By Teresa Varley
It was a defensive battle from the get-go and it was the Steelers who prevailed, defeating the Dallas Cowboys 20-13 at Heinz Field to improve their record to 10-3 and continue to remain on top of the AFC North.
It was a defensive play that sealed the win for the Steelers when Deshea Townsend intercepted Tony Romo with 1:40 remaining in the game and returned it 25 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
"What a beautiful game; and I mean that," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "I just told the team that. People get too preoccupied with style points. That was a beautiful football game because we displayed mettle and we hung together. Are we far from perfect? Yes. But this is our football team. Those guys fought, they believed in one another; and they didn't blink in the face of adversity, most of which was caused by us; but that is life.
"That gives us something to work on as we move forward; it is great to do that with a victory against a top-notch opponent and it was great to do it in front of our fans. This is December; we will take the W."
The Steelers won the toss but deferred to the second half, allowing their defense to set the tone early. And they did just that. Romo's pass to Roy Williams was incomplete and Tashard Choice managed only a three-yard carry before he was brought down by Troy Polamalu. On third-and-seven from the 32-yard line, Romo looked for Terrell Owens along the left sideline, but Polamalu got in front of it for the interception at the Cowboys 47-yard line and returned it one yard.
After not moving the ball on their first two downs, Roethlisberger went to Santonio Holmes for a 23-yard gain to the Cowboys 27-yard line. Parker was stopped for no gain on first down, and Roethlisberger was unable to hit Matt Spaeth. Roethlisberger's third down pass to Limas Sweed was incomplete. Jeff Reed was called upon for a 45-yard field goal attempt, but it was wide right.
Choice got the ball rolling with a four-yard run, but Casey Hampton tipped Romo's pass to give the Cowboys a third-and-six. Romo hit Jason Witten for an eight-yard gain, before he was brought down by Lawrence Timmons. Choice added carries of three and one-yard, setting up another third down for the Cowboys. Romo went right back to Witten on the screen who was able to break free for a seven-yard gain. Romo connected with Williams for a six-yard gain and Owens got the carry out of the backfield for one-yard, coming up short of the first down. On fourth-and-one Polamalu and James Harrison stopped Deon Anderson in his tracks for no gain, forcing them to turn the ball over on downs.
Things started to click for the Steelers passing game with a 12-yard completion to Mewelde Moore, followed by an 11-yard strike to him. Moore got the call on the ground as well, with a four-yard carry, before being knocked for a one-yard loss. Willie Colon was called for illegal formation, but the Cowboys declined after Roethlisberger's pass to Hines Ward came up short. Mitch Berger pinned the Cowboys at their own five-yard line on the punt after Adam Jones muffed the kick.
There was nowhere for the Cowboys to go on their next drive. Choice had a two-yard gain and Romo threw incomplete to Owens. On third down Romo scrambled to avoid the pressure and his forward motion was ruled an incomplete pass.
The Steelers got the ball back, but it wasn't for long. After an incompletion, Roethlisberger found Heath Miller for an eight-yard gain, but Bradie James forced a fumble and Ken Hamlin recovered for the Cowboys.
It would be another strong stand by the Steelers defense who did not allow the turnover to cause any damage when they stopped them again on fourth down.
The defensive battle continued on both sides as the Cowboys forced the Steelers to go three-and-out. Berger's 30-yard punt gave the Cowboys the ball at their own 34-yard line.
Choice rattled off an 11-yard run, but it was all defense after that. Choice had a two-yard run and Romo's pass to Witten was incomplete. On third down Harrison sacked Romo, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Travis Kirschke. The Cowboys challenged the call, saying it wasn't a fumble, but the original call was upheld.
The Steelers took over at the Cowboys 45-yard line and Moore had a seven-yard gain. Roethlisberger hit Ward for a short two-yard reception to set up third-and-one. Roethlisberger took it up the middle himself, but fumbled and James came up with it for the Cowboys at the 34-yard line.
The defense forced the Cowboys to go three-and-out, but the offense couldn't get going for the Steelers either. The black and gold got a break when Berger's 28-yard punt hit Battle and Timmons recovered for the Steelers. Once again the offense went three-and-out, putting the Cowboys back on the attack at their eight-yard line. Romo looked for Owens, but Ike Taylor made him pay with an interception at the 22-yard line.
Parker got the nod on the ground with a two-yard carry followed by a six-yard gain up the middle to the 14-yard line. The Cowboys were penalized for too many men on the field, putting the ball on the 10-yard line. Parker was knocked for a one-yard loss, but a neutral zone infraction against Dallas gave the Steelers second down at the six-yard line. Roethlisberger was under pressure and had to throw it away out of the end zone and on third down his pass intended for Moore was deflected when it hit off of Chris Canty. Reed final broke the ice when he hit a 24-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 3-0 lead.
The Cowboys got moving with a 10-yard run by Choice and a nine-yard completion to Witten. Romo added a 22-yard completion to Witten and hit Choice for four-yards to the Steelers 28-yard line. Witten pulled in a seven-yard reception. Nick Folk tied the game at 3-3 when he hit on his 44-yard field
The second half started off with the Steelers still struggling to get moving on offense. Parker had a five-yard carry, but that was followed with an incompletion to him. On third-and-five Roethlisberger was sacked for a nine-yard loss by Orlando Scandrick.
The Cowboys were able to get a flow going on their next drive with Romo scrambling for six yards and Choice breaking loose for 22 yards. Romo connected with Martellus Bennett for 13 yards and Choice went off left tackle for 12 yards to the 13-yard line. Romo scrambled under pressure, but was able to get away and fired a bullet to Owens deep in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown and 10-3 lead.
Moore gave the offense a jump start with a six and four-yard carry, but Roethlisberger was sacked by DeMarcus Ware for a seven-yard loss on first down. Roethlisberger hit Miller for seven yards and on third down he scrambled for seven yards, but came up short of the first down.
Romo continued to move the Cowboys with an 11-yard completion to Owens and hit Choice who broke it for a 50-yard gain to the 10-yard line. After an incompletion and three-yard gain by Choice, James Farrior made sure the Cowboys didn't get in the end zone when he sacked Romo for an eight-yard loss. The Cowboys had to settle for a 33-yard Folk field goal to extend the lead to 13-3.
After a tough start to the drive with a six-yard sack, the Steelers got going. Roethlisberger fired a bomb to Holmes for a 47-yard gain at the Cowboys 33-yard line. Roethlisberger hit Washington for seven yards and Moore burst up the middle for an eight-yard gain. Those yards were lost when Roethlisberger tried to throw the ball away, but was sacked for an eight-yard loss by Jason Hatcher. Roethlisberger was able to avoid the pressure on the next play and Holmes made an amazing catch, staying in bounds for a 12-yard gain to the 14-yard line. A defensive offside call set the Steelers up with a third-and-one at the nine-yard line. Gary Russell kept it alive with a four-yard carry. Parker got it to the three-yard line, and added another two-yard carry to the one-yard line. On third down the Steelers went to the air and Roethlisberger hit Carey Davis for no gain. On fourth-and-one Russell was knocked for a two-yard loss, turning the ball over on downs.
The Cowboys got some breathing room after a two-yard run by Choice and nine-yard completion to Owens. That is all they would get though as the defense came up with a big stop when Polamalu knocked Choice for a one-yard loss on third down.
Holmes set the Steelers up with excellent field position, returning the punt 35 yards to the 25-yard line. Roethlisberger hit Spaeth for six yards and Parker went off right guard for two yards. On third down Jay Ratliff sacked Roethlisberger for a six-yard loss. Reed came on for a 41-yard field goal, to pull the Steelers within a touchdown at 13-6.
Once again the defense stepped to the plate for the Steelers. Woodley stopped Choice for a one-yard gain and Kirschke sacked Romo for a six-yard loss. On third-and-15 Romo hit Witten, but he was stopped by Townsend after gaining just nine yards.
The Steelers fought right back. Roethlisberger hit Washington for a 14-yard gain and went right back to him for a 21-yard gain. After incomplete passes to Ward and Moore, Roethlisberger scrambled for a nine-yard gain, coming up just inches shy of the first down. They went for it on fourth down, and this time came up big with Roethlisberger taking it for one yard and the first down. Roethlisberger then hit Washington for 16 yards to the six-yard line. Roethlisberger capped the drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Miller to tie the game at 13-13 with 2:04 remaining in the game.
The Cowboys got the ball back, but not for long when Townsend intercepted Romo and returned it 25 yards for the touchdown, to give the Steelers a 20-13 lead and the win.