I'll just come out and say it -- I think mostly 99 percent of those who actually care about the NFL thought the Steelers were going to win this one. This game was semi-insignificant enough that CBS in New York City opted to air some golf special and local news over this match-up, the first time the Steelers and the Cardinals met since the 2009 Super Bowl. So to the bar I went, like with most Steelers games, hoping for the best but mentally preparing for the worst.
I'm glad I didn't miss this one, as I got to witness the longest pass play in Steelers history when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 95-yard touchdown pass to one of the fastest receivers in the NFL, Mike Wallace. I think #17 is going to be my next jersey purchase, how 'bout you? He is FAST. He hasn't been convicted of any crimes and has yet to shoot himself, so I'm hoping his numbers will continue to speak for themselves and he keeps a low-profile throughout his entire Steeler career. If he keeps this up, he'll be one of the most decorated wide receivers in Steelers history. He sure is fun to watch.
The play came in the second quarter. The Cardinals were stopped at the Steelers 39, and Dave Zastudil's 30-yard punt got the Steelers at their own 9-yard line, which was pushed back to the 5 after a false start penalty. Even though the Steelers have been trying to establish their running game all season (well, to put it frankly, ever since Jerome Bettis retired), a huge offensive play like that may not necessarily have been Steelers football, but you won't hear any of us fans complaining.
Roethlisberger ended up with 26 completions in 39 attempts for 361 yards, throwing touchdown passes to both Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders.
Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb threw for two touchdown passes, but he seemed a little shaken by the Steel Curtain and even drew an intentional grounding call in his own end zone, resulting in a safety. Props to LaMarr Woodley for getting in Kolb's face and causing that one. Kolb went 18 of 34 for 272 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT, but it wasn't enough to win it. You gotta wonder at times if Ken Whisenhunt regrets leaving Pittsburgh. Well ... it's something I wonder at least, as he was an excellent offensive coordinator for the Steelers and may have had an amazing tenure with the team, a la Dick LeBeau. The Cardinals now have lost 10 straight road games. Poor Kenny.
Though the Cardinals were down 17-7 at the half, they made the game interesting (sort of) with 9:26 left in the third when Kolb threw over the middle to LaRod Stephens-Howling. This 5-foot-7 back (who played for Pitt, ahem) outran and outsmarted everybody on a 73-yard touchdown play. The Steelers certainly like to keep things interesting, don't they?
That was as close as the Cardinals got, however. The Steelers led 26-14 entering the fourth quarter. After a pair of Pittsburgh field goals, Arizona scored a third touchdown after Kolb's 2-yard pass to Early Doucet. Their two-point conversion was a bust, giving the Steelers a 32-20 lead. That's how the game would end.
The Steelers offense managed to rack up 424 yards in a productive showing (well, for the passing game at least). Shaun Suisham looked like he was back to his old self, kicking field goals of 41, 42, and 39 yards. The defense was able to help put points up on the scoreboard early. Ryan Clark caught a ball that bounced off tight end Rob Housler's helmet. He returned the interception 10 yards to Arizona's 31. Five plays later, Heath Miller scored a touchdown. The defense was also able to contain the Cardinals' running game to 73 yards total, but the Cardinals also had three runs of 10 yards or longer. Still, the defense did contain Beanie Wells, getting just 42 yards on 12 carries before he left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
In even better news, the Steelers committed no turnovers and Ben was sacked only twice. Ben ended up with a season-high QB rating of 121.8. The biggest question remaining for the Steelers offense as they head into a tough game against the New England Patriots next week is the running game. Rashard Mendenhall carried 13 times for only 32 yards, while Isaac Redman ran 6 times for 29 yards. Kind of eyebrow-raising for Mendenhall after his productive performance last week. It also would have been far more comforting to see the defense cause a couple more turnovers. These will be issues they need to address this week with a team like the Patriots coming up. They've had a relatively easy stretch and now get to face the meat of their schedule.
Also of note: Receiver Hines Ward was carted off the field during the third quarter with a sprained ankle. Though the other receivers were able to step up in his stead, he still has a presence and work ethic that bond the offense and lift their performance. Knowing Hines, he will do anything and everything he can to get ready for the Patriots next week.
The Steelers improved their record to 5-2, but Arizona dropped to 1-5, losing their fifth straight. As a Steelers fan, am I nervous for next week? The short answer to that question is: Hell yeah. We may have gotten a tad spoiled beating teams like the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and now the Cardinals, so it's going to be pretty interesting to see what they do against Tom Brady & Co. I'm happy, however, that the Steelers were able to win these so-called "easy" games with a comfortable 5-2 record midway through the season. Tests against teams like the Patriots as well as the Baltimore Ravens will surely prove if the Steelers have any right to have a presence in the post-season. Let's hope so, because the winter is surely really long, boring, and depressing without having a team to root for.