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Tick tock: Big Ben excels while on the clock

Maybe it's appropriate a guy nicknamed Big Ben would be so good while on the clock.

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Maybe it's appropriate a guy nicknamed Big Ben would be so good while on the clock.

One of Ben Roethlisberger's first practices shortly after signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers was devoted mostly to the 2-minute drill. Roethlisberger threw incomplete on his first attempt, but didn't miss any other receivers during a drill coach Bill Cowher considers as important as any the Steelers practice.

When it counted Sunday night in Jacksonville, and the Steelers (11-1) needed their rookie to take them down the field in a hurry and keep their long winning streak going, he was just as good as on that warm August day in training camp.

Roethlisberger had led three fourth-quarter comebacks during the Steelers' 10-game winning streak, the second longest in franchise history to their 11-game run in 1975. But Sunday's 17-16 victory marked the first time he needed to drive them more than a short distance late in a game to win.

He stepped in on that last drive and made three big throws,'' wide receiver Hines Ward said.He's going to continue to grow and get better and better. He did a tremendous job on that two-minute drive.''

The Steelers, trailing 16-14, got the ball at their 25 with 1:50 remaining, but only because Cowher burned all three timeouts during the Jacksonville drive leading to Josh Scobee's 36-yard field goal with 1:55 remaining.

We had to give the offense a chance,'' Cowher said.It was imperative we stop the clock.''

Roethlisberger, operating from a shotgun formation, completed three consecutive passes, two to not-always-reliable backup receiver Lee Mays, ahead of Jeff Reed's 37-yard field goal with 18 seconds remaining.

My job's easy at that point _ I've just got to deliver the ball,'' Roethlisberger said.It's a great situation to be in, not just for me but for this offense.''

Cowher ordered Reed to kick on third down rather than fourth down, even though it preserved some time for Jacksonville. He wanted a second chance in case of a bad or fumbled snap. Cowher also didn't want to risk losing yardage by running another play.

A similar move two years ago allowed the Steelers to beat the Browns 16-13 in overtime, a pivotal victory that not only prevented an 0-3 start but turned their season around.

Then, with Pittsburgh at the Cleveland 6, Todd Peterson attempted a 24-yard field goal on second down. Cleveland's Alvin McKinley blocked it, but the Steelers retained possession by recovering the ball behind the line of scrimmage. Peterson made a decisive 31-yarder on third down.

Cowher's clock management skills have always been an asset, and they stood out again during a season that has seen the Jets' Herman Edwards, the Redskins' Joe Gibbs, the Rams' Mike Martz, the Vikings' Mike Tice and former Browns coach Butch Davis struggle with clock issues.

Edwards' well-documented clock problems have cost the Jets at least one game in each of the last four seasons, and Tice's own wife was upset when he arguably mismanaged time during a 31-28 loss to the Colts.

Roethlisberger's skillful final drive also was important because it was the first time since a 24-20 victory at Dallas on Oct. 17 the Steelers relied mostly on their rookie to win a game.

An ever-increasing reliance on the running game caused Cowher to nudge Roethlisberger last week by saying the Steelers needed more out of their passing attack. They got it as Roethlisberger went 14-of-17 for 221 yards and two touchdowns, his first game of 200 yards or more in seven weeks.

The victory kept Pittsburgh ahead of New England (11-1) in the race for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs going into Sunday's home game against the Jets (9-3).

``It was a big confidence booster for this whole team,'' Roethlisberger said.

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