Cook: Rookie Grisham unlikely hero
Monday, December 28, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If you looked at the Steelers' 45-man roster before their hair-pull yesterday with the Baltimore Ravens and predicted the players who would have a major impact, how many would you have named before you came to wide receiver Tyler Grisham? 42? 43? Maybe even 44?
But there Grisham was late in the game, filling in for one-legged Hines Ward and trying to do what the Steelers ask of their future Hall of Famer every week. Wouldn't you know he delivered, making a 14-yard catch on a third-and-3 play -- his first NFL reception -- to set up the deciding field goal in a season-sustaining 23-20 win?
About then, you had to be thinking this just had to be the Steelers' day.
Actually, that was pretty clear much earlier. I mean, really. How often do the hated Ravens come to Heinz Field and lose two touchdowns because of penalties and a third because their star wide receiver dropped a pass, throw an interception, lose two fumbles, allow a 49-yard kickoff return, have a 21-yard punt and take two dumb personal fouls.
Yet it all happened on this surprisingly gorgeous winter afternoon with the Steelers getting one final big break when an interception and return into Pittsburgh territory by Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski in the final two minutes was wiped out by an illegal contact penalty against famed Baltimore spitter/cornerback Frank Walker. As a result, the Steelers live to play at least one more meaningful game -- Sunday at Miami -- with a playoff spot still a possibility, remote as it might be.
"Style points, we're way past that," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We're just trying to stay alive."
It's hard to say what was more unlikely -- the Grisham catch or the Ravens' sloppiness. There's also a third candidate in the you-had-to-see-it-to-believe-it category -- the fact that the Steelers' troubled defense forced three turnovers and pitched a fourth-quarter shutout.
"It was win or go home," linebacker James Farrior said. "We weren't ready to go home."
Yes, the defense got lucky when Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason beat cornerback Deshea Townsend like a drum with a double-move only to drop what should have been a 21-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the final quarter. "That was my mulligan right there. Just a long fly ball out," Townsend said, grinning.
But the defense also played well late. Rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood ended one Ravens' drive with a sack that so excited nose tackle Casey Hampton that the Big Snack knocked down Hood with a belly bump on his way to the bench. Hood also helped to end the Ravens' final possession by snatching a fumble out of the air after linebacker LaMarr Woodley forced it by sacking quarterback Joe Flacco.
That was the third turnover for a defense that didn't force any in the previous three games. Farrior got the first when he caught a floating ball in the first quarter, an interception that was set up when Woodley creamed Flacco as he threw. That was the Steelers' first interception since the Denver game a lifetime ago.
OK, six games ago.
"I was so nervous because it was so easy," Farrior said. "If I had dropped that one, I would have gone to the sideline, left the stadium and gone home."
The Ravens forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal after Farrior's 18-yard return to the Baltimore 8. But for most of the rest of the day, they had a hard time getting out of their own way. Running back Ray Rice, who gashed the Steelers' defense for 141 yards, lost a fumble at the Steelers' 26. An illegal block against Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs wiped out what would have been a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Domonique Foxworth. A holding call against wide receiver Kelley Washington nullified a 32-yard touchdown run by back Willis McGahee. Nose tackle Haloti Ngata and offensive tackle Oniel Cousins took terrible penalties for late hits, two of the Ravens' 11 penalties for 113 yards.
"Man, we need a break or two, don't we?" Tomlin asked. "We've had our share of the opposite."
Still, the Steelers had to win it. Surely, the Ravens never expected to be beaten by Tyler Grisham.
The holidays are supposed to be a time for miracles. Clearly, Grisham's 14-yard catch on third-and-3 from the Steelers' 43 with eight-plus minutes left qualified. This is a kid who made the practice squad as an undrafted free agent in large part because of his willingness to play on through the exhibition season with a separated shoulder. This was the third consecutive game in which Tomlin gave him a hat. With Ward out with a bad hamstring, Grisham made the most of it by beating cornerback Chris Carr with an inside move.
"I think they trust me," Grisham said. "I've done well in practice since camp. I've gotten open and caught the ball."
It didn't matter much that Grisham dropped a third-down ball over the middle a few plays later. He probably wasn't going to get the first down anyway. Jeff Reed came on to kick the winning 38-yard field goal. Among those dancing in the Heinz Field aisles were Grisham's parents, Jim and Connie, and his younger brothers, Garrett and Drake, who made the drive up last week from Birmingham, Ala., for the holidays.
Talk about a Christmas the Grishams never will forget.
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