by Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.

The quarterback's performance, Willie Parker's notable return to the field of play with 115 yards rushing, and Hines Ward's 124 yards on 11 receptions -- 410 yards of total offense -- are statistics that would normally equate to more than 11 points. But the Steelers lost 115 yards on 13 penalties to just 5 yards on two penalties for the Chargers, who fell to 4-6.

They even had two touchdowns called back by penalties -- one of their own, and another on an admitted mistake by the officials. Parker had a 4-yard touchdown run cancelled by a holding penalty and that led to Reed's winning kick on the next play.

And Polamalu's 12-yard return with a fumble on the last play of the game was overruled -- wrongly, referee Scott Green admitted afterward -- because of an illegal forward pass by San Diego as it tried desperately to keep a play going with laterals.

"The rule was misinterpreted," Green said.

Nevertheless, the Steelers had won and their defense again was the impetus.

"They have been really good for us all year," Roethlisberger said.

Reed, who had his first miss of the season early, kicked his eighth winning field goal and second this season. Linebacker James Harrison was the only other Steelers player to score when he stripped the ball from Rivers in the end zone for a safety that ultimately proved to be the difference.

LaDainian Tomlinson did score the game's only touchdown from 3 yards out in the first quarter, but he was held to 57 yards and the Chargers to just 66 yards rushing.

San Diego's opening score came after the Steelers failed to take advantage of an acrobatic, one-handed interception by Polamalu. Ike Taylor hit Chargers receiver Vince Jackson as he was bobbling a potential reception and the ball popped up. Polamalu raced over, dived and got his right hand under the ball before it could hit the ground and made the interception.

But Reed was wide left from 51 yards and the Steelers blew another scoring opportunity later in the first quarter. They had a first down at the Chargers' 4 before Roethlisberger was sacked. The Steelers then had a fourth down half a foot from the end zone and sent Mewelde Moore into a wall of defenders for no gain.

The Steelers cracked the scoreboard twice in the second quarter and Harrison was in the middle of both of them. He striped Rivers of the ball in the end zone, the Chargers recovered and the Steelers had a safety. The Steelers trailed, 7-2, but they were on the board.

"That was huge, a big momentum swing," Smith said.

Then, with San Diego driving toward a possible bigger lead at the Steelers' 17 just before the half, Harrison intercepted Rivers and returned it 33 yards to the Steelers' 43. That led to Reed's 21-yard field goal with no time left and a 7-5 San Diego halftime lead.

"James Harrison continues to make splash play after splash play for us," Tomlin said of his Pro Bowl linebacker who recorded his 12th sack of the season on the safety. "He is one of the main reasons that we were successful today."

The Steelers took their first lead with 8:41 left in the third quarter when Reed kicked a 41-yard field goal. They maintained their 8-7 lead when San Diego's Nate Kaeding missed a 42-yard field goal later in the quarter.

But for how well they played all day, the Steelers' defense allowed a 17-play, 78-yard drive by San Diego that ended with Kaeding kicking a 22-yard field goal with 6:41 to go. Still, they did not let the Chargers into the end zone and that proved important at the end.

"The last two games we lost at home in close games," safety Ryan Clark said. "A lot of talk has been about finishing. For our offense to go down, drive the ball, score a touchdown, have that called back, come in and kick a field goal is a huge play for us and a huge drive."
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08322/928593-66.stm