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Steelers' secondary limits big plays

Deshea Townsend did a double-take on Derrick Mason's double-move that froze the Steelers' cornerback and left the Baltimore Ravens' receiver open in the end zone -- only to drop a sure touchdown pass.

"I'm lucky," Townsend said. "I got my mulligan."

The Ravens tried to tee off on the Steelers' cornerbacks as often as possible, converting three third-down passes but failing to hit the long ball. While the Steelers' secondary gave up a couple of big plays, including two touchdown catches by Ravens tight end Todd Heap, it didn't allow a pass play longer than 30 yards in the 23-20 victory over Baltimore on Sunday at Heinz Field.

"We eliminated the big plays, what coach wanted us to do," said cornerback William Gay, whom Townsend replaced in the starting lineup. "We knew they were going to catch some balls. That's a good offense, with good receivers. We just tried to keep everything in front of us."

Because of that, the Steelers can look ahead to their season finale at Miami, a game Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu has targeted as a possible comeback from a knee injury that caused him to miss the past six games.

In his absence, the defensive backfield has been a sore spot for the Steelers. Green Bay's Greg Jennings scored on an 83-yard catch last week, and Oakland's Louis Murphy on a 75-yarder Dec. 6. That prompted the lineup change and the reliance upon more sub-packages by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who was complimentary of his secondary.

"The big thing is that they're in the right frame of mind in terms of being ready to deliver for us," Tomlin said. "I liked the way they fought. I liked the way they were around the football. They didn't play tentative. That's what's going to be required as we chase, hopefully, some January football."

Depending on whether the Steelers were in their nickel (five defensive backs) or penny package (three corners), Townsend lined up at left corner, against the slot and at both safety spots. He was beaten by Heap on a 30-yard touchdown pass that cut the Steelers' lead to 13-10 at 9:55 of the second quarter, but got a break when Mason dropped a 21-yard pass in the end zone with the score tied, 20-20, on the first play of the fourth quarter.

"As a corner," Townsend said, "you've got to go out there and defend what you're supposed to defend, stop the deep ball and make plays when you have to."

And take the breaks when they come.

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