Mendenhall Has Big Impact In First Game Back From ACL Injury
It is hard to win in the National Football League, especially when age combined with injuries start to dig into the depth of the team. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers can’t avoid the issues that arise when players like James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Rashard Mendenhall, after three weeks, combine to play in one game heading into Week 5.
Truth to the matter is big-name players make big plays, and when they are absent the trickle-down effect eventually takes its toll in the win-loss column.
There was a sense of uneasiness from some of Steelers Nation I spoke with on the walk into Heinz Field prior to kickoff between the Steelers and the visiting Philadelphia Eagles. The Steelers were facing a 3-1 Eagles team that already defeated their rival Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh was on the ropes in a must-win game.
Pittsburgh stood at 1-2 prior to kickoff, although that was not necessarily unfamiliar territory with since they have been 2-2 in two of the five seasons Mike Tomlin has been head coach.
The Steelers' second win of 2012 came in the final seconds off the leg of kicker Shaun Suisham connecting from 34 yards away as time expired.
“It’s awesome to get out of here with a win against a very good team,” head coach Mike Tomlin commented on the team's 16-14 victory. Pittsburgh also shook the streak of losing two or more in a row to Philadelphia, a dubious record that began in 1963, going 7-15.
Pittsburgh’s defense was the key contributor to their win over the Eagles. Lawrence Timmons exhibited some stellar play while teammate Larry Foote was the beneficiary of three Eagles fumbles in the first half, one of which was upheld, helping the Steelers maintain their 10-0 nothing lead heading into the half.
“Good defenses and good teams respond in a certain way,” Timmons said. “I think we exemplified that today.” The 2011 Pro Bowl Alternate Timmons finished the game leading the Steelers with nine tackles along with two tackles for loss while wreaking havoc on Michael Vick all afternoon.
Pittsburgh forced three fumbles in the first half (recovered two). It was the first time the Steelers forced three fumbles in the first half since their November 21, 2010 game against Oakland.
The scoreless first quarter was the second one of the season by the Eagles, and both have resulted in their only two losses of the season (3-2).
“We put ourselves in a position to win the game,” said head coach Andy Reid still wearing his rain-soaked coat during the postgame interview. “My hat’s off to them [Pittsburgh]. They did a nice job with that last drive.”
Pittsburgh’s last drive ate up all of the six minutes and 33 seconds left on the fourth-quarter clock. During that particular drive, the Steelers ran nine times out of the 13 plays prior to kicking the field goal. It marked the first time since the last game of 2011 that Rashard Mendenhall had live action after returning from tearing the ACL in his right knee. The fifth-year veteran's return paid instant dividends with Mendenhall having the longest rushing play of the season of 20 yards, which resulted in the game's first touchdown.
“From the beginning I felt comfortable,” Mendenhall said, fielding questions from the podium during the postgame interviews. “To tell you the truth I don’t really think about the game the night before. I take every moment as right then, so last night was last night, I woke up this morning and ate breakfast, took it just one step at a time I did not think about the game until I stepped out there.”
With the ground game in shambles, Mendenhall’s return could not have come at a better time. After the first three games of the season, Pittsburgh had their second-lowest team rushing total (195) since 1950 when they opened with 185.
“Our savior is back,” said Ben Roethlisberger, commenting on the return of the team's leading rusher over the last three seasons. “It was great to see him out there and he did a great job.” In only four quarters of action, Mendenhall rushed for 81 yards and stands second in the team in rushing, behind leader Isaac Redman with 113.
The hard-fought victory will be forgotten quickly with the short week, with Pittsburgh heading to Tennessee to take on the Titans Thursday. The winner of their last three matchups against Tennessee, Pittsburgh hopes to put their first back-to-back wins together at the expense of the Titans.
“Hopefully we get that first stack (back-to-back wins) this week,” said Mike Wallace.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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