Benching spurs Steelers RB Dwyer to huge game
Coach Mike Tomlin didn't hide his displeasure that Jonathan Dwyer's lost fumble cost the Steelers a valuable possession during their last-second loss Sept. 23 in Oakland.
So Tomlin delivered a message to Dwyer, and made certain his teammates knew about it, too.
According to right guard Ramon Foster, Tomlin posted on the team meeting room message board that Dwyer wouldn't play the next week against Philadelphia. Tomlin also held him out of the Tennessee game.
For Dwyer, it was one fumble and two games lost.
“Coach put it on the board for everyone to know that he wasn't playing that weekend,” Foster said after Dwyer ran for 122 yards in his first career start, the Steelers' 24-17 win Sunday night in Cincinnati. “I'm glad to see him respond.”
Dwyer, back in uniform for the first time since the fumble, ran for 122 yards and a 7.2 yards per carry average in his first career start. It was the most yards by a Steelers back since Rashard Mendenhall ran for 146 yards in a 17-13 decision over Jacksonville on Oct. 16, 2011.
“That will make you hungry right there,” Foster said of Tomlin's decision to hold out Dwyer. “That will make you hungry.”
The Steelers' 167 rushing yards were their most in eight games dating to last season, and all that production wasn't entirely the result of them going against the NFL's 21st-ranked rushing defense.
Dwyer's performance helped make the Steelers (3-3) multidimensional offensively for the first time in an uneven season. They came in with 1,429 yards rushing but only 379 yards rushing, their most lopsided balance since the Tommy Maddox-led offense of 2003.
Dwyer's second career 100-yard game came with the top two running backs, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, and starting offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert out with injuries. Rookie Mike Adams also made his first career start at right tackle.
“It was an opportunity, and the next man is supposed to step up,” Dwyer said. “There's no letdown, even though our top two guys went down.”
Similarly, the offensive line responded with its best effort of an uneven season, as illustrated by left guard Willie Colon's pile-driving block on rookie Vontaze Burfict. Not only did Colon pancake Burfict into the ground, he kept on driving into him even while the two were on the turf.
“I was hungry and tired of losing on the road,” Colon said, referring to the Steelers' 0-3 start away from home. “If I've got to start a fight to get this team going, I've got no problem doing it. ... For me, if I have to be the bully, I have no problem doing it.”
Dwyer said, “All that did was fire us up.”
Now the question is whether Dwyer earned another start against the Redskins (3-4) on Sunday at Heinz Field. There is a chance Mendenhall and Redman will return.
“I'm impressed with him,” Foster said. “Maybe a few years down the road he'll be one of the great backs here.”
It wasn't all Dwyer, either; rookie Chris Rainey, the No. 5 running back on the depth chart, scored his first career touchdown on a victory-sealing 11-yard run.
“It felt good, but I know how to win,” the former Florida player said. “I know what it feels like to win. I know what it takes for win.”
For the first time since they won Jan. 1 at Cleveland, 13-9, the Steelers knew what it took to win on the road, too. All they needed was a running game.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.