QBs Leftwich, Dixon battle to be starter
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.
On a night that Ben Roethlisberger got back to playing football, the Pittsburgh Steelers showed they have a chance to survive the start of the season without their suspended star.
Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon combined to lead three long touchdown drives after Roethlisberger made his preseason debut and the Steelers defeated the Giants 24-17 on Saturday night.
Roethlisberger will be suspended for the opening six games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, leaving the Steelers without the quarterback who has led them to two Super Bowls.
Leftwich (3 of 6 for 95 yards) gave the Steelers the lead for good at 10-7, tossing a 68-yard touchdown pass play to Mike Wallace with 2:49 left in the half.
Dixon took over in the third quarter and led Pittsburgh on touchdown drives of 78 and 82 yards to push the lead to 24-7. Isaac Redman capped the first one with a 12-yard run up the middle and Dwyane Wright finished the second one with a 2-yard run.
Dixon finished 7 of 8 for 82 yards, along with five runs for 27 yards.
“It’s not an issue now,” Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said of the competition between Dixon and Leftwich. “When the season starts, it’s going to be a whole different story. It will be interesting because we’ve never had to face something like that with a major role player on the team.”
Leftwich should have led the Steelers to two scores in his three series. After Joe Burnett intercepted a pass by Bomar late in the first half, Leftwich hit Antwaan Randle-El for 15 yards for a first-and-goal at the 1.
Instead of spiking the ball, he tried a sneak and forced Pittsburgh to call its final time out with 15 seconds left in the half. After Randle-El could not handle a fade pattern, the Steelers gambled with a run and Mewelde Moore was stopped, allowing the clock to run out.
While Roethlisberger’s teammates were glad to see him back on the field, everyone knows it won’t matter once the regular season gets under way.
“I don’t care about the disruptions,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s [Roethlisberger] a professional. His job is to play.
“He’s done that and he needs to continue to do that. We’ll deal with all the other things we need to deal with in the appropriate manner.”
Roethlisberger completed six of eight passes for 76 yards and an interception and led the Steelers on a 13-play, 58-yard drive that lasted seven-plus minutes and ended in a 26-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.
“It was great and I’m sure he felt great to be out there and play some ball,” Polamalu said.
“A lot of nerves, butterflies, excitement but to get back out there with the guys and get between the lines and the lights and the away stadium; it was awesome,” he said.
The game had a feisty start. Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor were ejected after the fourth play from scrimmage for throwing punches after a running play.