Victory keeps Sweed from becoming goat
Limas Sweed knew it was a touchdown as soon as he saw the Baltimore Ravens defender squatting near the first-down marker. Sweed froze him with a stutter-step and broke free.
The 6-foot-4 rookie receiver's eyes lit up when he saw Ben Roethlisberger's picture-perfect pass land on his outstretched fingertips with nothing but the end zone before him.
Then, he droppped the ball.
"It was my first time to get in and play a lot on offense," said Sweed, a second-round draft choice (53rd overall) from Texas. "You make mistakes. Everybody's human. I can't remember a wide receiver that came into the league that never dropped a ball. It's just something that happened."
That it happened in the final minute of the first half of the AFC Championship Game was one thing. That Sweed rolled around afterward on the Heinz Field turf — when the only bruise was to his ego, drawing the ire of a record home crowd — was another.
"I guess you put so much pressure on yourself that you end up hurting yourself," receiver Hines Ward said. "It was a simple catch. All he had to do was run up under it. Anxiety might have hit, I don't know. The fans gave him a hard time, and we gave him a hard time. But he didn't try to drop it on purpose."
Sweed quickly learned was the difference between being a rookie and a pro in the Steelers' 23-14 victory over the Ravens on Sunday night to earn a trip to Super Bowl XLIII. His teammates didn't excuse his gaffe; instead, they warned him to be ready to make a play the next time. There would be a next time, with Sweed replacing the injured Ward (knee) in three-receiver sets.
Sweed said Roethlisberger offered this advice: "You get to learn how to be a professional, and you get to display how to be a professional to the world — by bouncing back. Other guys, we make mistakes. We bounce back. That's what professionals do."
Sweed went from goat to hero and from boos to cheers. Four plays later, after a roughing-the-kicker penalty, Roethlisberger threw a short pass to tight end Heath Miller. As Miller turned the corner, Sweed lined up cornerback Corey Ivy and landed a brutal blindside block that lifted the Ivy off his cleats.
"After he made that big comeback play, I told him, 'That's the confidence-booster you needed for the rest of your career. You'll always remember that play,'" receiver Santonio Holmes said. "Not just the next game. It's going to be there for the rest of his career."
Yet, because of Sweed's "injury" — he said his wind was knocked out when he landed on the ball — the Steelers were out of timeouts and couldn't stop the clock to set up a field goal.
"I would like to respond that I wish he would just catch the football so that I don't have to respond," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "That is all a part of growing up. He is a young player that wants to deliver for this team; sometimes, he comes up short."
Sweed redeemed himself twice in the second half. First, he broke up a third-down pass in the end zone almost intercepted by Ravens cornerback Frank Walker to allow Jeff Reed kick a 46-yard field goal. Even more telling was when Roethlisberger turned to Sweed on a third-and-8 from the Steelers' 14 early in the fourth quarter, connecting for a 14-yard pass play and a first down.
"I think it was important to me because he showed me that, I know you're young but I have confidence in you," Sweed said. "It was a big third down, and I give him props for that. Sometimes, QBs are a little iffy about going to the younger receivers. But he told me, 'I'm going to need you.'
"I had a drop, but it is what it is. I came back and helped the team and we won. Now, we're in the Super Bowl."