By Teresa Varley
The Steelers fought back from early adversity to defeat the Washington Redskins 23-6, improving their record to 6-2 on the season and maintaining sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a beating in the first half and was sidelined for the second half with a shoulder injury. Roethlisberger completed just five of 17 passes for 50 yards and one interception prior to the injury. Roethlisberger also had a one-yard touchdown run.
"Potentially he was capable of going back in the game," said head coach Mike Tomlin of Roethlisberger. "We will see how he is in the morning."
Byron Leftwich came on for the Steelers and rallied them, completing seven of 10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown, while leading them on another scoring drive.
Willie Parker returned to the lineup after missing four games and looked like his old self, carrying the ball 21 times for 70 yards and a touchdown.
But it was the Steelers defense that was story of the game, coming up with seven sacks and shutting down what had been a strong Redskins offensive attack. The Redskins were handed two opportunities on a silver platter early on, but were only able to walk away with field goals for their only points of the game.
"That's our defense," said Tomlin. "That's why we don't fear being aggressive. Our guys responded to the challenge tonight."
The Steelers opened the game with a surprise onside kick, but they were the ones surprised when an alert Alfred Fincher quickly pounced on the ball and recovered for the Redskins at the Steelers 41-yard line.
Getting an early break the Redskins went right to work on offense, but were met by a tough obstacle – the Steelers defense. Clinton Portis was only able to muster a one-yard gain up the middle where he was stopped by Aaron Smith and James Harrison. Jason Campbell hit Chris Cooley for a seven-yard gain, but that would be about all they would get. On third-and-two Harrison and Larry Foote stopped Portis in his tracks for a one-yard gain and the Redskins had to settle for a Shaun Suisham field goal to give them an early 3-0 lead.
It looked like things might get ugly fast for the Steelers. On their first possession Roethlisberger looked for Santonio Holmes but the pass was deflected at the line by Andre Carter, bounced off tackle Max Starks, and right into the awaiting arms of Cornelius Griffin for the interception at the Steelers 30-yard.
The Steelers defense was on the hot seat and they responded as expected. They stopped the Redskins, allowing only a five-yard gain when Campbell hit James Thrash. Suisham came on for his second field goal of the game and what could have easily been a 14-0 Redskins lead was only 6-0 thanks to two strong defensive stands.
Things started to click for the Steelers offense with an eight-yard run by Parker and a nine-yard completion to Nate Washington. Just as fast as they got on the roll, things came to a quick halt when Roethlisberger was sacked for a four-yard loss on third down.
It looked like the Redskins were ready to open things up after Campbell hit Santana Moss for a 10-yard gain and Portis rattled off a 22-yard run. Once again, though, the defense stepped up to the challenge. Portis was stopped for just a two-yard gain and then Nick Eason sacked Campbell. On third-and-eight Campbell could not connect with Moss.
The Steelers offense went three-and-out on their next possession and didn't have much more luck on their following one, with the only first down coming on a 13-yard run by Parker. They finished the first quarter with only 34 total yards while Roethlisberger was a mere one for eight for nine yards and an interception.
Finally in the second quarter the Steelers got the break that they needed. Roethlisberger went deep to Hines Ward, who couldn't pull it in, but Carlos Rogers was called for pass interference, a 43-yard penalty that gave them the ball at the Redskins 36-yard line. After two incomplete passes Roethlisberger went back to Ward and this time connected for a 12-yard gain. Parker had a two-yard carry and then Matt Spaeth pulled in a six-yard reception to the Redskins 16-yard line. The Redskins were able to get to Roethlisberger, sacking him for a one-yard loss on third down. Jeff Reed was called into action and came through with a 35-yard field goal, to pull the Steelers within three at 6-3.
While special teams didn't do them any favors on the opening kickoff, the unit came through on a punt late in the first half. Andre Frazier blocked a Ryan Plackemeier punt and William Gay recovered and returned it four yards to the Redskins 13-yard line.
The offense took over and it looked a bit shaky when Roethlisberger was sacked for a one-yard loss. Parker then went off left tackle for a five-yard gain, but Starks was called for holding. On second-and-21 Roethlisberger hit Holmes for a nine-yard gain. With the pressure on, Roethlisberger hit Ward on third down for a 14-yard gain to the one-yard line. Roethlisberger took it himself for a one-yard touchdown to give the Steelers a 10-6 lead going into halftime.
Byron Leftwich started the second half for Roethlisberger, who had x-rays at halftime on his shoulder. They came out running, with Parker and Davenport combining to move the chains. Just when they lulled the Redskins defense into thinking run, Leftwich aired it out and hit Washington for a 50-yard completion to the Redskins 11-yard line. Parker had a three-yard carry and Leftwich hit Moore at the one-yard line for the first down. Parker put the exclamation point on the drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Reed missed the extra point, but the Steelers still extended their lead to 16-6.
The defense kicked into overdrive for the Steelers, totally shutting down the Redskins on their ensuing drive. LaMarr Woodley had his second sack of the game, manhandling Campbell for an eight-yard loss.
The Steelers got the ball back, but they weren't able to do much with it. Parker was knocked for a one-yard loss and Washington stopped for a six-yard loss on a reverse. Mewelde Moore was then hit for a four-yard loss.
It was back to work for the Redskins who got the ball moving for the first time against a stout Steelers defense. Campbell hit Portis for a four-yard completion and Portis added a five-yard carry. Campbell connected with Cooley for a 12-yard gain and found Portis who turned it into a 17-yard completion. The wind quickly went out of the Redskins sails when Deshea Townsend intercepted Campbell to bring the drive to a halt.
Leftwich got the offense in gear again on the next drive, converting three huge third downs when he hit Holmes for 16 yards, Moore for 13 yards and Ward for 13 yards. Leftwich capped the drive with a five-yard completion to Holmes to give the Steelers a comfortable 23-6 lead that they would not relinquish.
The Redskins gave it a valiant effort late in the fourth quarter on a drive that was kept alive by a roughing the passer call against James Farrior. Campbell tried to get it in the end zone, but despite an initial ruling of a touchdown he was stopped one-yard shy by Brett Keisel. The Redskins went for it on fourth down, but the defense swarmed and Campbell couldn't connect with tackle eligible Lorenzo Alexander.
The Redskins had two more tries to get on the board again, but the defense remained strong and held on for the win.
Notes: In addition to Roethlisberger tight end Heath Miller left the game with an ankle injury.