PITTSBURGH (AP) -The Pittsburgh Steelers did everything out of character in their second consecutive road loss, one that prevented them from taking a more substantial lead in the AFC North. Throwing to the tight end - and throwing and throwing - was only one of them.
Ben Roethlisberger passed for four touchdowns as the Steelers (4-2) opened up their offense in a 31-28 loss Sunday night to the Denver Broncos, which has the AFC's worst rushing defense. Three touchdowns went to tight ends, two to Heath Miller and another to rookie Matt Spaeth, as the Steelers ignored their long-standing tradition of, well, ignoring the tight end.
``We knew they would come out in preparation to stop the run,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ``It's the same cat-and-mouse, chess game. That's just football.''
If Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians have overhauled any aspect of an offense that is little-changed personnel-wise, it's putting an emphasis on throwing to the tight end in goal-line situations.
Before Jerome Bettis retired, the Steelers often didn't need to throw in short-yardage situations near the goal line because they simply handed the ball to the big back. Last season, it was Willie Parker who was counted on to get the ball into the end zone once the Steelers approached the goal line, scoring 13 of the team's 42 touchdowns for the season.
That's all changed this season as tight ends Miller, Spaeth and Jerame Tuman have combined to catch eight of Roethlisberger's 13 touchdown passes. Miller has four touchdowns among his 22 receptions and Spaeth has only four catches overall, but three for touchdowns. Tuman's only catch was for a touchdown.
The Steelers have 10 games remaining, but they've already thrown far more touchdown passes to tight ends than they have in recent seasons.
Pittsburgh's tradition of relying on its tight ends mostly for blocking dates to the early days of the Chuck Noll coaching era (1969-1991) and extended into Bill Cowher's tenure - even after the Steelers spent a 1995 first-round draft pick on tight end Mark Bruener.
Until now, the only time the Steelers changed up their offense to throw frequently to the tight end came after they used their 1990 first-round pick on Eric Green. He had a combined 13 touchdown catches in his first two seasons, but only two touchdowns in seven games during Cowher's first season in 1992.
Against the Broncos, Roethlisberger found himself throwing frequently to the tight ends and scrambling to try to make plays because of Denver's heavy and persistent blitzing.
``You live by the sword, you die by the sword. You make plays with it, other times you don't,'' Roethlisberger said. ``You're not going to look back and second guess.''
The Steelers hadn't played since beating Seattle 21-0 on Oct. 7. By losing, the Steelers missed a chance to open a 1 1/2-game lead in the division over Baltimore (4-3), which was upset by Buffalo.
``Coming off of a win and a bye, we just probably weren't focused,'' wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. ``We could have made more plays. Having a bye week kind of hurts you. But at the same time, we just have to stay focused on the game.''

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