Steelers dismantle 'The Dream Team'
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (86) makes a catch in the end zone for a touchdown in front of Philadelphia Eagles safety Marlin Jackson (28) during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game on Thursday in Pittsburgh. (AP photo)
Roethlisberger directed the defending AFC champions to touchdowns on both drives he played, hitting Antonio Brown for a 29-yard score in the first quarter and veteran Hines Ward on a 20-yard strike in the second.
Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick started the day clarifying comments he made in a “GQ” article in which he suggested NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell convinced him to sign with the Eagles as a backup two years ago rather than compete for a starting job elsewhere.
His night wasn’t any better.
Last season’s NFL Comeback Player of the Year was intercepted three times during a miserable half against Pittsburgh’s rejuvenated defense. Vick finished 5 of 12 for 47 yards and was sacked once.
Vick finished with more tackles — one — than touchdowns. He drilled Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu late in the first half after throwing his third interception of the night. Vick didn’t throw his third pick last year until December.
Then again, he got little help.
Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson, playing for the first time this preseason after ending his contract holdout, had two catches for eight yards as the Eagles struggled to gain any momentum against the Steelers, who were energized by the return of stars Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison.
The two All-Pros sat out a listless 16-7 loss to Washington a week earlier to rest. Once on the field, they had little trouble making an immediate impact.
Harrison teamed with cornerback Donovan Warren to sack Vick late in the first half. Polamalu then intercepted Vick on the next play to set up a 20-yard touchdown pass from Byron Leftwich to newly acquired wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery that put the Steelers up 21-0 with 12 seconds to play in the half.
Vick quickly took a knee when the Eagles got the ball back, eager to end a forgettable night. Pittsburgh outgained Philadelphia 262-71 in the half, taking some of the sizzle out of one of the league’s most hyped teams.
Philadelphia made such a splash during the free agency period — signing Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive linemen Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins and quarterback Vince Young among others — that Young dubbed his new squad “The Dream Team.”
The Steelers did little to downplay the focus surrounding their cross-state rivals, with safety Ryan Clark saying the Eagles can “deal with the limelight.”
Philadelphia didn’t exactly thrive under the glare while playing in front of a national TV audience against a team still smarting from a loss to Green Bay in the Super Bowl.
While Vick never got into a rhythm, Philadelphia’s first-string defense had trouble getting off the field.
Pittsburgh converted 7 of 10 third downs in the opening half and punted only once as Roethlisberger easily made plays against Philadelphia’s highly regarded secondary.
The addition of Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was supposed to shore up Philadelphia’s suspect pass defense, yet the secondary consistently ran into trouble.
Brown torched Asante Samuel on a double-move to put the Steelers on the board, and Ward ended a 96-yard drive with a grab in the back of the end zone after Roethlisberger extended the play by breaking containment.
Ward, who won “Dancing With the Stars” during the offseason, celebrated with a couple of well-executed hip swivels before heading to the sidelines for the night.
While Ward, Roethlisberger and running back Rashard Mendenhall were in baseball caps by the second quarter, Vick played the entire half.
The Steelers responded by keeping most of the starting defense on the field. Vick could do little with his arm or his legs even though Pittsburgh was forced to use a patchwork secondary thanks to injuries to corners Ike Taylor (broken left thumb) and Bryant McFadden (hamstring).
Usual nickelback William Gay and reserve Keenan Lewis started in place of the two veterans and held Jackson and others in check. Gay blanketed the speedy wideout when Vick tried to hit Jackson with a deep ball on Philadelphia’s first play from scrimmage, and Lewis easily picked off Vick when the quarterback overthrew Riley Cooper down the sideline.
The Steelers weren’t done. Polamalu, slowed in the playoffs last year with an Achilles’ injury, appeared to be fine playing at full speed for the first time in more than six months. He chased down a tipped pass and returned it 36 yards.
Polamalu faked a pitch during the return and paid for holding onto the ball when Vick drilled him at the Philadelphia 43. The tackle was low and hard, but both stars popped up quickly.