Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big Ben stokes Steelers

If Pittsburgh reaches Super Bowl, count this drive as a defining moment

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If the Pittsburgh Steelers end up winning the Super Bowl, their legions of Terrible Towel-waving fans will forever hold a special place in their hearts for the last three minutes of Sunday's battle of wills in Baltimore.

Trailing by a field goal in a game they had never led, the Steelers offence took possession at their own 8-yard line with 3:36 on the clock. Facing an inspired Ravens defence in front of a delirious sell-out crowd, the Steelers had gained all of 23 yards on their first five second-half drives, which produced two fumbles.

But when he had every reason to panic, Ben Roethlisberger ran the kind of calm, collected drive that defines a quarterback's career.

Big Ben dissected the Ravens' defence, methodically hitting Hines Ward and Nate Washington three times each to get to the Baltimore 4. On third down, he found Santonio Holmes on a play that was originally ruled short of the end zone. After looking at the instant replay, referee Walt Coleman said that it was a touchdown, giving the Steelers a 13-9 win. (If the standard for reversing a call is "indisputable visual evidence," Coleman must have microscopes where his eyes are supposed to be.)

Twelve plays, 92 yards, 2:53.

Those 12 plays and 92 yards gave Pittsburgh control of its playoff destiny. Home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs will belong to the Steelers if they beat Tennessee next week and Cleveland in their Week 17 finale.

As any team that plays host to the Steelers will confirm, there are more than enough fans waving their yellow hankies at what are supposed to be road games. No one wants to face a full stadium of Steeltown supporters with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

As much as Roethlisberger deserves credit for his late-game heroics, it was once again the league's best defence that kept Pittsburgh in the game. The Steelers allowed only 202 total yards and three field goals to a Baltimore team that had averaged 30 points over its previous eight games.

Ray Lewis and Co. may not like to hear it, but this Steelers team looks a lot like the championship Ravens team of 2000 -- except for one difference: they've got a quarterback.


Some random observations from Week 15...


"ö If Albert Haynesworth is seriously hurt, the Titans can forget about the Super Bowl for this year. The 320-pound defensive tackle left late in yesterday's game in Houston with a leg injury. The strength of Tennessee's team is its defensive front, and Haynesworth's loss would be as significant to the Titans as Tom Brady's injury was to the Patriots.

"ö Could there be a quarterback controversy on the horizon in Minnesota? Filling in for the injured Gus Frerotte, opening-day starter Tarvaris Jackson threw four touchdown passes as the Vikings pasted the Cardinals, 35-14. Now any Minnesota win or Chicago loss in the final two weeks will give the Vikings the NFC North title.

If Jackson has another solid game against a winning team next week, when the Vikings host the Falcons, coach Brad Childress will have two legitimate options to choose from. That may seem like a nice position to be in, but Childress knows a first-round playoff loss would open a floodgate of second-guessing no matter which decision he makes. Maybe the best scenario would be for Frerotte's shoulder to mysteriously take longer than expected to heal.

"ö With every passing game against a playoff-calibre opponent, the Cardinals look more and more fraudulent. Arizona has exactly one quality win this season, an overtime triumph over the Cowboys on a blocked punt. The Cardinals get one more chance to give us any reason to believe in them next week at New England.

"ö San Diego's wild 22-21 comeback win in Kansas City, with two touchdowns and a missed Chiefs field goal in the final 1:20, could yet prove to be meaningful. If the Chargers win next week in Tampa Bay and the Broncos -- who were manhandled yesterday in Carolina -- lose at home to Buffalo, the AFC West will be decided when the two teams meet in Week 17. Bet you didn't see that coming a few weeks ago.

"ö Memo to Redskins coach Jim Zorn: Calling out Clinton Portis, your best player, on Tuesday and then losing 20-13 to the Bengals on Sunday is not a good way to endear yourself to owner Dan Snyder, who changes underwear only slightly more often than coaches.




"ö Offensive player: Andre Johnson, WR, Houston. The Texans won their fourth-straight game, edging the Titans 13-12, to climb back to .500 after an 0-4 start. Johnson caught 11 balls for 207 yards and the game's only touchdown. Who knows where the Texans might be if Hurricane Ike hadn't forced them into a Week 2 bye and an Oct. 5 home opener.

"ö Defensive players: Abram Elam, FS; Shaun Ellis, DE, New York Jets. Looking straight down the barrel of an embarrassing loss to the Bills, who are officially in free fall mode, the Jets got a season-saving play from their defence with two minutes left. Elam forced a scrambling Losman to fumble the ball inside the Bills' 20, and Ellis pick it up and scored from the 11. The touchdown gave New York a 31-27 lead, which they managed to protect. It was a big play at a huge moment, but the question needs to be asked of Bills coach Dick Jauron: Why in the world are you passing on second down?

"ö Special teams player: Brian Clark, WR, Tampa Bay. With 2:37 on the clock and his team trailing the Falcons by a field goal, Clark blocked Michael Koenen's punt, giving Tampa the ball at the Atlanta 22-yard line with a chance to win the game. Unfortunately for Clark and the Bucs, they could only manage a game-tying field goal, and eventually lost 13-10 in overtime.


"ö Monday night's menu: The Eagles (7-5-1) looked as good as dead last month after playing the Bengals to a tie and getting dismantled by the Ravens in a game that saw Donovan McNabb benched for the second half. Since then, Philly has played like a contender with wins over Arizona and the Giants. The Eagles can't afford to take a win over anyone for granted, but the Browns (4-9) have been truly awful and will be starting third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey. Cleveland, by the way, hasn't scored a touchdown in its last three games.

"ö The pick: Philadelphia 38, Cleveland 13

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2008 C4

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