PITTSBURGH (Aug. 20, 2005) -- Back at LSU, coach Nick Saban's solution for this type of problem would have been to pull one or two of his highly recruited players and plug in a couple of others. In the NFL, it's not quite that easy.
The Miami Dolphins lost five fumbles in the first half and seven overall in a miserably played game, exhibition or not, and the Pittsburgh Steelers had just enough offense to capitalize in a 17-3 victory.
James Harrison, filling in for injured Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter, scored on a 69-yard return of quarterback Gus Frerotte's fumble in the first quarter for Pittsburgh's fourth return touchdown in two preseason games. But the Steelers' only touchdown on offense -- Ben Roethlisberger and the starters were shut out for a second consecutive game -- was Verron Haynes' 1-yard run in the third quarter set up by, of course, a Dolphins fumble.
"We had too many mistakes. Turnovers killed us," Frerotte said. "We were trying to do some things and we missed some big plays. We had stuff that didn't go our way. We just missed some deep throws."
And missed and missed and ...
Frerotte had moved ahead of A.J. Feeley in the race to be the opening day starter, but it was hard to tell as Miami lost nearly as many fumbles as Frerotte had completed passes. Dolphins general manager Randy Mueller supposedly talked to the agent for unsigned quarterback Tim Couch last week, and the way Frerotte and Feeley played couldn't have convinced Mueller and Saban the offense is in good hands.
Especially on a night the Dolphins barely kept the ball in their hands for more than a couple of plays without turning it over in their third consecutive exhibition loss.
"We're really disappointed in the way we keep continually shooting ourselves in the foot, offensively," Saban said. "We stop ourselves time and time again, we drop balls, have penalties, don't block the right guy at times. We really need to buy into everybody being disciplined in what they're doing."
Maybe a 58-minute weather delay at the start caused by a violent thunderstorm got both teams out of sync, but neither starting offense produced any scoring in a first half that included eight turnovers -- including two Steelers fumbles and a Roethlisberger-thrown interception.
Frerotte wasn't entirely to blame, going 7-of-18 for 87 yards and losing two fumbles, although several receivers dropped balls that should have been caught. But he is 13-of-31 for 147 yards and an interception in his last two games, including last weekend's 27-17 loss to the Jaguars, and he acknowledged that facing one of the league's best defenses was a challenge.
|Head coach Nick Saban and the Dolphins are looking around for answers.|
Feeley's numbers looked much better than Frerotte's, 16 of 20 for 95 yards, but he completed mostly short, safe throws to his receivers that didn't produce much yardage after the catch. Frerotte went downfield on nearly every throw, and got much of his yardage on a 42-yard completion to Wes Welker.
Just as in the 38-31 win over the Eagles, the Steelers' starting offense didn't get much work. Roethlisberger was 6-of-11 for 51 yards and is 8-of-15 for 64 yards in two games, not playing past the first quarter in either game even though coach Bill Cowher planned to play his starters for the first half against Miami.
Charlie Batch, the former Lions starter who has barely played the last three seasons with Pittsburgh, played more than a half and went 6-for-11 for 55 yards.
Steelers Pro Bowl wide receiver Hines Ward played one series after ending his holdout Monday and made a 3-yard catch on a third down in which he needed four yards to keep a drive going.
"It's great to be back -- I missed it," Ward said. "It was just day three for me, and we're getting better. Ben is making good reads and we need to make some plays for him."
Notes: Dolphins first-round draft pick Ronnie Brown, who also ended his holdout, didn't get any carries. ... Steelers RB Jerome Bettis was pulled after getting 11 yards on two carries. ... Saban grew up about 70 miles from Pittsburgh in northern West Virginia. ... Jeff Reed missed a 28-yard field goal try in the first quarter after Willie Parker 's 37-yard run gave the Steelers a first down at the 9. Reed later kicked a 26-yarder. ... The rain stopped before kickoff, and the field did not appear to be overly slick.