The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 28, 2012

Steelers defense turns back the clock in throwback jerseys

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers watched opponents panic when preparing for Robert Griffin III and vowed not to suffer the same identity crisis.

“We didn’t want to get too creative,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “We just wanted to play the way we know how.”

Besides, why mess with a good thing?

Wearing throwback jerseys that made them resemble hulking bumblebees, the Steelers swarmed Washington’s precocious star in a 27-12 victory on Sunday.

Griffin completed just 16 of 34 passes for 177 yards and a score while managing 8 yards rushing, finding little room to showcase his brilliance against a unit used to having its way when a youngster is calling plays in the other huddle.

The Steelers (4-3) improved to 14-1 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004, doing to Griffin what they’ve done to the likes of Eli Manning and Joe Flacco.

“It is very frustrating,” Griffin said. “You want to go out, be successful, execute plays and have everything work for you and then when you have a day like today when you have almost nothing work for you.”

Griffin got little help from his receivers. The Redskins (3-5) dropped 10 passes and the Steelers kept the NFL’s top rushing team under wraps despite playing without injured safety Troy Polamalu.

Washington ran for a season-low 86 yards while Griffin’s longest run came on a seven-yard sprint in the first quarter.

“He wasn’t running all over the place,” Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote said. “The front seven got challenged by (Steelers coach) Mike (Tomlin) all week and they delivered.”

Ben Roethlisberger had no such issues against Washington’s depleted defense, throwing for 222 yards and three touchdowns as the Steelers won consecutive games for the first time this season.

“It’s fun having so many weapons and being able to throw to anybody,” said Roethlisberger, who spread 24 completions to nine different receivers.

Jonathan Dwyer added 107 yards rushing in his second NFL start while Heath Miller caught four passes for 46 yards and his sixth touchdown of the season. Pittsburgh scored on its first four possessions to take control early and had little trouble moving above .500.

Suddenly, the team that looked sluggish during early losses to Oakland and Tennessee appears to be its normal, dangerous self in a wide-open AFC.

“This is our story and we’re writing it,” Foote said.

Something Griffin is trying to do in the nation’s capital. The second overall pick in last April’s draft has taken the league by storm, his dazzling playmaking turning the moribund Redskins into one of the league’s more compelling teams.

It all came to a crashing halt on a wet, raw day at Heinz Field.

Washington did its best to create space for Griffin, at one point sending him out as a wide receiver. He sprinted down the sideline but was flagged for pass interference while trying to grab Josh Morgan’s wobbly pass, another mistake by the Redskins on an afternoon full of them

“I guess it was just a bad day for us,” Washington wide receiver Leonard Hankerson said. “We didn’t make those plays.”

Even a pregame surprise from veteran linebacker London Fletcher didn’t help. Fletcher overcame head and hamstring issues to play in his 232nd consecutive game, the longest active streak in the NFL. His presence, however, did little to buoy Washington’s floundering defense against the balanced Steelers.

Roethlisberger continued to thrive in new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system while Dwyer, starting in place of injured Rashard Mendenhall, became the first Steelers running back to top 100 yards in consecutive games in four years.

Nicknamed “the minivan” by former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, Dwyer ripped off a series of runs through gaping holes that kept the Redskins off-balance.

“I was just going off of how (the offensive line) was playing,” Dwyer said. “They were playing physical so I brought my physicality to the game as well.”

Pittsburgh wasted little time putting the pressure on, racing to a 20-6 halftime lead. Each drive seemed to follow the same pattern. Dwyer would soften up the middle of the Washington defense by bulling up the gut and Roethlisberger would spread the ball to anyone willing to catch it.

He hit little-used Leonard Pope for his first touchdown of the game and found Miller for a 7-yard score. When Roethlisberger flipped the ball to Will Johnson from a yard out midway through the third quarter to make it 27-9, the Steelers were in complete command.

Washington mustered little the rest of the way and eventually lost its composure.

Cornerback DeAngelo Hall was ejected in the fourth quarter after getting in the face of an official, and Griffin ended the day with a simple kneel down on the Redskins’ last possession, eager to get out of the rain and away from the worst performance of his short career.

“We lost the game, that’s all that matters,” Griffin said. “You’re judged by wins and losses. I feel as bad as anyone else in that locker room right now.”

Notes: Washington TE Chris Cooley, re-signed by the team last week after Fred Davis was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, played sporadically. He did not catch a pass but was targeted once by Griffin ... The Steelers improved to 400-253-2 since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the most wins by any NFL franchise during that span ... Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark left in the third quarter with a concussion and did not return.

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