By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for nearly 300 yards, and the Pittsburgh Steelers defense recorded five sacks in a 24-0 win against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
Fortunately for the Steelers, they played a bad Seattle team that also was undermanned a bit without starting wideout Sidney Rice and fullback Michael Robinson. The Steelers played without three starters from their opener, right offensive tackle Willie Colon (season-ending triceps surgery), left guard Chris Kemoeatu (left knee) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring).
But their replacements — rookie Marcus Gilbert at right tackle, fifth-year corner William Gay and third-year guard Ramon Foster — more than held their own. And Roethlisberger was fairly sharp despite getting drilled below the knees and laying on the field for several minutes late in the first half. He returned and finished with 22-for-30 passing for 298 yards and one touchdown with two sacks and no interceptions. He had a passer rating at 115.7
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said the team leaned on the expertise of its medical staff, which cleared Roethlisberger. The quarterback said there was no way he was going to stay out of the game. And he had some low hits after that as well.
“It was pretty scary,” Roethlisberger said. “You just feel guys around your legs, and the way that he kind of rolled up on me was a scary feeling. Structurally, it felt fine. I didn’t feel anything pop. That was the good part about it, and after that it was all about playing in pain.
“It was crazy, because I never threw a speed screen before and then got hit below the knees. It was kind of crazy, but I’ll be fine. We’ll get through it. (But) if I tell them I’m going back into the game, I’m going back in. And Mike’s going to have to tell me no or I’m going back in.”
The Steelers scored on three of their four first-half possessions to take a 17-0 lead at halftime, but they were stopped at the 1 during the opening possession, had to settle for a 20-yard field goal at the end of the first half and missed a fourth-quarter field goal from 41 yards. So, despite the dominant victory, the Steelers left some points out there.
“Yeah, I think we left a few points on the field in the first half that we’d like to get back, but overall it’s a good win, and we’ll take it,” Steelers tight end Heath Miller said. “We were a lot better on third down, and that’s a big part it.”
The Steelers were 8-for-15 on third down, while their defense held the Seahawks to 2-for-12. Roethlisberger found eight different receivers with Mike Wallace leading the way with eight catches for 126 yards and one touchdown. Antonio Brown and Hines Ward caught four passes each.
“I think I hit more check-downs today than I have in a long time, but that just proved that our guys can get it done even when you get them the ball short,” Roethlisberger said. “We don’t have to go deep every time, but I think we still did a good job taking our shots as well. It’s fun as a quarterback to get these guys the ball on short screens and then let them see what they can do.
“(And) I’m really just proud of the way some guys just stepped up and played, especially on the O-line. Marcus Gilbert, what a job he did, and Ramon Foster. … So, that was great. I’m really proud of the way Marcus stepped up. I don’t think the game was too big for him, and that’s what I told him before the game. I told him to just let the game come to him, and he played well.”
The Steelers had a 10-play, 81-yard drive in about five minutes to open the game, but they were stopped at the 1 when Rashard Mendenhall — who had 66 yards and a touchdown — was drilled by safety Earl Thomas in the backfield. Roethlisberger hit Emmanuel Sanders for 30 yards to change field position, and a long bomb to Mike Wallace in the end zone resulted in a pass-interference.
Roethlisberger led a nine-play, 60-yard drive in 4:51 on the Steelers’ next possession with two first-down completions for six yards each to Wallace and Isaac Redman. Sanders took a handoff on a reverse, but dropped back and hit Ward for 15 yards to the 15. It took Mendenhall three runs to score.
Antonio Brown’s 41-yard punt return set up the next Steelers score. A nine-yard pass to Mewelde Moore on third-and-five and 16-yarder to Wallace got the ball to the 20, and Redman ran it in from there.
The Steelers’ final first-half possession was nearly a masterpiece. It started at the 17, but Roethlisberger quickly got them moving with a 12-yard pass to Wallace and 14-yard shot to Sanders. Mendenhall ran for 10, and Roethlisberger hooked up with Wallace for nine and Heath Miller for 16 to the 4.
However, Roethlisberger had his right knee taken out by 10-year veteran Raheem Brock, and the penalty put the ball at the 2. Charlie Batch handed off for two plays, and then Roethlisberger returned to throw an incomplete pass. And Shaun Suisham had to kick a 20-yard field goal.
After misfiring in the second half on their opening possession, the Steelers drove 10 plays and 71 yards in 5:47 for their final score. Roethlisberger hit Wallace for 23, 15 to Ward and the final two to Wallace for the touchdown.
The only other injury was to defensive end Brett Keisel. Tomlin said it was potentially a PCL sprain, but Keisel said he will take it easy this week so he doesn’t re-injure himself like he did with his hamstring last season. He expected to play this week, however.