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Kovacevic: Ben's audible on Haley loud, clear

| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, 11:11 p.m.
Steelers tight end Heath Miller rambles for a second-quarter touchdown against the Cowboys on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

ARLINGTON, Texas — Antonio Brown's eyes were beet red, bloodshot almost beyond recognition. One could easily hazard a guess why, after his litany of late mistakes loomed so large in the Steelers' knife-twisting 27-24 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday.

“It's my fault,” Brown fairly whispered.

No, actually, it wasn't.

Not entirely, anyway.

Ben Roethlisberger stood equally tall in manning up for his overtime interception, one that not only sealed defeat but also — maybe most crushingly — conjured up nightmares of Neil O'Donnell and Larry Brown.

“This is on me, 100 percent,” Roethlisberger said. “I let my team down, the fans, everybody.”

Nope. Sorry again, but that's just not the whole truth.

Not after this maddeningly inconsistent team has stumbled all season to find an identity even when one is thrust in its collective face.

Not after simple results show again and again how it operates best and, yet, the team still sticks by what it wishes it could do.

Not after Heath Miller is targeted six times in the first half, catches all six for 85 yards and a touchdown, then never has his number called in the second half by offensive coordinator Todd Haley and, ultimately, coach Mike Tomlin. Not once.

That's not just stubborn. It's stupid.

So good for Roethlisberger for being bluntly candid when I asked if Dallas' defense had done something to take away Miller after halftime.

“No,” he replied without hesitation, “I just don't think we called the right plays to get him the ball.”

Whoa, right?

You know, there have been occasions going back to Bruce Arians' retirement/firing and Haley's hiring where Roethlisberger has made veiled — even thinly veiled — criticisms of his newly imposed coordinator. But none came close to this.

And he wasn't done.

Roethlisberger was asked about the no-huddle, which the Steelers used Sunday when they looked most fluid — kind of like always — and he said, after a lengthy hesitation: “I don't … that's tough for me to answer right now. In the second half, we really didn't do much of it. And, um, that's disappointing.”

Double-whoa, right?

But wait. Even in describing his shining moment, the eternal scramble that led to Miller's touchdown, this was his Roethlisberger's recap: “The play got called, and they went to a prevent defense, so the play that was called wasn't a good play. At all. So we just started making a play, I saw Heath and just tried to get it to him.”

Hat trick of whoas!

Make no mistake: What the Steelers have right here is a 100-percent legitimate, non-manufactured quarterback vs. coordinator controversy.

And I'll say it again: Good.

Maybe that's what this team needs to regain its identity: Take it by force.

This game wasn't lost in overtime. I don't even think it was lost with Brown repeatedly losing his mind.

Ask me, and it began to get lost on the Steelers' opening drive of the second half, after Brown returned a punt to the 50 and continued all the momentum Miller had generated almost singlehandedly to that point.

Here was your go-for-the-jugular play-calling from Haley:

• Jonathan Dwyer over right guard, 4 yards.

• Dwyer up the middle, 1 yard.

• Roethlisberger incomplete short pass to Dwyer in right flat.

Yeah. Way to step on that Texas rattlesnake, gentlemen.

If it ended there, OK, no big deal. But when play after play kept getting called without No. 83 involved, it became clear that Haley was doing exactly what the Cowboys couldn't: He was shutting down Miller.

Miller didn't see another ball until the first play of overtime, which, naturally, he caught.

I asked Miller if he was disappointed, and he kept to his low-key profile: “That's just the way the game goes. I understand it.”

I'm not sure why anyone would.

Tomlin's got his work cut out for him. His team is spiraling downward at 7-7, he's got to get them to show up for a critical showdown with the Bengals next Sunday — hardly a given — and, on top of that, be sure that he'll have to deal with the Roethlisberger-Haley situation.

No team can function without its quarterback and offensive coordinator on the same page, and these guys aren't in the same library right now.

I don't know about you, but I'm with the quarterback on this. I really don't care how smart Haley is, really don't care if the Steelers ever find a way to run between the tackles (they've had one outside run the past two games), really don't even care if Haley's with the team beyond this season or not.

The franchise player, that's different.

It's well past time the Steelers start hearing what he has to say before he starts calling far more serious audibles.

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