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Steelers WR Wallace makes name for himself

| Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009

Mike Wallace already had a step or two on Tennessee Titans safety Chris Hope deep along the right sideline. All Ben Roethlisberger had to do was hit Wallace in stride for a sure six points.

When the pass fell short, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin joked with Roethlisberger that there was no way they were allowing the rookie receiver to catch a touchdown pass only three plays into his first NFL game.

"We told him we didn't want it to be too easy for him," Roethlisberger said.

Wallace earned his stripes anyway.

Turns out, the "60 Minutes" namesake starred in OT.

The third-round pick out of Ole Miss was on the receiving end of a 22-yard pass play that set up Jeff Reed's 33-yard field goal to clinch the 13-10 overtime victory over the Titans Thursday night at Heinz Field.

Although Wallace downplayed his heroics, saying he benefited from soft coverage "because I haven't really done too much in the league," Roethlisberger said he was "really proud" of the way Wallace came through with a clutch catch.

"I was real nervous," Wallace said. "It was my first game, so I was just focused on the ball anytime it came, trying to make sure if it touched my hands, I came down with it.

"Ben always tells me to keep running, that it's either my ball or nobody's ball. That was my focus going in: If I can't catch it, to knock it down. Ben put the ball right there in my hands. All I had to do was come down with the catch."

Wallace, a 6-foot, 199-pounder from New Orleans, was happy he was able to keep his composure.

"I've got to act like I've been here before," he said.

Wallace's debut performance might have catapulted him into the No. 3 receiver slot for the Steelers, ahead of 2008 second-round pick Limas Sweed and free-agent addition Shaun McDonald, who was inactive.

Steelers receiver Hines Ward insinuated as much.

"(Wallace is) there to fill the void of Nate Washington," Ward said, referring to the former Steelers No. 3 receiver who signed a free-agent deal with the Titans. "Him and Sweed are competing for that void."

If the season opener were any indication, Wallace has already surpassed Sweed. Wallace finished with three catches for 32 yards; Sweed went without a catch on a night when Roethlisberger attempted 43 passes and connected with six different receivers on his 33 completions.

Wallace's first career catch came on a 3-yarder in the right flat on the Steelers' second series. A pass deep in the middle in the second quarter was incomplete, and Wallace was involved in the scrum in the end zone on Roethlisberger's Hail Mary that was intercepted by Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan as the first half expired.

When Tennessee took a 10-7 lead early in the fourth, the Steelers went to Wallace with a 7-yard pass to start a 12-play, 56-yard drive to tie it on Reed's 32-yarder. Learning a lesson from Ward — who fumbled at the 4-yard line in the final minute of regulation while trying to score - Wallace caught the ball in the middle of the field at the Titans' 15 and went straight down.

"It was great that he went out and made some plays," Ward said of Wallace. "It wasn't perfect, but it was a great building block for him to learn from and understand what goes into being a productive wideout."

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