Mean machine: Efficient Steelers hold 49ers at bay, 37-16
Mean machine: Efficient Steelers hold 49ers at bay, 37-16
Clicking on all cylinders, the Steelers efficiently dispatch the 49ers to go 3-0 for the first time in 25 seasons
Monday, September 24, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Willie Parker rushed 24 times for 133 yards in Sundays's game. He moved into a tie for fourth place with John Henry Johnson on the Steelers' all-time list for the most career 100 yard rushing games with 15.
The Steelers win the way Henry Ford produced cars, with assembly-line efficiency and consistency. Spread the work around, and everyone does their job.
Their 37-16 victory against San Francisco at Heinz Field yesterday was typical of their others as they ran their record to 3-0 for only the second time in 25 years.
Willie Parker ran for 133 yards and his third 100-yard game of the season. Ben Roethlisberger threw just 20 passes and had a highly efficient 106.2 passer rating. Special teams played well and the defense was outstanding.
Performances like yesterday's have become the norm in this rebirth of the Super Bowl XL champions. Allen Rossum's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first for the Steelers in four years, kick-started them after a slow start and cornerback Bryant McFadden's 50-yard interception return for a touchdown secured the victory.
"We ran the ball effectively, we played great ball on defense, we scored on defense," said coach Mike Tomlin, only the second coach in Steelers' history to win his first three games. "Special teams was a big contributor today."
It also wasn't the dregs of the NFL the Steelers beat. San Francisco came in 2-0, grabbed the first lead on the Steelers this season and hung around long enough to make it interesting as they entered the fourth quarter with the Steelers holding a 17-9 lead.
But on the first play of the fourth quarter, Jeff Reed kicked the second of his three field goals. The high, booming kick easily covered the 49 yards necessary, and a late fourth-quarter outburst buried the 49ers.
Reed added another field goal, this one from 35, McFadden ran back an interception of quarterback Alex Smith for a score and Najeh Davenport, trying to kill the clock, ran 39 yards for a touchdown with 1:51 left.
Their lone disappointment came when the 49ers moved 66 yards on three plays and scored on a 21-yard pass from Smith to Taylor Jacobs with 2:22 remaining. It was only the second touchdown against the Steelers this year and came after defensive end Brett Keisel overran Smith.
"I was very upset that I missed that play," Keisel said. "Hopefully, I can learn from it. I just came too hot and he stepped up at the right time and I got nudged in the back at the right time."
The defense made it 28 consecutive games in which it has not allowed a 100-yard rusher. Frank Gore, the NFC's leading rusher last season, did not even come close. He ran 14 times for 39 yards.
"We knew they were going to give him the ball," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "We know he's very dangerous. We knew they would try to get him the ball any way possible and we just had to shut them down."
Mission accomplished. The 49ers ran for 91 yards and Smith completed 17 of 35 passes for 209 yards, but lost one the other way for 50 yards and was sacked twice.
The Steelers piled up 205 yards rushing. Roethlisberger, scrambling away from pressure and running for 18 yards once, completed 13 of his 20 passes for 160 yards, and no interceptions for the second time in three games.
"I get outside and I'm not one of those guys looking to run first," Roethlisberger said. "I will if I have to; I did once tonight I think. I'm trying to get the ball to playmakers' hands and that's [by] scrambling or sitting in the pocket."
Tight end Heath Miller led the team with four receptions for 82 yards and Santonio Holmes had three receptions for 49 as Hines Ward missed much of the second half with a bruised knee.
Jerame Tuman caught Roethlisberger's only touchdown pass, a 9-yarder, to become the third tight end to score in three games.
"We wanted to utilize the tight end," Roethlisberger said. "I don't know how many catches Heath had, quite a few for good yards. He was open and I found a way to get him the ball tonight."
The 49ers scored on field goals of 32 and 22 yards by Joe Nedney in the first quarter, the first points scored against the Steelers in the first half this year.
Rossum, a 32-year-old return man obtained in a trade with the Falcons a week before the opener, energized the Steelers after they fell behind, 3-0. He returned the ensuing kickoff up the middle untouched 98 yards for a touchdown. He was supposed to run left, but things opened up in the middle and he cut to the right and finished it off.
"I just took the hole that was there," said Rossum. "It worked out just fine."
But on the second play for the Steelers' offense, after Parker ran 13 yards on first down, Roethlisberger lost a fumble when linebacker Hannibal Havies smacked his right arm as he was about to throw.
It looked like an omen, with the 49ers taking over at the Steelers' 22. It was, and the Steelers' defense provided it when they held the 49ers to Nedney's field goal.
"It was big because the game was real tight today," nose tackle Casey Hampton said of holding the 49ers to field goals in the first quarter. "If they get a couple of touchdowns there, then it would be an entirely different football game."
Instead, it was much of the same from a team efficiently producing a new product this season ... victories. It took them nine games to win their third last year.
"It's great to be 3-0," Tomlin said.
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