Mendenhall gives Steelers lift in return

Rashard Mendenhall’s surgically repaired right knee is just

fine. So too it seems is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game.

Cutting with authority and showcasing the explosiveness that

made him a vital part of Pittsburgh’s offense, Mendenhall rolled up

101 total yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s 16-14 victory over

Philadelphia on Sunday.

”Our savior is back,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joked.

”We’ve been teasing him all week. It was great to see him out

there and he did a great job.”

Playing for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right

knee on New Years Day, Mendenhall revived Pittsburgh’s beleaguered

running game to take some of the pressure off Roethlisberger. The

Steelers (2-2) came in 31st in the league in rushing yards per game

and dead last in yards per carry.

Mendenhall took care of that, averaging a robust 5.8 yards on 14

carries, not including a 29-yard run wiped out by one of

Pittsburgh’s nine penalties.

”When I stepped out there I knew that I would be comfortable

and just wanted to go out there and play the best that I could, and

I was able to do that,” Mendenhall said.

He was just as effective out of the backfield, catching two

passes for 20 yards, including a 15-yard screen pass during

Pittsburgh’s final drive that ended with Shaun Suisham’s 34-yard

field goal as time expired.

”I thought he not only ran well and caught the ball, but he was

a source of energy for the unit,” said Pittsburgh coach Mike

Tomlin. ”That’s what great players do. They inspire those around

them. I thought he did that for the group.”

Philadelphia (3-2) appeared on the verge of its third one-point

win on the season when Michael Vick found Brent Celek for a 2-yard

score with 6:33 remaining, but the Eagles couldn’t slow down the

Steelers during a methodical final drive in which Roethlisberger

converted a pair of critical third downs.

”I think they just made one more play than we did, and it

happens,” said Philadelphia safety Kurt Coleman.

It’s something the Eagles had done with regularity during

September, when they won three games by a total of four points.

The Eagles trailed the whole way but put together a grinding

17-play, 79-yard drive at the start of the final quarter,

converting a pair of risky fourth downs, including one deep inside

their own territory. LeSean McCoy turned both into first downs,

twisting for the necessary yardage on fourth-and-inches at the

Philadelphia 30, then bulling for two yards on fourth-and-1 at the

Pittsburgh 47.

”I don’t know how I can say this humble … we felt like we

could drive on them,” McCoy said.

Scoring, however, proved to be another matter.

”You’re going to need to score more points, going to need to

help our defense out a lot more,” Vick said. ”And we tried to the

best we can. Pittsburgh’s a good football team; their record might

not have shown it.”

The Steelers came in smarting following a 34-31 loss in Oakland

two weeks ago before heading into a well-timed bye that allowed the

defense to get healthy. Pittsburgh hoped the return of linebacker

James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu from injury would spark a

defense that looked a step slow in the second half of losses to the

Raiders and Broncos.

The reunion of the two stars didn’t last long.

Polamalu left in the first quarter after re-aggravating a

strained right calf and the Steelers lost outside linebacker LaMarr

Woodley with a strained hamstring shortly thereafter.

Still, the Steelers prevented the Eagles from making big plays.

Philadelphia’s longest gain was all of 24 yards and Pittsburgh

forced Vick to fumble three times – including one into the end zone

that Steelers linebacker Larry Foote pounced on – and didn’t let

him get anything going with his legs.

”Our defense stood up today,” said Steelers linebacker

Lawrence Timmons. ”We really needed this win. A good team is

always defined by what they do after losses.”

Pittsburgh took a 10-0 halftime lead behind a lateral from

Roethlisberger to Mendenhall that the running back turned into a

13-yard touchdown. The Steelers later added 20-yard field goal by

Suisham, though they missed a chance to go up two touchdowns when

Jerricho Cotchery tripped going into the end zone just before

Suisham’s kick.

Philadelphia drew within 10-7 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from

Vick to McCoy, setting up a dramatic fourth quarter in which the

Steelers turned the tables on the Eagles.

”Things happen,” Vick said. ”I wish I could take the fumble

back on the goal line but you can’t. Ultimately I think we put

ourselves into a position to win this game and we didn’t win.”

Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP