Steelers knock out Niners; Ward hurt
Steelers knock out Niners; Ward hurt
By Scott Brown
Monday, September 24, 2007
He gathered in the kick near his end zone and started to his left. Allen Rossum spied a huge opening to his right and flashed through it.
Not one 49ers player touched Rossum during his 98-yard kickoff return, which resulted in a touchdown and limited the only time the Steelers have trailed this season to 12 seconds.
Untouched is pretty much what the Steelers are after they won another game they were supposed to win and again did so in impressive fashion. The Steelers improved to 3-0 Sunday with a 37-16 thumping of San Francisco in front of 64,313 at Heinz Field.
The Steelers' special teams and defense excelled on a gorgeous, sunny day, as did an offense that took a while to get going.
Behind Willie Parker's fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing game -- the Pro Bowler gained 133 yards on 24 carries -- the Steelers pounded out 205 yards on the ground. Ben Roethlisberger turned in another efficient performance, completing 13 of 20 passes for 160 yards and connecting on some key throws after eluding the 49ers' rush.
San Francisco's highly regarded cornerbacks took the Steelers' wide receivers out of the game for the most part. The tight ends filled the void, with Heath Miller catching four passes for a game-high 82 yards and Jerame Tuman hauling in Roethlisberger's only touchdown pass.
Hines Ward caught just one pass for 2 yards, and the four-time Pro Bowler sustained a bone bruise on his leg. He left the field a couple of minutes before the game ended and exited the stadium without talking to reporters.
That qualified as the bad news of the day after the Steelers improved to 3-0 for the first time since 1992, when they had a rookie coach named Bill Cowher.
"We're starting to show some personality," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "and that's what excited me."
The Steelers haven't been tested in the Tomlin era, though that could change this Sunday, since they have to travel across the country to play the team (Arizona) that is coached by former Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
Unlike in the previous two weeks, warm weather wasn't the only thing that made the Steelers sweat a little yesterday.
Down, 17-6, the 49ers appeared to have a first down just inside the Steelers' 10-yard line with five minutes left in the third quarter. But after catching a pass on a third-and-13 in the middle of the field, Vernon Davis couldn't hang onto the ball as he fell to the turf.
The ball popped up and into the arms of Steelers safety Ryan Clark. The 49ers challenged the fumble ruling, asserting that Davis had been down when the ball came loose.
After reviewing the play, officials ruled it an incompletion, saying Davis didn't get two feet down before losing the ball.
The 49ers had to settle for a 49-yard field goal by Joe Nedney and never threatened again.
"The verdict on it didn't surprise me," Tomlin said. "He caught it, he got hit, the ball hit the ground, it banged out, incomplete pass."
The Steelers scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away, getting a touchdown on a 50-yard interception return by Bryant McFadden.
The 49ers scored a late touchdown when quarterback Alex Smith drove them 66 yards in just three plays.
The Steelers have given up only two touchdowns this season, and both came with the outcome already determined.
The defense ran its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 28 games after holding Frank Gore to 39 yards on 14 carries.
"It was just guys getting into position and doing what they're supposed to do," nose tackle Casey Hampton said of the Steelers' stuffing yet another premier running back. "That's what we pride ourselves on, being unselfish and staying in our gaps."
The Steelers also pride themselves on being a complete team, and yesterday they got significant contributions from all three phases of the game, including the Rossum kick return that gave the Steelers a lead they never relinquished.
"That's the way a football game should be," Roethlisberger said.
Here's a look at how Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and his two predecessors, Bill Cowher (1992) and Chuck Noll (1969), fared in their first season:
Steelers 37, 49ers 16
Steelers 23, Chargers 6
Cardinals 27, Steelers 14