PITTSBURGH (AP) — The sheet and 20 years of conventional NFL wisdom said to kick. The Pittsburgh Steelers took a look at it, ripped it up and set it on fire.
Considering how easy Ben Roethlisberger and company made finding the end zone look on Sunday against overmatched San Francisco, there may be no going back.
Roethlisberger passed for 369 yards and three touchdowns, DeAngelo Williams tied a team record with three rushing scores and the Steelers converted a pair of early 2-point attempts to seize momentum and roll to a remarkably easy 43-18 win.
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"We’re going to take our shots," wide receiver Antonio Brown said. "It’s another opportunity to put points on the board."
Brown caught nine passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns for the Steelers, who needed all of 23 minutes to pile up 453 yards even without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Martavis Bryant. The two 23-year-olds sat out a second straight game for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, though Bell will return next week when Pittsburgh visits St. Louis.
"When we get all our pieces back to this puzzle, it’s going to be a beautiful puzzle man," Williams said.
Given 10 days to recover from a 28-21 loss to New England, Pittsburgh responded by looking every bit as explosive as offensive coordinator Todd Haley insisted it could be. Frustrated by an inability to finish drives with touchdowns against the Patriots, the Steelers decided to end them with exclamation points while ruining San Francisco coach Jim Tomsula’s homecoming.
Despite an easy opening week win over Minnesota, Tomsula stressed he was "worried about them Steelers," a line he delivered in an intentionally thick Pittsburgh accent as a way of paying tribute to his roots.
The Steelers began each practice during training camp with a drill called "seven shots." The starting offense would run seven plays from the 2 — the distance of a 2-point conversion — against the starting defense.
It wasn’t just for late-game situations. Tomlin hinted he’d become more aggressive going for two after the league moved back the extra point kick. He backed it up twice in the first half, keeping the offense on the field following touchdowns by Heath Miller and Williams.
Both times the Steelers converted with ease. Roethlisberger connected with a wide-open Brown to put Pittsburgh up 8-0. The Steelers initially lined up to kick after Williams’ first score but Tomlin changed his mind when San Francisco was flagged for being offside. With the ball moved up to the 1, Roethlisberger flipped a pass to Miller.
"We put so much time and effort into those plays and if you’re going to be successful doing them, why not do it?" Roethlisberger said.
Tomlin finally sent kicker Josh Scobee out for a one-point kick after Darrius Heyward-Bey’s 35-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter. Scobee, who missed a pair of field goals in the opener, smacked it off the upright. When Scobee did connect on one to push the Pittsburgh advantage to 29-3 with 1:58 to go in the half, the largest regular season crowd in Heinz Field history greeted the kick with a Bronx cheer.
The plodding 49ers couldn’t keep pace.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 335 yards and two scores but was sacked five times and didn’t get comfortable until it was far too late. Torrey Smith had six receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown.
"Obviously with the offense the Steelers have, we have to match the touchdowns and we didn’t do that today," Kaepernick said.
Two San Francisco long drives — 17 plays in the first half and 18 plays in the second — netted just three points. None of the Steelers’ six scoring drives took more than eight plays.
"It’s no secret," Tomsula said. "They do a wonderful job of creating. That’s what happened. You can’t give up big plays."
NOTES: 49ers RB Carlos Hyde ran for 43 yards before leaving in the second half following a shot to the head. He was cleared by doctors to return but was held out as a precaution. … Steelers LB Ryan Shazier had a career-high 15 tackles but left with a minor right shoulder injury. … Roethlisberger tied Terry Bradshaw’s team record for career wins (107). … San Francisco plays at Arizona next Sunday.