Steelers' Sweed stakes early claim to No. 3 wideout spot
In a typical preseason opener, the Steelers' starters played sparingly before giving way to the reserves Thursday night at Heinz Field. The game, a 20-10 victory by the Steelers in front of an announced crowd of 58,330, didn't provide a whole lot in the way of clarity with the start of the regular season still almost a month away.
It did give football-starved fans their first glimpse of the reigning Super Bowl champions, and it allowed Limas Sweed a chance to get some early separation between himself and the host of other wideouts battling for the No. 3 spot behind starters Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.
Sweed caught two passes for 56 yards last night, and both of his receptions were more impressive than any he had during a pedestrian rookie season in 2008.
Sweed kept an early drive alive by catching an 11-yard pass on third down as he got crunched by two Cardinals defenders. Sweed bobbled the Ben Roethlisberger pass after getting hit but used the back of an Arizona player's helmet to help him hang onto the ball.
His improvisation skills came in handy in the second quarter when Sweed adjusted on a deep Charlie Batch pass and made a leaping catch.
The reception, which led to a 50-yard Jeff Reed field goal and the first points on the muggy evening, happened in front of Roethlisberger on the Steelers' sideline. The sixth-year quarterback cheered as wildly as the fans behind him after Sweed's 45-yard catch.
"So far, so good," Roethlisberger, who completed 4 of 6 passes for 33 yards, said of Sweed. "He made two great catches. We just have to make sure he can keep going."
Sweed apparently agrees, which is why he was doing anything but cartwheels after the game, especially because he had a key drop in the second half.
"I'm not going to ride the emotional roller coaster," said Sweed, who had just six catches last season. "There's still some things I can work on. I just want to make plays."
Sweed, a second-round pick in 2008, wasn't the only second-year player who loomed large in the Steelers' first scoring drive of the year.
Rashard Mendenhall, starting for Willie Parker at running back, had three carries for 17 yards on the six-play, 57-yard drive.
The only other score in the first half came on a 29-yard field goal by Arizona kicker Neil Rackers, which was set up by a questionable pass interference call on Steelers cornerback Anthony Madison.
The Steelers were poised to re-take the lead in the third quarter, but Sweed dropped a pass to halt the drive deep in Arizona territory and Piotr Czech missed a 36-yard field goal.
Rookie cornerback Joe Burnett, however, intercepted a pass on the final play of the third quarter and returned it to the Cardinals' 3-yard line.
Isaac Redman had a 3-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter to give the Steelers the lead for good.
Redman bulled into the end zone from the 5-yard line with a little more than five minutes to play to put the game out of reach.
The defense kept the Cardinals out of the end zone until late in the game when former West Allegheny and Pitt star Tyler Palko threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Onrea Jones.
"I thought it was an acceptable start for us," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "something we can build off of."
Note : Parker (back) was one of a handful of Steelers starters or key reserves who didn't play because of injuries. Also sidelined were center Justin Hartwig (toe), right guard Darnell Stapleton (knee), running back Mewelde Moore (hamstring) and defensive end Brett Keisel (calf). Tomlin said Keisel got kicked in the leg Wednesday at practice and added that the injury is not serious.