View Full Version : On the Steelers: Wallace likes way youth has served

01-26-2011, 06:15 AM
On the Steelers: Wallace likes way youth has served
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace pulls in the winning touchdown pass as he's defended by Packers defensive back Josh Bell in the fourth quarter of a 37-36 Steelers win against Green Bay Packers Dec. 20, 2009.

Most of those who will watch the Super Bowl 11 days from now will know the difference between the Mike Wallace they see in a Steelers uniform and the one who once owned Sunday night television for "60 Minutes" on CBS.

That was not the case the previous time Wallace, the receiver, played against the Green Bay Packers. He was a rookie, a third-round pick and on that day -- Dec. 10, 2009, 54 1/2 weeks ago -- and made just his third NFL start because the Steelers opened with three wide receivers.

By the time he was finished, Wallace made sure more football fans recognized him. He caught just two passes, but what receptions they were -- the first and last plays of the game for the Steelers. The first ended in a 60-yard touchdown from Ben Roethlisberger for a 7-0 lead. His last was a 19-yard touchdown in which he did his Santonio Holmes Super Bowl foot-tapping imitation, only this time on the left sideline in the end zone.

The score came with 0:00 left on the clock, culminated a wild fourth quarter and, with Jeff Reed's PAT, gave the Steelers a 37-36 victory against the Packers in Heinz Field to end their five-game losing streak.

Wallace's touchdown was the sixth score in the fourth quarter between the teams, three each.

That back-and-forth game, one of the most exciting in the 10 years Heinz Field has existed, is a blur to many Steelers today, but, if similar action takes place in Cowboys Stadium Feb. 6, few will forget it.

"I remember it won the ballgame," Wallace said of his catch. "I remember being happy. I mean that was probably the best feeling I ever had besides [Sunday] night when we were going to the Super Bowl."

Wallace has managed to be happy, even though many receivers would pout over what has happened to him in his first two postseason games. He earned the right this season to join those wide receiver divas who do little but complain over the way they are used, the way they are not used, the treatment they get from quarterbacks and cornerbacks and their salary. Many of them are forever demonstratively signaling first down when they catch a 6-yard pass or pulling out imaginary flags and looking at an official when they drop another pass in tight coverage.

Not Wallace. After a rookie season in which he led the NFL with an average of 19.4 yards per catch, he replaced the diva that was Santonio Holmes at split end and flourished. He led the Steelers with 60 catches, with 1,257 yards receiving, with 10 touchdown receptions and led the AFC with his average of 21.0 yards per catch.

The past two opposing defenses apparently woke up to those facts and tried to take him out of the game by assigning a cornerback and a safety. The result? Wallace has four catches for 26 yards and no touchdowns in two postseason games. He had three catches for 20 yards against Baltimore, one for 6 against the New York Jets.

The other result: The Steelers are headed to their eighth Super Bowl after piling up 55 playoff points, four per game over their average during the season. Not only was there no whimper from Wallace, he was happy to provide the distraction so others could benefit.

"I mean, it's going to be like that, it's the playoffs," Wallace said. "I don't have a problem with it. I think it really opens up things for other guys. I'm still taking guys out of plays and getting up top, still creating for other guys. They're making plays, and I'm happy."

Wallace had a chance to make one of his patented, long touchdown catches in the second quarter against the Jets. With the ball on the Steelers' 38, first down, Roethlisberger threw deep down the right side for Wallace, but not deep enough. Wallace had a step on All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, but he had to wait for the ball. Revis caught up and knocked it away.

If Roethlisberger had aired it out a little more, no one would be asking Wallace about his four receptions in two playoff games.

Wallace is among many important, young players making their first Super Bowl appearance, and among reasons the Steelers are in the game for the third time in the past seasons. They include their top two rushers, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, and three rookies: Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and Nos. 3 and 4 wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.

Sanders and Brown have been among the beneficiaries of Wallace's double teams. Sanders has five playoff catches for 74 yards. Brown has 89 yards on four receptions, including two of the most important in the postseason -- his 58-yarder to set up the winner against the Ravens and his 14-yarder on third down to clinch the victory against the Jets.

"That's pretty funny isn't it, a third-and-6 to win the game for a rookie from Central Michigan?" coach Mike Tomlin said of Brown's last reception Sunday. "Those guys have proven that they belong for better part of the second half of the season. It's awesome, and I am happy for him."

Tomlin made that even clearer to his team this week.

"He put it simple," Wallace said. "We need to make plays. He put the young guys who have never really been in that situation on the board because we've never been there. We didn't take it as any other thing but that we need to make plays and help our team win because we have a lot of young guys and a lot of the young guys are a big part of what's going on on the field on Sunday.

"Without us, we probably wouldn't be going to the Super Bowl. I mean the young guys have made some really big plays in the playoffs, that's all he was saying. We really needed it."

And vice versa for the Steelers.