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Play calls questioned on Roethlisberger's run, failed conversions

PITTSBURGH -- Former coach Bill Cowher is among those questioning the Steelers' play-calling during their 31-29 wild-card playoff loss to Jacksonville, a game that featured a frantic Pittsburgh comeback but also some debatable play calls during a wild fourth quarter.

Down 28-10, the Steelers rallied behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to score three touchdowns in slightly more than 8 minutes for a 29-28 lead.

Coach Mike Tomlin, apparently relying on a chart that advises when to go for two points or kick the extra point, called for two-point conversion tries that failed after the final two touchdowns.

If the Steelers had kicked both extra points, Josh Scobee's 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining would have only tied the game, not won it for Jacksonville.

"Playing the charts, that is not out of bounds. That is just baseball," Tomlin said, defending his decision to rely on the chart by making an analogy with another sport. "Everybody has that chart."

The call Cowher appeared to dislike -- apparently made by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians -- was running Roethlisberger on a sweep behind third-team left tackle Trai Essex on a third-and-6 play from the Steelers' 26 with 2:56 remaining and Pittsburgh trying to run out the clock.

Roethlisberger, who threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns, was tackled by safety Sammy Knight after a 1-yard gain and the Steelers were forced to punt.

"When you look at this game, they (the Steelers) came back from 18 points down, get to a one-point lead ... third down and 6 -- a first down and you win the game -- and they run a quarterback sweep with Ben," Cowher said, with an incredulous tone, during CBS' "The NFL Today" show Sunday.

Cowher's CBS colleague, former quarterback Boomer Esiason, was the color analyst on Westwood One's radio broadcast and was highly critical of the call.

"Pittsburgh has to be sick at its stomach," Esiason said Sunday on CBS.

Cowher has refrained from criticizing his replacement, for obvious reasons. All NFL coaches make debatable play calls, and Cowher made plenty of such calls during his tenure as the Steelers' coach from 1992-2006.

The Steelers successfully ran the Roethlisberger sweep during practice last week.

"That was something we worked on all week and felt good about," Tomlin said. "We actually had the look and we didn't execute it. Good job by them."

Roethlisberger said, "That was a designed run play. We called it just to run. It was a good play, it was, man, but they got outside."

"We were ahead in the game and wanted to take some time off the clock," tight end Heath Miller said Monday. "Coach called some plays we felt like should have worked. Maybe we should have executed them better. It's on the players' shoulders to get the job done."

Highlighting the importance of Roethlisberger's failed run, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard ran a draw play for 32 yards to the Steelers' 11 on what potentially was Jacksonville's final play of the season, fourth-and-2 from Pittsburgh's 43. Scobee kicked the decisive field goal four plays later.

"In a game that had two quarterbacks able to throw the ball, two designed quarterback runs were probably two of the biggest plays in the game," Cowher said.

The failed conversions also proved big.

The Steelers kicked the extra point after Roethlisberger and wide receiver Santonio Holmes hooked up on a 37-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter, cutting the Jaguars' lead to 28-17.

After Jacksonville punted and Roethlisberger ended a 69-yard scoring drive with a 14-yard TD pass to Miller with 10:25 remaining, Tomlin went for two points and Roethlisberger found wide receiver Hines Ward on a fade route. But a holding call on center Sean Mahan wiped out the conversion.

While many coaches would have kicked the extra point, Tomlin went for two points again from the 12-yard line. Roethlisberger scrambled to his right, but pulled up about 4 yards from the end zone and was stopped.

"If I had a crystal ball and I knew we were going to lose by two, I probably would have kicked the extra point," Tomlin said.

Tomlin went for two again following Najeh Davenport's go-ahead touchdown about 4 minutes later, but Roethlisberger couldn't connect with Nate Washington.

"We were trying to get the score (the lead) to three," Tomlin said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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