It was the veteran's mistake that helped an upstart rookie remain perfect.
Vinny Testaverde's fumble in the closing minutes opened the door for Jerome Bettis to run for a late touchdown as the Pittsburgh Steelers stole a stunning 24-20 victory over the Dallas Cowboys
in an interconference game.
The win gave rookie Ben Roethlisberger his fourth straight win as the starting quarterback for the Steelers (5-1), the second-longest streak to begin a career in NFL history.
In a matchup that featured the league's only rookie starting quarterback and the oldest at the position, the 40-year-old Testaverde was in control late. He had the Cowboys (2-3) ahead,
20-17, with just over two minutes left in the game before committing his only mistake.
On a 3rd-and-13 from the Pittsburgh 47 with just over two minutes remaining, the former Heisman Trophy winner dropped back in the face of a
blitz. In cocking his arm back, Testaverde lost control of the ball and was knocked back by linebacker James Farrior. Defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen scooped it up and rumbled 21 yards to
the Dallas 24.
Testaverde expected the blitz but it came so quick, he lost control of the ball.
"You see the blitz coming, the ball pops out, it's very unfortunate," he said. "I don't know who the ball hit off of or who hit it, but it happened and it was a key turning point in the game."
Roethlisberger then coolly completed his 10th and 11th passes in a row and, three plays later, Bettis ran it in from two yards out for the decisive score.
The 23-year-old Roethlisberger showed maturity beyond his years as the Steeler sideline erupted after the turnover by Testaverde.
"I knew that everybody on the sideline was yelling at me, 'let's go'", Roethlisberger said. "I hurried up and got on
the field so people would just leave me alone because I'm relaxed (out there). I just want to get the ball and score.
"I knew we could do it. I had confidence in our guys and I know they had confidence in each other. We just wanted to put the ball in the end zone."
The 6-5, 242-pound Roethlisberger was successful on his first seven passing attempts and finished a remarkable 21-of-25 for 193 yards. He answered Testaverde all game, hitting Plaxico Burress from five yards out to knot the score at 7-7 and finding tight end Jerame Tuman early in the fourth to trim Dallas' edge to 20-17.
Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, who had given Roethlisberger glowing reviews earlier in the week, left the game with even more respect for the quarterback.
"I think he's going to be outstanding," Parcells said. "I haven't changed my mind about him."
Testaverde's fumble was the only turnover of the game and marred an otherwise solid outing by the 18-year veteran. He was 23-of-36 for 284 yards and hit Keyshawn Johnson over the middle
for a 22-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter.
That score gave Dallas a 20-10 lead and moved Testaverde into ninth place on the career passing touchdown list with 256.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher earned his first career win against the Cowboys, leaving the three-year-old Houston Texans as the
only team in the league he has yet to beat.
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