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September 8, 2006
Steelers Give Daunte Deja Vu

The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to win convincingly against the Miami Dolphins, despite the sudden unavailability of Big Ben Roethlisberger a few days ago to appendicitis. Charlie Batch came off the bench in his hometown to deliver a big win for the Steelers, 28-17. Batch threw three TDs and defensive back Joey Porter scored another as the team clicked on most cylinders:

The Pittsburgh Steelers needed two big plays from unlikely sources to pull out a season-opening victory behind their backup quarterback. Maybe Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban should be flagged for a costly delay, too.

Tight end Heath Miller chugged his way down the Steelers' sideline on an 87-yard touchdown pass play midway through the fourth quarter, fill-in QB Charlie Batch's third scoring pass of the game, and the Super Bowl champions beat the Dolphins 28-17 Thursday night in the NFL's first game of the season. ...

Miami had a chance to come back, but new quarterback Daunte Culpepper was intercepted on consecutive series, with linebacker Joey Porter scoring on a 42-yard return with about three minutes left. Porter was so excited, he ran to the sideline and kissed coach Bill Cowher on the cheek the Steelers' first known sideline kiss since Cowher planted one on Kordell Stewart during a 1997 comeback victory in Baltimore.

Batch and the Steelers running game looked sharp. Batch tossed for 209 yards on a 15-for-25 clip, while Willie Parker ran inside and outside for 115 yards on 29 carries. Hines Ward looked tough over the middle, as usual, and the Steelers offensive line allowed three sacks, two of which came when Batch held onto the ball too long. The only misfires came on a goal-line fumble by Batch that allowed a 14-point turnaround and briefly gave the Dolphins the lead, and on kick coverages that broke down more than once.

Except for the one long drive following the Batch fumble, the Dolphins looked out of sync. This was Daunte Culpepper's debut with Miami, and for most of the game the Steelers had him looking very tentative. He went 18-for-37 with two costly interceptions, both in the fourth quarter, as he reverted to his old habit of putting the ball up for grabs. The last interception produced the Porter TD, the last score of the game and the end of any hopes of comebacks. Especially in the fourth quarter, he looked very much like the QB the Vikings decided to dump after seven years.

If the Steelers can fix their kick coverages and get Big Ben back in the lineup soon, they are going to have a terrific season. Parker proved again that he can be the workhorse for the best running game in the NFL, and Batch proved again that he can win off the bench when needed. This team looks pretty scary, especially for its conference rivals.

UPDATE: Changed the wording of Roethlisberger's absence from "loss" to "unavailability". As CQ reader Kim pointed out in an e-mail, I made it sound like he died. In fact, I thought he'd pop a stitch when the refs didn't throw a flag after Zach Thomas hit Batch during a feet-first slide.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 8, 2006 5:01 AM

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