Coming alive when it counts

<b>PITTSBURGH -- </b> For one half of Sunday's game, the Steelers' offense bordered on stinky.<br><br> They gained 59 yards, had 5 first downs and were 0-for-5 on third down. Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's passer rating was 1.7.<br><br>

In fact, there was no bordering about it. The offense flat stunk. The rookie QB was playing like, well, a rookie QB.

But he picked up steam late in the third quarter. After Donnie Abraham jumped Hines Ward's skinny post for an interception, Roethlisberger passed 26 yards to Ward and 21 yards to Duce Staley. It set up Jerome Bettis' halfback option pass to Jerame Tuman for a touchdown and a 10-3 lead.

On the Steelers' next possession, with a 10-6 lead, Roethlisberger threw six yards to fullback Dan Kreider before lofting his best pass of the game - a 46-yarder to Lee Mays, who ran a slant-and-go on third-and-4. The Steelers scored another touchdown three plays later to put the game away.

The final stats were nearly identical. Both teams had 15 first downs and the Jets outgained the Steelers 296-262. Both quarterbacks had identical 33.6 passer ratings. The difference in the game?

"They made a play," said Jets Coach Herm Edwards. "That is what good teams, championship teams, do. They make plays in the fourth quarter when the game is tight."

That's exactly what Roethlisberger did -- again. After leading the Steelers past the Jacksonville Jaguars with a last-minute drive the previous Sunday, the rookie made another couple of big plays late to beat the Jets.

Roethlisberger's passer rating was by far his lowest of the season, but his late-game heroics put his record as a starter at 11-0 to knock Mike Tomczak (10-0 to start a career) out of the record books.

Even when he's bad, Roethlisberger sets records.

"Everyone has their - I wouldn't say off -- days," said Mays. "They were a tough defense. They schemed well; they played hard. That wasn't an off day. That was a battle."

Mays made the biggest play of all, but Roethlisberger's fake pump allowed Mays to run by Terrell Buckley, who jumped the route. Mays ran under the ball for the 46-yard gain.

"I think it was probably because we'd been successful in that down and distance throwing the slants," said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. "Plax (Burress) caught a bunch; Lee caught one last week. You've got to be able to change it up a little bit, and in that situation, the slant-and-go, we thought they may try to jump it."

It was Roethlisberger's longest completion of the day. It was also his last pass. He finished with 9 completions in 19 attempts for 144 yards. He also threw two interceptions for the first time since he relieved Tommy Maddox against Baltimore in Week Two.

How did Whisenhunt sum up his quarterback's game?

"Well, in the fourth quarter and third quarter, he was there for us. He made some big throws," Whisenhunt said. "I would sum up his game as being a big-time player in the situation where we needed it, like last week in the two-minute he stepped up. He's still a little sore from last week and that might have hampered him a little bit early but, boy, when the situation was tight he was big."

On the Steelers' final three possessions, Roethlisberger completed 4 of 5 passes for 99 yards. The rest of the game, he was 5 for 14 for 45 yards.

Was he frustrated?

"No," said center Jeff Hartings. "I think as an offense we were a little frustrated going into halftime. We were getting different looks than we got during the week and we had to make some adjustments. I think finally in the fourth quarter we figured it out."

Hartings said the Jets used a 3-5 alignment and dared the Steelers to throw the ball.

"We hit some passes to open it up a bit," he said. "I think that made them think twice, at least on that first touchdown drive. We got them out of it and then we were able to run the ball."

Did Roethlisberger's position coach talk to him at halftime?

"No, no, no," said quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple. "All it takes is one throw and all of the sudden you're back into it. We'd rather not have him wait until the fourth quarter, but whatever it takes."

The Steelers couldn't give enough credit to the Jets' defense. The Jets sacked Roethlisberger twice and stifled the running game. The Steelers didn't break free until the bomb to Mays.

"Lee sold the slant great," said Roethlisberger. "That was a huge play in that point of the game where we needed it most."

Big Play Mays, how does it feel?

"I can't describe it," said Mays. "I mean, you see me over here stuttering my words, shaking a little bit. I mean, for your quarterback to have confidence to ask you to make big plays. Also, I didn't think that ball was going to come down fast enough. I was like, please come down, man. But he made a great throw."

Sometimes, all it takes is one.

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