Unlikely Role Playing Takes Center Stage in Steelers 24-17 Win Over Bengals

Has there been a more reliable Steeler than Heath Miller over the course of his career? To me, he's always been like John Wayne in cleats. If you need him for something, he's there.

Whenever No. 83 catches a pass--either at home or on the road--you always hear thousands of Steelers fans scream "Heath!" in unison; in fact, in years past, when former Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth caught a pass, the fans would all yell "Heath!" in unison.

Miller is so dependable and good at what he does, I'm hard-pressed to remember anyone ever saying anything bad about the guy.

Like the rest of us, however, Heath is a human being, and, believe it or not, he sometimes makes mistakes. They are very rare, but when they happen, they tend to stand out.

Take that 2009 game in Kansas City, for instance, when Miller let a perfectly thrown football clang off his hands and get intercepted. The Steelers were up by ten-points over a very poor Chiefs' team, but the mistake by Miller allowed Kansas City to get back in the game, and Pittsburgh went on to suffer a critical overtime loss.

Then there was that Halloween match-up in the Superdome against the Saints last year. The Steelers had been trailing by ten-points heading into the 4th quarter, but they managed to get back into the game and were only losing 13-10 with just under seven-minutes remaining when Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller with what looked to be a momentum-grabbing reception. There was Heath in Saints territory, fighting and scratching for all the yards he could gain on the play, when suddenly, the ball was knocked from his grasps, and the Saints recovered his rare fumble. The mistake proved costly as the Steelers went on to lose the game, and the fans grudgingly pointed to Heath's mistake as one of the pivotal turning-points.

But we're talking about two mistakes over the course of  a seven-year career. I mean, I'm sure Heath Miller has made some other mistakes over the years, but we'd all have a pretty hard time trying to remember them.

That brings us to Sunday's game against the Bengals. There were the Steelers leading 14-7 in the second quarter. Pittsburgh's offense looked almost flawless in scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions. Heath Miller was typically reliable as he helped set-up the second touchdown when he held onto a big third down pass near the goal line after taking a pretty vicious shot by a Bengals' defender.


On the team's third possession, Roethlisberger looked to keep the offensive momentum going, and who did he turn to? Mr. Reliable, Heath Miller, with a pass out in the flat. Only problem was, Miller bobbled the football twice, and it was intercepted by Leon Hall. Cincinnati eventually turned the gift into a field goal and were only trailing, 14-10.

But, hey, it was Ok. Heath just wanted to get his rare mistake out of the way before the playoffs started.

The Steelers shrugged off the turnover and, once again, had the ball in great scoring position after a very impressive drive near the end of the first half.

Just after the two-minute warning, Big Ben hit a wide-open Jerricho Cotchery with what looked to be his second touchdown catch of the half. The Steelers would be up 21-10 going into halftime, baby! I had already jumped out of my seat and was over at my computer typing a pretty witty comment for the BTSC game day thread when I looked over at my television set to see the referee calling number 83 for offensive pass interference.

Heath Miller, again?

The Steelers eventually had to settle for a field goal, and thanks to those two miscues by Miller, Pittsburgh went into the half only leading by a touchdown in a game they were dominating early-on.

Did William Gay steal Heath Miller's uniform or something?

Speaking of whom, has a Pittsburgh Steeler been on the receiving end of more criticism than number 22 over the past few years? I know what you're going to say, but Bruce Arians doesn't have a jersey.

Gay was named a starter in 2009 after Bryant Mcfadden left via free agency, and he spent the entire season making Steelers fans long for the days of Chad Scott.

Even last year, with Mcfadden back as a starter, Gay couldn't escape the wrath of the fans, even as the nickel corner. There was that game against the Patriots, of course, and then the Super Bowl loss in-which Gay was tortured by Aaron Rodgers.

How many times would William Gay be exposed before the Steelers finally cut ties with him? Gay was a free agent this offseason, and the fans couldn't wait to see him sign with another team. But, shockingly, William Gay re-signed with Pittsburgh before the 2011 season and was back to give us ulcers, once again.

Surprisingly, however, Gay was pretty good in pass-coverage over the first eight games. He wasn't spectacular, but he was better than ever, as was the rest of the Steelers secondary.

But then came that game last week where the Ravens were 14 of 21 on 3rd down. William Gay was, once again, the worst cornerback since the days of Dewayne Washington and was the guy who was covering Torrey Smith on his game-winning touchdown catch with eight-seconds left.

But that was last week. Let's get back to the Cincinnati game and Heath Miller being a goat. After the two teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, the Bengals were still only trailing by a touchdown, 24-17, in the final period.

Poor Heath Miller. The man apparently just isn't allowed to make any mistakes. His two blunders accounted for basically a seven-point shift in the scoring. Even if he had only made his annual lone mistake, the Steelers would have been up by two-scores and in fairly decent shape.

I was starting to get worried. Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton was gaining more confidence with each quick completion, and it looked as if he might just lead the up-and-coming Bengals on an impressive late touchdown drive to tie the game. I mean, it's not like the Steelers were confusing the young signal-caller, and where was the pressure? And forget about turnovers. The Steelers only had four take aways in their first nine games.

The Steelers needed a hero to emerge on the defensive side of the ball. Someone had to step-up, and not only save Heath Miller from being afraid to ever make another mistake again the rest of his career, but keep the team from suffering a second-straight heartbreaking loss to a division rival.

Would it be Troy Polamalu? He wasn't having one of his better days in pass-coverage and teamed-up with Ryan Clark to misplay a 36-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to A.J. Green in the first half that got Cincinnati back in the game after the Steelers had built an early 14-0 lead.

James Harrison would have been a good candidate to save the day, but he was getting mauled the entire game, and the officials were too busy looking the other way.

I was just about ready to hop on my computer and make some scathing remarks about Heath Miller costing the Steelers the game, when out of nowhere, William Gay road in on a white horse and saved the day, not once, but twice.

Gay deflected a pass that was intercepted by Lawrence Timmons at the Pittsburgh 33 yardline on the Bengals' penultimate drive.

And then on Cincinnati's last drive, when they appeared to be on the cusp of scoring the game-tying touchdown with less than three-minutes remaining, Gay read Dalton perfectly and intercepted his pass at the Steelers 19-yard line, effectively ending the game and giving the Steelers a much-needed victory.

So, in a year in-which the Steelers defense seems to be allergic to the football, the beleaguered William Gay was largely responsible for two Steelers' take aways in the same quarter.

And, by doing so, Gay helped keep Heath Miller from having to wear the goat horns for one of the few times in his spectacular career.

I'm sure in the coming weeks and months, Heath Miller will go back to being his old, reliable self, and William Gay will go back to playing the worst pass-coverage since Harvey Clayton, but for a week, at least, Gay gets to wear the white hat.

Thank you, Big Play Willie Gay.
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