By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ATLANTA -- Ben Roethlisberger took a hit to the head and left the game in the third quarter, about the only way the Atlanta Falcons were going to stop him. But even the blow, delivered by defensive end Chauncey Davis in what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet collision, wasn't enough to knock out the Steelers' passing game.
Coach Bill Cowher was not very definitive about the nature of Roethlisberger's injury, saying "I don't really have any initial diagnosis" and "I don't want to speculate." But the third-year quarterback was back on the sideline in the fourth quarter, wearing sweat clothes with a towel draped over his shoulders. And he came back in time to see Charlie Batch finish what Roethlisberger had started.
Of course, he also got to see Nate Washington get called for what the Steelers believe was a petty false-start penalty with eight seconds remaining in regulation, depriving them of a chance to attempt a winning field goal. And he also got to see the Falcons outlast the Steelers in overtime, 41-38, in a game in which Roethlisberger and Batch combined for near-perfection and great production.
"Our starting quarterback went down, the head of the snake," said Washington, who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger and set up another with a 49-yard catch. "You just have to grow another head."
Batch did that, replacing Roethlisberger in the third quarter, throwing touchdowns of 70 and 17 yards to Hines Ward and nearly bringing the Steelers back for an improbable and pulsating victory.
Batch finished 8 of 13 for 195 yards and did not throw an interception, giving him a passer rating of 145.0. Roethlisberger was 16 of 22 for 238 yards, three touchdowns and, for the second game in a row, no interceptions. His passer rating was 147.3.
Combined, the Steelers were 24 of 35 for 433 yards and five touchdowns, a passer rating of 150.4. It was their most passing yards in a game since Tommy Maddox passed for 473 yards, the previous time the Steelers and Falcons played an overtime game in 2002, a 34-34 tie.
Combined, Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch threw for 433 yards yesterday. If only one of them had thrown for that many yards, it would rank as the second-best individual passing game in club history. A look at where it would fit on the all-time list:
vs. Atlanta, Nov. 10, 2002
vs. Atlanta, Oct. 22, 2006
vs. Chicago Cardinals,
Dec. 13, 1958
vs. Cincinnati, Dec. 4, 2005
vs. Cincinnati, Dec. 13, 1995
vs. Cincinnati, Sept. 30, 1985
"We knew we were going to have some success in the air and I always like to think the game plan is not going to change when I get in there," Batch said. "When the pass plays started to come in, I was like, hey, let's go."
But, after the Falcons missed a 52-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining and Batch completed a 25-yard pass to Ward to the Falcons' 33, the Steelers began hissing like a snake over what happened next.
With no timeouts remaining, Batch spiked the ball to stop the clock with :08 remaining. But Washington, who was lined in the slot, was called for a 5-yard false-start penalty. When a penalty occurs with a moving clock on a play designed to conserve time in the final two minutes of a half, NFL rules stipulate that 10 seconds are to be run off the game clock.
That prevented the Steelers from attempting what would have been a 56-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, even with the penalty.
Cowher said the officials told him that Washington "flinched," and the look on his face suggested Cowher didn't like the call. He also didn't like the prospect of being fined by the NFL, either, which is why he declined to elaborate on the ruling.