First 11-10 game in NFL history showed marked improvement for Steelers

By Neal Coolong  |   Monday, November 17, 2008  |  Comments( 2 )

Pittsburgh Steelers
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Despite a fumble return touchdown by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu at the end of regulation that should have counted, a TD wasn't in the cards for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon.

But a victory was, and considering the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens had lost to the New York Giants earlier in the day, it was important to keep the San Diego Chargers winless in Pittsburgh. A defense that has widened the margin between itself and the rest of the league plowed the way through a thin layer of snow on Heinz Field, notching a safety, and three Jeff Reed field goals pulled the Steelers to an 11-10 victory -- the first time in NFL history a game ended with that score.

Commentary: Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison took another step toward serious defensive player of the year consideration with an outstanding performance, getting the sack on Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers that caused a fumble and led to the game-winning safety. He also had a crucial interception late in the second quarter with the Chargers driving into Pittsburgh's red zone. It set up one of Reed's field goals.

Probably more than anything, though, the game showed a resurgence in the Steelers' beleaguered offense -- if nothing more, it took a step in a positive direction. Despite not scoring a touchdown, it dominated in time of possession (36:31 to 23:29), yards (410 to 213) and didn't turn the ball over once. It was a better offensive performance than in their 24-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts one week earlier, but the lack of turnovers cast the shadow of difference over the game.

QB Ben Roethlisberger looked more decisive, and the game plan kept the offensive simple, allowing Roethlisberger to keep things in control. He utilized backup tight end Matt Spaeth for a few key first-down passes, and was 31-for-41 for 308 yards. His 96.4 passer rating was the highest it's been in four weeks.

Fan Pulse: Fans posting on the popular message board Steelers Fever are noting that Roethlisberger's improvement can be credited to the fact he practiced all week, something he didn't do before the Colts game.

Fantasy Football Impact: Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward had 11 catches for 124 yards, and for the first time in the regular season since 2002, now has back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. The win also saw the return of running back Willie Parker, who had been on the shelf for all but one of the team's last eight games. While he didn't score, he rushed for 115 yards.

Injury Watch: Second-year cornerback William Gay made his first start in place of Deshea Townsend (hamstring), who was replacing Bryant McFadden (forearm). Gay was a part of a defensive effort that held the NFL's second-rated passer to 159 yards in the air.
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About Neal Coolong

Neal Coolong is a freelance sports writer with contributions to Scout.com, AOL and Steelers Live. He lives with his fiance in St. Paul, Minn., and saves every dime (that she knows about) for their wedding next June. He's already made the prediction that the Steelers 2007 draft class will be one...
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