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Old 10-11-2009, 11:33 PM   #1
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Default Collier: Steelers retain dignity; Goofy Lions don't disappoint

Collier: Steelers retain dignity; Goofy Lions don't disappoint
Monday, October 12, 2009
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

DETROIT -- Judging from the early cyberspace dispatches, no shortfall of stunningly goofy developments befell the National Football League in Weak 5, but on a day when the Cincinnati Bengals climbed to the top of the AFC North Division and the Cleveland Browns not only won a game, but a game in which the quarterback completed 2 of 17 passes, Goof Central was still Motown's cavernous Ford Field.

Your Pittsburgh Steelers, who in their previous visit to the venue took home their fifth Lombardi Trophy, scarcely beat it out of Michigan with their dignity this time. Conveniently, the Detroit Lions have a way of converting even the most pedestrian opposition performances into losses, and they didn't disappoint.

Missing four starters including rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Lions still managed to play just like the Lions, taking back-breaking penalties that nullified an interception, shorted out a likely touchdown drive and consistently handcuffed veteran backup Daunte Culpepper.

That Detroit hung on until the game's final minutes, when the Steelers piled up more sacks in 78 seconds (four) than they had in their first three games, was essentially the result of the goofy, um, stuff the visiting team was cooking up.

Ben Roethlisberger's first third-down pass went to Limas Sweed, whose sudden re-appearance in uniform was certainly curious, but Lions cover man Anthony Henry swatted it away, saving Sweed the trouble of dropping it.

Sweed's anticipated 2009 role of Ben's third receiver had been surrendered to rookie Mike Wallace, who beat Detroit's William James down the right sideline for an apparent touchdown in the second quarter, then dropped Roethlisberger's perfectly thrown pass, dropped himself into an instantaneous funk and kicked the football across the rug in disgust.

And you thought the dropkick was outmoded.

So where do you go for a third receiver when your options are Sweed and Lowdown?

Wallace's consequent delay of game penalty moved the Steelers back to their 24, where Roethlisberger went to Wallace again on a quick out that was picked and sixed by the same William James.

"I had to redeem myself," Wallace said afterward. "I have to be responsible out there, for myself, for my team. I have to carry myself the way Hines [Ward] and [Santonio Holmes] do. So I told Ben on the way in at halftime, 'Man, you've got to come back to me.' I told [offensive coordinator Bruce Arians], 'You've got to come back to me.' They both said not to worry about it, that they would."

That was a nice thing to say, especially since so many people were making so many mistakes through those first 30 minutes that there was no need to name a rookie Mr. Culpable.

Why go to the trouble, for example, of throwing the ball three times on the final possession of the half, a possession starting at your own 10 with 1:02 left, of calling timeout, of nearly getting Ward killed on a deep crossing route, only to have Roethlisberger take a knee with five seconds remaining and the ball at the 39.

"We were too far out and we have some offensive lineman that were playing under less than ideal circumstances, ankles and so forth -- I'm talking of course about Chris [Kemoeatu] and of course Trai Essex went down in the game," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "I just didn't want to particularly want to expose them to anything if we threw up a victory pass and they came down with it and came back at us.

"The prudent thing to me was to take it into the half."

A handoff and a kneel down could have accomplished the same thing back at the 10, but the Steelers were just flat disinclined to hand off yesterday under any circumstances. There was not even a first down rushing attempt until half the first quarter was over, and Rashard Mendenhall went 7 yards untouched with that one for a 7-3 lead. Even with Mendenhall running hot and the offensive line blocking the snot out of 'em for a second consecutive week, Arians called three consecutive pass plays from midfield with 9:57 left in the game and the Steelers leading by 15 points. But in a game when the Steelers were almost twice as likely to pass as run, it figured Wallace would get that redemptive Roethlisberger bullet.

"I didn't know it would come on the first possession [of the second half]," Wallace said. "But it was a great throw by Ben. You know I have really supportive teammates and coaches."

Wallace toasted James again, this time in the deep middle, and Roethlisberger hit him with a 47-yard touchdown strike, the one that made it 28-13. And even though the Steelers have now been outscored 55-13 in the fourth quarter, the Lions still had plenty enough mistakes at the ready to keep from overtaking them. Culpepper immediately pulled out the one where they fumble and throw an interception on the same play, recovering his own and frantically whipping it across the field to Ryan Clark. In a bit of a new blooper, the Lions anointed Derrick Williams, the former Penn State streak, their kickoff returner henceforth, only to see him caught from behind by Patrick Bailey, who saved a touchdown in the process.

Somehow, the Steelers still couldn't disentangle themselves until Ike Taylor batted away the Lions' last ditch Hail Mary. Probably should have been an Act of Contrition.
Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09285...#ixzz0Th1385GB
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