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Passing game bogs down for Steelers on MNF

| Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012, 12:46 a.m.
Christopher Horner
Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery misses a pass in the rain, as the Chiefs' Brandon Flowers defends during the second quarter Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 at Heinz Field. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The Kansas City Chiefs all but dared quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw the ball on a rainy Monday night at Heinz Field during the Steelers' 16-13 overtime victory.

And Roethlisberger couldn't resist until he was injured early in the third quarter.

The Steelers attempted 32 passes — 18 by Roethlisberger, 14 by backup Byron Leftwich — and ran 29 times despite the soggy playing conditions that seemed to favor emphasizing the ground game.

The 154 total passing yards easily represented a season-low for the Steelers, as did the 249 yards of total offense.

In the first half, in which they trailed 10-0 at one point, the Steelers abandoned a punishing ground game that powered them to three consecutive victories with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer wearing down defenses. Instead, the Chiefs lured them into in a conservative air game that rendered wide receiver Mike Wallace ineffective.

In a flash, that all changed when Wallace slipped behind cornerback Brandon Flowers to make an acrobatic 7-yard touchdown catch that enabled the Steelers to erase a 10-point deficit to tie the score, 10-10, with 3:16 remaining in the half.

“We hit them with the fade route because they were biting on the slant,” Wallace said. “They really played us tough in man-to-man coverage, but I knew Ben would the ball where I would have a shot at it.”

Wallace, who earlier let a deep ball slip through his fingertips near the goal line, reeled in a Roethlisberger floater with his right hand. The ball squirted out as he slid along the slippery end zone, but he scissored the ball between his legs to regain control before rolling out of bounds.

“I got lucky,” Wallace said. “I was a little blessed on that catch. I was juiced up, and didn't care how I caught it.”

Wallace's touchdown was the only one the Steelers would register in the game.

It was a remarkable effort, considering Wallace's confidence was shaken some when he dropped four passes in the Steelers' 24-17 win at Cincinnati three weeks ago. Wallace, who finished with three catches for only 14 yards against the Chiefs, vowed to recapture his focus, and Roethlisberger promised not to abandon him.

When Roethlisberger left the game early in the third quarter, Leftwich looked toward Wallace early, then focused on Emmanuel Sanders, who had been shut out in the first half.

Leftwich, playing in a regular-season game for only the second time in three seasons, targeted Sanders seven times overall, and they hooked up on a 31-yard pass completion to jump-start a drive that gave the Steelers their first lead.

As Roethlisberger was getting X-rays to determine the extent of his injury, the Chiefs crippled themselves with penalties — pass interference and personal foul — to help a rusty Leftwich engineer a drive to put the Steelers ahead, 13-10, with 12:37 left in the fourth quarter.

“I hadn't been in the huddle with those guys since training camp,” Leftwich said. “I know the playbook and I knew those guys would get open.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923

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