Cook: Wallace's catch grabs attention
November 14, 2012
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Lost in the sobering injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Clark, the timely interception by Lawrence Timmons in overtime and the Steelers' less-than-satisfying 16-13 win Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs was their play of the year.
"You can't practice it," said one of the co-authors, Mike Wallace. "You can't script it."
It went down as a simple 7-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Wallace late in the second quarter, but there was so much more to it. The play went a long way toward saving the game and perhaps the season for the Steelers. Roethlisberger and Wallace are getting pretty good at that sort of thing, or at least they were before Roethlisberger left early in the third quarter with a potentially serious sprained right shoulder. A week earlier in a win against the New York Football Giants, the two combined on a 51-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to turn the game the Steelers' way.
That score against the Giants was all Wallace. He caught the ball on a short crossing pattern and used his incredible speed to outrun everyone across the field and up the left sideline. The touchdown against the Chiefs was a wondrous collaboration between Roethlisberger and Wallace. It took brilliance on both ends to make it work.
Roethlisberger froze Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers for just an instant with a pump fake, then threw a perfect lob pass to Wallace, who ran a fade pattern to the right corner of the end zone. Wallace -- fighting the lights, the wind, the rain and generally nasty conditions, not to mention Flowers' coverage -- dived and scooped the ball into his lap with his right hand. It settled between his thighs as he hit the ground.
"I knew it was a touchdown," Wallace said even after it took an officials review to confirm it. "When you play football every day for as long as I have, you know when the ball hits the ground. That ball didn't hit the ground."
The play pulled the Steelers into a 10-10 tie against the Chiefs, who came in to Heinz Field as 12 1/2-point underdogs with a 1-7 record. It was the sixth time this season that Roethlisberger and Wallace hooked up for a touchdown. They nearly hit on a 44-yard touchdown a few plays earlier, the ball grazing off an open Wallace's fingertips inside the Chiefs 5.
"Me being the caliber of receiver I am, I probably should have caught that one," Wallace said. "It would have been a nice catch. But if I'm the elite receiver I think I am, I need to catch that ball."
It will be a crying shame if Roethlisberger and Wallace don't get a chance to add to their touchdown total anytime soon.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin didn't rule Roethlisberger out for Sunday night's home game against the Baltimore Ravens, but you probably shouldn't hold your breath that Roethlisberger will play. Tomlin was more peevish and his answers more clipped and condescending than usual at his weekly news conference. It can't be easy looking at the games ahead without potentially having your franchise quarterback. The guess here is Tomlin will be thrilled if he has Roethlisberger back for the second Ravens game Dec. 2 in Baltimore.
That leaves Byron Leftwich as the next man up at quarterback.
Leftwich said there won't be any changes in the offense and Tomlin said he isn't sure any are needed. If anything, the Steelers might take a few more deep shots to Wallace. Leftwich has a big arm.
"He might throw the fastest ball in the league," Wallace said. "Did you see him overthrow me? I can't remember the last time that happened. I was disappointed in my legs after that play. I've got to talk to 'em when I go home. 'Legs, you've got to pick it up.' "
It was nice to hear Wallace giggle. If he's troubled by his tenuous contract situation, he isn't showing it. He held out during training camp in an attempt to get a long-term deal. When that failed, he reported late in the exhibition season and signed the Steelers' tender to play this season for $2,742,000.
"It's not as tough as you might think," Wallace said. "I love my teammates. I love playing with these guys.
They've rallied around me. They make it a lot easier for me."
Roethlisberger wasn't the only player who had to adjust to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's quick-pass offense. Wallace had to do it, as well. He's just as much of a possession receiver now as he is a home-run hitter.
"Coach Haley likes to call short passes and set up for a deep one every once in a while," Wallace said. "I'm not going to fight it. I'm going with it."
The touchdowns help.
Remember when Tomlin called Wallace "a one-trick pony" early in his career, his way to motivate Wallace to become more than just a speed threat? Well, it worked. It took a special player to make that touchdown catch Monday night. A special receiver.
That was no one-trick pony.
"Please tell [Tomlin]. Please let him know," Wallace said, grinning.
That's so unnecessary.
Wallace knows that Tomlin knows that Wallace has become a big-time, all-around receiver.
Now if Leftwich can just keep getting him the ball ...