Steelers stay unbeaten as defense stifles 49ers
PITTSBURGH -- There's been no spitting, no screaming at his players or jaw-to-jaw arguments with officials. No, Mike Tomlin is doing it much differently as the Pittsburgh Steelers coach than Bill Cowher did.
Except for their records: Just like Cowher during his first season in 1992, Tomlin is 3-0 to start his career.
Pittsburgh played nearly error-free for the third week in a row, with Allen Rossum returning a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and Willie Parker running for 133 yards in a defense-driven 37-16 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Now, Tomlin can only hope the rest of his career goes as well as his predecessor's.
"It's great to be 3-0," Tomlin said.
The Steelers shut down the 49ers the same way they did the Browns (34-7) and the Bills (26-3) the previous two weeks, allowing no big plays and holding star runner Frank Gore to 39 yards on 14 carries.
Just like their coach, these Steelers aren't flashy or overly talkative but have been focused and effective.
"This (team) steps in stadiums on Sunday to compete, to win and we don't worry about style points," Tomlin said. "I think we've been talking quite a bit about that: We can't worry about style points."
He prefers to talk about the few points they've allowed: The Steelers have outscored opponents 97-26, allowing only two meaningless touchdowns a year after they followed up a Super Bowl title with an 8-8 season.
"Even though we didn't have a great year last year, this isn't a losing program," guard Alan Faneca said. "It's a little different coaching transition than normal, when a team's probably had two, three or four bad years. But he (Tomlin) has put his own stamp on things."
One thing that hasn't changed: Getting Parker the ball.
Parker, coming off a 1,494-yard season, had his fourth consecutive 100-yard game and sixth in seven games dating to last season - yardage the Steelers needed on a day Ben Roethlisberger threw only when necessary. Roethlisberger was 13-of-20 for 160 yards and a 9-yard touchdown to tight end Jerame Tuman, the third TD catch in as many games by a backup tight end.
"We did everything great," Parker said.
49ers quarterback Alex Smith (17-of-35, 209 yards) had plenty of chances to generate some scoring, but he couldn't get them into the end zone until hitting Taylor Jacobs for a 21-yard touchdown after Pittsburgh opened a 30-9 lead. Smith also threw his first interception, which Bryant McFadden returned 50 yards for a late touchdown. Pittsburgh's Najeh Davenport added a 39-yard TD run after that.
"That's our goal defensively, to smash that run and make a team one-dimensional," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "To shut him (Gore) down, we feel good about that."
Gore ran for 1,695 yards last season but has yet to have a 100-yard game this season. He missed one day of practice this week to attend his mother's funeral, and the game didn't help lift his spirits.
"I'm frustrated," Gore said. "Every week I know they will come out to stop me, but I just have to give that extra effort. I tried, but they played good defense. We just got to get better as an offense right now. We're struggling."
The 49ers, who had won their last three road games, had a chance early to grab early momentum. Smith quickly drove them to a first down at the Steelers 14 on their opening possession, but Gore was stopped for no gain and Smith threw two incompletions. That forced Joe Nedney's first of three field goals, a 32-yarder.
Rossum, picked up from Atlanta at Tomlin's urging during the final weekend of the preseason, needed 12 seconds to put Pittsburgh back into the lead with his kickoff return down the 49ers sideline. It was the Steelers' first kickoff return touchdown since Antwaan Randle El's 99-yarder against Cincinnati on Oct. 13, 2002.
"The first time we've been behind all year, and we come right back with a touchdown," Rossum said.
During an odd play in the third quarter, the 49ers successfully challenged a call that Vernon Davis fumbled on a tumbling catch inside the Steelers 10, but lost a potentially important completion. Referee Gerald Austin overturned the fumble, but ruled Davis didn't have possession before the ball came loose and called it an incompletion.
The call meant that instead of again being in position for a touchdown, the 49ers - who have only four touchdowns in three games - settled for another field goal.
49ers coach Mike Nolan was distressed by the call, though he wouldn't say it changed the direction of the game.
"He said it had to be clear that two feet are down," Nolan said. "I offered him my sunglasses, because the description ... well, that's what he said."
Davis, who complained to Nolan last week about not getting the ball enough, made four catches for 56 yards before leaving with a sprained right knee. He was to be re-examined when the team returned to San Francisco.
Notes: The 49ers were denied their first 3-0 start since 1998. ... The 49ers lost in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1987, though it was only their third game since then. ... San Francisco went 5-of-15 on third downs and is 11-of-40 for the season. ... Pittsburgh extended its streak of not allowing a 100-yard runner to 27 games, dating to November 2005.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press