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Steady Steelers shut out Seahawks in XL rematch

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' top defensive players stood on the sidelines for most of the second half, but only a couple of them were hurt. The rest stayed there simply because the offense wouldn't let them on the field.

The Steelers' 21-0 victory Sunday over Seattle, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's improvising and creativity, might have been one of the few times where a shutout could be credited as much to the offense as the defense.

Pittsburgh's offense took nearly a half to get going, then couldn't be stopped as Roethlisberger directed three successive lengthy touchdown drives highlighted by Najeh Davenport's runs and a series of catches by backup receivers.

"Coach (Mike) Tomlin says that a lot: We've got 53 playmakers, and you've got to make plays when your number is called," Davenport said. "A lot of guys' numbers got called."

Called most of all was Roethlisberger's No. 7.

He bounced back from a two-interception performance in the previous week's 21-14 loss at Arizona to complete 13 consecutive passes. It was an impressive display of versatility given starting receivers Hines Ward (knee) and Santonio Holmes (hamstring) didn't play. The Steelers' record is 15 completions in a row by Bubby Brister in 1989.

Roethlisberger finished 18-of-22 for 206 yards and a touchdown.

"There were a lot of questions, obviously, with Hines being down and Santonio (being ruled out) right before the game, but there was no doubt in my mind those receivers would step up and they did a great job," Roethlisberger said. "They got open for me and caught the ball."

With Pittsburgh star Willie Parker held to 17 yards on 10 carries before he found a rhythm, the Steelers (4-1) stalled until the 247-pound Davenport ran 45 yards to the Seahawks 20 late in the second quarter of a scoreless game.

Roethlisberger found tight end Heath Miller for 13 yards and a touchdown with just under two minutes left in the half to finish off a 10-play drive. It was the first series of any consequence by either team after nine consecutive punts

On an unusually warm day, the Seahawks got tired merely sitting on the sunny side of the field with the temperature in the high 80s. Members of Seattle's support staff created some shade by holding large protective screens over the players' heads.

It didn't help a defense that was on the field nearly the entire second half. The Steelers held a 24:53 to 5:07 edge in time of possession.

Seattle completed only two passes in the second half against a Steelers defense that was missing two injured Pro Bowl players, safety Troy Polamalu (ribs) and nose tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring).

"We felt this game would be about attrition, we were going to beat on you and beat on you and beat on you until you give up," Davenport said. "I think the run I had sparked the offense and got things moving."

Of the Steelers' 18 receptions, only four were by a starter -- all by Miller. Cedrick Wilson had five catches for 69 yards, including three on a long third-quarter drive. Davenport had four catches. Nate Washington had three.

It wasn't quite a replay of the Steelers' 21-10 win over Seattle in the February 2006 Super Bowl, except for Pittsburgh's ability to prevent big plays by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander. The Steelers led 342-144 in total offense.

"We broke down in some areas, and when you break down against a good football team, you're in trouble," Seattle safety Brian Russell said.

Hasselbeck was 13-of-27 for 116 yards. Alexander, playing with a broken left hand, managed 25 yards on 11 ineffective carries after gaining 353 yards in his first four games.

"I'm surprised, especially with them having two outstanding players missing off their defense, and we were feeling pretty good about our game offensively," tight end Marcus Pollard said of Seattle's first shutout loss since a 23-0 defeat to Miami in 2000.

Seattle clearly missed receiver Deion Branch, who sprained his right foot in the second quarter. He has frequently hurt the Steelers, with 16 catches in his three previous games against them while with New England.

The Seahawks' best chance to score came when Hasselbeck drove them to the Steelers 14 in the final minute before halftime, only to be intercepted by Ike Taylor at the goal line. That kept alive the Steelers' streak of not allowing a first-half touchdown this season. Seattle never threatened again.

Seattle (3-2) didn't even get the ball back until it trailed 14-0 late in the third quarter. Roethlisberger started the second half by directing the Steelers' best drive of the season, a 17-play, 80-yarder that lasted nearly 10½ minutes.

Because of penalties, the Steelers had 110 yards of offense on the drive, converting three times on third-and-long.

"I was a little disappointed, let me put it that way," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. "Not much surprises me anymore, but I was disappointed in our ability to handle some of those third down conversions."

Davenport finished off that long possession by scoring from the 1, and he scored again from the 5 to cap Pittsburgh's next drive. Parker was starting to find running lanes by then and finished with 102 yards, his fourth 100-yard game this season.

Notes: The Steelers are 3-0 at home, outscoring Buffalo, San Francisco and Seattle by a combined 84-19. ... Former Steelers coach Chuck Noll was a surprise guest and was introduced before kickoff. ... Parker's 100-yard game was the 17th of his career. ... The Steelers have given up only two field goals in the first half. ... Pittsburgh's last shutout was 41-0 over Cleveland late in 2005. ... The Steelers were 8-of-15 on third down.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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