Suisham field goal lifts Steelers to victory over Eagles
Their wide receivers looked forward to being served tasty treats by the Eagles' secondary, but the Steelers themselves almost became the candy bars Sunday at Heinz Field.
The brand? Butterfingers.
The defense couldn't take advantage of one of Michael Vick's slippery-fingered fumbles, and it let a 10-0 lead slip away. On one penalty-filled drive, the Steelers moved farther backward than they did than forward, and those oh-so-confident receivers dropped enough passes to fill a trick-or-treat bag.
So how did they pull out a last-second, 16-14 must-win on Shaun Suisham's eighth consecutive field goal, a 34-yarder in the always tricky open end of Heinz Field? A win that, while in only Week 5, may have saved their season?
“We were hungry,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.
It takes a well-balanced diet to win in the NFL, some meat and potatoes — namely a running game and defense. And a leader who doesn't back down or back off despite the score or tone and tenor of the game.
With the Steelers (2-2) trailing the Eagles, 14-13, in the fourth quarter, and the risk of falling to 1-3 for the first time under coach Mike Tomlin growing greater with each ineffective minute, Ben Roethlisberger willingly took his foot off the pedal at offensive coordinator Todd Haley's insistence.
Taking what the Eagles (3-2) were giving, which wasn't much, and handed a running game for the first time all season, Roethlisberger deftly burned 6 1⁄2 minutes and 64 yards to put the Steelers in position to win the kind of game they lost in Denver and Oakland.
Suisham did the rest.
Roethlisberger pulled off his 21st fourth-quarter comeback, largely by twice making key throws on third down — of 20 yards to Antonio Brown on third-and-12 and 7 yards to Emmanuel Sanders on third-and-4. Rashard Mendenhall, playing for the first time since tearing an ACL on Jan. 1, ran for 20 yards on the next three plays, giving him 81 yards on 14 carries for a team that came in averaging 65.
“We pride ourselves as an offense, whether we're up, down or tied, we want to go down and win the game,” Roethlisberger said. “That was everybody on that drive.”
Brown joked last week there would be plenty of opportunities to catch passes against rookie nickel back Brandon Boykin, whom he nicknamed the “candy bar.” Brown made seven catches for 86 yards, but Roethlisberger ended with a pedestrian 207 yards after going 21 of 37. Mike Wallace was catch-starved, making only two.
Roethlisberger would have preferred to open it up more on a decisive 14-play drive that featured nine runs and a swing pass of 15 yards to Mendenhall, who scored the Steelers' only touchdown on a similar 13-yarder in the second quarter.
“We were kind of dominating a little bit up front,” said Roethlisberger, who wasn't sacked after being dropped eight times the last time he faced the Eagles in 2008. “We were getting three, four yards a pop. I was mixing the snap count on them so they couldn't anticipate. I think that's probably the smart way to go.”
It was a win, but it came with two losses.
Safety Troy Polamalu (calf) re-injured his right calf shoving receiver Jason Avant out of bounds late in the first quarter and could be out for weeks.
Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison played despite a knee injury that had kept him out for months only to have outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley injure a hamstring.
“Our mood is down a little bit, especially that last drive,” said linebacker Larry Foote, referring to the 79-yard Eagles drive that ended with Vick's 2-yard, go-ahead touchdown to tight end Brent Celek midway through the fourth quarter. “Thankfully, our offense responded. We're 2-2, and we've got to get this thing rolling.”
They got the running game going, possibly because offensive line coach Sean Kugler called out his linemen Thursday by constantly reminding them — and that's a polite description — that they were next-to-last in the NFL in rushing.
“Our coach asked for it, and when coach Kugler asks for it, he puts his credibility on the line,” Ramon Foster said. “We made it happen for him. It was good to finally click.”
Center Maurkice Pouncey said, “That was major for us, to come out and start latching onto guys and moving guys out of there, getting Mendenhall back and giving him lanes to run through.”
Mendenhall made it happen, too, reminding the Steelers what they had been missing for the past three weeks. And the defense that helped cause Vick to fumble three times in a span of five plays in the first half kept applying the pressure, even while allowing two second-half touchdowns.
Last month, Arizona successfully borrowed some of Pittsburgh's zone blitzes against Philadelphia — defensive coordinator Ray Horton once was on Tomlin's staff. That allowed the Steelers to study how the Eagles reacted.
“We saw how they were going to attack our same defense,” said Foote, who recovered both of Vick's lost fumbles. “We had a good idea what they want to do.”
Even if the Steelers themselves don't yet have a good idea of where their season is going.
They trail Baltimore (4-1) by 1 1⁄2 games in the AFC North, and their next two games are on the road, where they have lost three straight. And who knows when Polamalu and Woodley will be back?
“We're not a pessimistic team,” Sanders said. “We've got a quick turnaround on Thursday, going to Tennessee, but we're just focusing on the next game, to get above .500 and continue to stack wins.”
Even if the candy must wait.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.