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mesaSteeler
12-09-2011, 06:14 AM
On the Steelers: Steelers limp to victory
Hobbled by slew of penalties and injuries, Steelers stumble past last-place, but feisty Cleveland
Friday, December 09, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11343/1195725-66.stm

Add another improbable comeback from injury to a long list compiled by Ben Roethlisberger and throw another close victory against a heavy underdog on the Steelers pile of victories.

The Steelers escaped the stubburn Cleveland Browns with their division title hopes intact and some of them even with their health after a brutal game between the two old rivals at Heinz Field.

Roethlsiberger threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery, and later hobbled off the field with a severe ankle injury only to return and complete a 14-3 victory with one more touchdown pass of 79 yards to Antonio Brown.

"I thought my leg was broken, honestly,'' said Roethlisberger, who made the decision to return to play. "It's one of the most painful things I ever felt."
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The Steelers, favored by 14 points, again had trouble against a large underdog as they have much of the season. Nevertheless, they improved their record to 10-3, which at the moment is the best in the AFC.

However, should Baltimore defeat Indianapolis on Sunday at home, they will tie them for first place in the North Division and still hold the tiebreaker for the title because of their sweep of the Steelers.

Roethlisberger has a high ankle sprain, an injury that can keep players out of action for weeks. For Roethlisberger, it was a matter of minutes. He left the game with six mintues to go, had an x-ray and decided to return.

"I didn't want to let my guys down,'' he said. "It's a close ballgame, a tight race right now, an AFC opponent and we're up only 7-3.''

He will have a MRI today to make sure there is no more damage.

"The heart of a champion,'' linebacker James Farrior described his quarterback. "The man has a lot of guts, a lot of will. he's hte leader of our team and that's what they do, they do stuff like that.''

Each team scored on their first drives of the game and did not score again until Antonio Brown caught a short pass and turned it into a 79-yard touchdown with 2:52 left in the game to ensure the victory.

The touchdown came after Steelers cornerback William Gay intercepted a Colt McCoy pass in the end zone with the Steelers clinging to a 7-3 lead.

Besides Roethlisberger's injury, the Steelers lost two starters in the first half -- center Maurkice Pouncey to an ankle injury and defensive end Ziggy Hood with a groin injury.

Roethlisberger completed 17 of 22 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 129.9 passer rating. Brown caught five of those passes for a career-high 151 yards.

Defensive end Brett Keisel said he was surprised to see Roethlsibeger return for the second half because the players thought he was finished.

"The guy's one of the toughest players in the game,'' Keisel said. "We're a very good team with him behind center.''

The Steelers best chance to score from their opening drive until Brown's touchdown came early in the fourth quarter. At first, they did score when officials ruled that Mike Wallace had made it into the end zone on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger. However, replay overturned it and put the ball at the two, where Wallace's knee had hit the ground.

After three Rashard Mendenhall runs went nowhere, coach Mike Tomlin disdained the field goal try that would have put his team up by seven points and ordered another play. Mendenhall ran off the right side and got nothing, and the Steelers turned the ball over to the Browns on downs at the one.

Tomlin said he never considered kicking.

"Absolutely not. If we cannot get in the end zone from the two yardline, four shots running, then we deserve to potentially lose.''

However, they got another chance when the Browns punted from their 5 and the Steelers took over at Cleveland's 38. They had a third-and-two at the 30 and Isaac Redman picked up the first down on a run up the middle, but guard Chris Kemoeatu was penalized for holding on the play -- his third penalty of the game he entered after Pouncey was injured and guard Doug Legursky moved to center.

On the next penalty, Mike Adams intercepted Roethlisberger's pass at the 15 and returned it to the Browns' 44. Cleveland would reach the Steelers five but an intentional grounding penalty by McCoy put the ball on the 16 before Gay's interception.

"I didn't really have that panic feeling,'' linebacker James Farrior of that deep Browns drive. "I thought we still had that game under control.''

The Steelers lost two fumbles inside the Browns 15 yardline in the second quarter. Hines Ward lost a fumble at the Cleveland 15 after a six-yard gain. Following a Troy Polamalu interception three plays later, Roethlisberger completed a six-yard pass to Heath Miller, who lost a fumble at the Browns' nine.

"We worked against ourselves in many instances,'' Tomlin said.

The game opened as if it would be a scoring fest, with each team scoring on its first drive.

Colt McCoy completed all four of his passes, the final one to Joshua Cribbs to put the ball on the Steelers five on Cleveland's first drive. However, the Browns did not score a touchdown after McCoy's three-yard scramble into the end zone was ruled down at the two on replay.

On third down from the one, Peyton Hillis ran off the left side and did not have a chance because that side caved in and linebackers Larry Foote and James Farrior tackled Hillis for a one-yard loss.

Phil Dawson then kicked a 20-yard field goal for a 3-0 Cleveland lead.

"We were good in the red zone,'' Farrior said, "especially in the second quarter."

The Steelers quickly grabbed a 7-3 lead by scoring on their first drive, which covered 73 yards in just five plays. Mike Wallace consumed 43 of those yards, 22 on an end around and 21 on a reception. Cotchery caught Roethlisberger's last pass of the drive at the five and ran it in for the score.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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