Afternoon NFL; Road Dog Denver Heavily Favored
The defending Super Bowl champions look to bounce back from a humiliating defeat when they host the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
The Steelers (2-5) lost 20-13 last week to the Oakland Raiders - a team that just a couple of weeks ago looked like it would have a tough time winning at all this season.
Roethlisberger played one week after suffering a concussion in the third quarter of a 41-38 overtime loss in Atlanta, and threw four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
``I'm embarrassed about the way I played,'' Roethlisberger said. ``I'm letting the whole team down. It just seems like one guy makes mistakes and that's me. ... In my wildest dreams, I didn't think I'd be playing this bad.''
Roethlisberger won 27 of his first 31 NFL starts, but is 1-5 this season. He was involved in a motorcycle accident in June that left him with a concussion and a broken jaw, then needed an emergency appendectomy that caused him to miss the first game of the season.
The poor play has Denver defensive lineman Ebenezer Ekuban hoping that Roethlisberger will be under center this weekend - and not backup Charlie Batch, who led Pittsburgh to a 28-17 win over Miami in Week 1 and has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions this season.
``I just pray that Ben plays another game before they sit him down,'' Ekuban said. ``Come on, one more game. ...
``Nothing against Ben, he's a Super Bowl quarterback. But you know what, the tape doesn't lie. I would rather right now face Ben than Charlie Batch because of how the offense seems to get going with Charlie Batch in there.''
Roethlisberger threw for 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions the last time he faced the Broncos, in last season's AFC championship game at Invesco Field. Pittsburgh beat Denver 34-17 en route to its win over Seattle in the Super Bowl.
This season, however, the Steelers are off to the worst start by a defending champion since the 1987 New York Giants went 1-6. Pittsburgh is tied with Cleveland for last place in the AFC North, three games behind first-place Baltimore.
``Two wins for the year - that's not the way you imagined the Super Bowl champs would start the year off,'' said receiver Hines Ward, the Super Bowl MVP. ``When you turn the ball over as much as we did, it's hard to beat anybody.''
Against the Raiders, Pittsburgh managed only 88 yards in the first half, and couldn't score the tying touchdown despite having first-and-goal at the 1-yard line with about three minutes left in the game. The Steelers, who have turned the ball over seven times in the last two games and 18 times this season, lost despite outgaining Oakland 360-98.
Cowher accepted some criticism for starting Roethlisberger so soon after his second concussion.
``Obviously, there's a lot of disappointment to be sitting here at 2-5. I accept full responsibility for that,'' Cowher said. ``It starts with me. There's been a lot of frustration ... in the different ways we have found to lose. The bottom line is we have lost.''
The Steelers could have a tough time bouncing back against a Denver squad that ranks first in the AFC with 11.1 points allowed per game. That number rose from before Sunday's matchup with the Colts, however, when the Broncos' zone defense was exposed by Peyton Manning in a 34-31 victory.
Manning threw for 345 yards and hit receiver Reggie Wayne for each of his three touchdowns as the duo targeted Darrent Williams. The cornerback was Denver's top pick in the 2005 draft as part of an effort to improve a defense that struggled in lopsided losses to Manning and the Colts in the 2003 and '04 playoffs.
The Broncos had allowed just 44 points and two touchdowns in the first six games.
Despite their defensive troubles, the Broncos, tied for first in the AFC West with San Diego, managed to stay with Indianapolis offensively until Adam Vinatieri's winning field goal with 2 seconds left.
Jake Plummer, who had thrown four touchdowns and seven interceptions coming into the game, went 13-for-21 for 174 yards and a touchdown. Mike Bell rushed for career highs of 136 yards and two touchdowns, getting more action as Tatum Bell battled a toe injury.
The Broncos offense had been largely ineffective this season, as Denver hadn't scored more than 17 points in a game. Still, Plummer wasn't necessarily willing to look at the 31-point output as a building block for the future.
``There's no building,'' he said. ``We've been building since we started in August.''
Denver has won seven of its last 10 regular season matchups with Pittsburgh, most recently a 17-14 win at Invesco Field on Oct. 12, 2003. The Broncos haven't played in Pittsburgh since winning the 1997 AFC championship game 24-21.
By: David Michaels - theSpread.com - Email Us
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