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Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006

Champs made plays when it counted most

Staff writer

PITTSBURGH -- During the offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher described his team's Super Bowl-winning run this way: "I don't think we were the best team in the AFC last year or even close to (being the best team in) the NFL. I think we played our best football at the right time."

He was right.

In a 28-17 win over the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field on Thursday night, which opened the 2006 NFL season, the Steelers again played good football, if not their best, at the right time.

Playing the season opener as the defending Super Bowl champion for the first time in 26 years, the Steelers managed to overcome some mistakes by making big plays when it counted.

"I can't say enough about our football team," Cowher said after the game. "The resiliency, the way they responded, they never had a state of panic set in. That's a good football team we played. Miami is good. We knew it was going to be a battle. We came out and made some plays. We still have a ways to go, but it was a good start."

Pittsburgh extended its winning streak, dating to last season, to nine including postseason games. But it made mistakes which could have cost it the game.

Still the Steelers managed to win.


Because they made enough good plays to overcome their miscues.

Charlie Batch played well as a fill-in starter for Ben Roethlisberger, who was inactive because of an appendectomy.

Batch completed 15 of 25 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns. But he fumbled at the Miami 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter with the Dolphins leading 17-14.

However, the Steelers defense forced the Dolphins to punt.

Right after the punt, Batch connected with Heath Miller for an 87-yard touchdown pass that moved the Steelers ahead of the Dolphins 21-17.

The Steelers had some luck because the red flag that Miami coach Nick Saban threw for a request of a review of Miller's touchdown play wasn't recognized by the officials.

With three minutes left in the fourth and the Steelers still leading by four, Willie Parker ran the ball twice as the Steelers needed two yards to get another first down at the Miami 24. But he failed to get the first down, leading to Jeff Reed's unsuccessful 44-yard field-goal attempt.

If Parker had earned the first down, the Steelers would have had a chance to put the game away. The Steelers missed retired battering ram Jerome Bettis, who was good at pounding the defense when Pittsburgh had the lead.

The Steelers lost the possession, but on the first play of Miami's next possession, Joey Porter picked off a pass by Daunte Culpepper and returned it 42 yards for the final score.

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