Confidence in Mike Wallace from Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger shows trust and unity among offense

Andy Lyons

Wallace had his worst game as a pro, but Haley continued to call plays for him and Roethlisberger kept giving him chances to get involved.

It's a team game with individual highlights.

Among the non-highlights was the slick hands of wide receiver Mike Wallace. It got so bad for the Pro Bowl receiver, it almost seemed as if his emotional well-being hung in the balance as the officials reviewed what would have been a critical third down reception late in the fourth quarter.

Wallace appeared to pull the ball into his chest after going down nicely for a Ben Roethlisberger pass that hovered less than a foot off the ground. It certainly wouldn't have made up for several drops, including a huge one on the previous drive, but it would have given the Steelers the ability to close the Bengals out in a tight game in a road environment.

What's more compelling is the fact Roethlisberger went to Wallace on the play. Roethlisberger went to Wallace a season-high 15 times - 40.5 percent of all his passes.

Wallace caught seven passes, including that third down play which, after review, was ruled a catch. Sometimes, when your guy is having an off-night, you need to get him more involved. Clearly, that was offensive coordinator Todd Haley's intention, continuing to call plays specifically for him.

They got him the ball in space, having two called runs, including a 13-yarder after his first drop. They threw to him short, which came with a drop as well as a few catches.

Still, they dialed up plays for Wallace, begging him to keep his head in the game. He was open in the end zone, and as SteelerNation savaged him for failing to catch a tipped pass by Bengals cornerback Leon Hall (who incidentally made a very nice play on the ball), he looked dejected, defeated.

Haley's remedy was to keep going to him. Roethlisberger seemingly took it upon himself to keep getting him the ball. Roethlisberger himself had two first-half turnovers, but wasn't shaken at all. The offense was on the edge of a huge performance the whole game, despite falling down 14-3 early.

Teams pick up individuals, and that's what the Steelers did. There will likely be grumblings about whether Wallace's third down play was a catch (it was ruled that way on the field, but it didn't appear the official had the best angle). There will be more grumblings about Wallace's holdout this offseason and his efforts to get a long-term contract from the team that's benefited from his 28 touchdowns in 54 career games.

The Steelers offense closed the game out despite Wallace's worst game as a pro. What's important isn't Wallace's inability to hang onto the ball. It's about the confidence the team had in him.

That confidence comes from the fact he won't always drop several passes. And when they get the kind of production he's capable of having along with the razor-sharp passing performance from Roethlisberger and outstanding protection (minus a gaffe here and there against a great pass-rushing team), this offense is going to explode.

Wallace will be right there with everyone else. He'll pick someone else up next time.


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