Fresh Batch: QB sparks Steelers past Dolphins in opener

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Miami coach Nick Saban had the red challenge

flag in his hand, hitched it forward and back, and couldn't seem to

let it go in time. Maybe the Dolphins should flag their own coach

for a costly delay.

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller chugged his way down

the sideline on an 87-yard touchdown pass play midway through the

fourth quarter, fill-in QB Charlie Batch's third scoring pass of

the game, and the Super Bowl champions beat the Dolphins 28-17

Thursday night in the NFL's first game of the season.

It was over when ...

Joey Porter picked off a Daunte Culpepper pass late in the fourth quarter and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown, giving Pittsburgh a 28-17 lead with just under three minutes remaining.

Game ball goes to ...

Pittsburgh's Charlie Batch and Willie Parker. Batch was sharp in place of injured starter Ben Roethlisberger, going 15-25 for 209 yards and three touchdowns. But Parker helped keep the pressure off Batch, rushing 29 times for 115 yards.

"It seemed like it took me forever to get there," Miller said.

For good reason.

Miller's score shouldn't have stood -- TV replays clearly showed

his foot splayed out of bounds between the 1 and 2-yard lines.

However, Saban hesitated to throw his flag, which fell to the turf

sight unseen as referee Walt Coleman watched the extra point kick.

That meant the Steelers didn't have to try to get the ball into the

end zone from short yardage.

Asked if he got in, Miller said, laughing, "Touchdown. Yeah."

Saban apparently thought he could throw the challenge flag at

any time before Jeff Reed kicked the extra point, but no official

saw him -- and thus, no replay. And no Dolphins upset, either, even

though the Steelers didn't look particularly sharp in their first

game that counted since the Super Bowl -- despite Willie Parker's

115 yards rushing, Miller's 101 yards receiving and Batch's first

three-TD game since Nov. 18, 2001, with Detroit.

Elias Says

Heath Miller
Charlie Batch's 87-yard pass to Heath Miller was the longest TD pass to a tight end in 32 years, since Joe Namath connected with Rich Caster for 89 yards against the Dolphins in 1974.

• For more Elias Says, click here

"They said they didn't see it," Saban said. "Whose fault is


Saban explained that assistant coaches in the press box first

had to watch the replay before notifying him whether to challenge.

"We can't challenge something until we see it," he said.

"When we saw it, I threw the flag. It was well before the kicker

kicked it. The official said he didn't see it, and when he said he

didn't see it, there was nothing he could do. That shouldn't


Coleman said the officials had no choice because Saban waited so

long. He said they delayed the extra-point, waiting for the

possibility of a challenge, then lined up for the try. Under NFL

rules, there can be no challenge once the next play begins.

"We were unfortunately focused on the snap and so forth, and

the coach threw the flag and we didn't see it."

He said he could never remember a coach being late with the flag


Miami, down 21-17 at the time, had a chance to come back. But

new quarterback Daunte Culpepper was intercepted on consecutive

series, with linebacker Joey Porter scoring on a 42-yard return

with about three minutes left.

"We knew we had put them in a situation where they had to pass

the ball. I had my chance to make the play and I made it," Porter


Porter was so excited, he ran to the sideline and kissed coach

Bill Cowher on the cheek -- the Steelers' first known sideline

smooch since Cowher planted one on Kordell Stewart during a 1997

comeback victory in Baltimore.

The Dolphins, trying to build off the momentum of their six

consecutive victories to end last season, never led until Ronnie Brown scored on a 5-yard run to make it 17-14 in the third quarter.

Marty Booker, sidelined with what appeared to be a concussion in

the first half, came back to make a 50-yard catch of Culpepper's

pass, aided by safety Tyrone Carter's slip, to set up the score.

"We were definitely in the driver's seat. We needed to stay

focused and finish the ballgame out," said safety Renaldo Hill.

Culpepper was mostly effective in his first start for the

Dolphins, until his late-game mistakes. He also was intercepted by

Troy Polamalu immediately after Miller's catch put the Steelers up.

Culpepper finished 18-for-37 for 262 yards.

"In this league, you can't turn the ball over in the fourth

quarter," Culpepper said. "I'm better than that. We're better

than that."

The Steelers also overcame a costly mistake when Batch fumbled

Jeff Hartings' snap at the Miami 1 and Will Allen recovered,

keeping the Dolphins in the lead temporarily.

For the first 2½ quarters, the Steelers looked much like they

did in the Super Bowl seven months ago -- without Ben Roethlisberger, of course. The quarterback made an unexpectedly

fast recovery from a June motorcycle crash, only to need an

emergency appendectomy on Sunday that kept him out of his fifth

game in two seasons.

"I walked in here Sunday and had no idea I would be the

starter," Batch said. "But I always tell myself, 'When you go in

there, don't be the guy who takes a step back, keep things going

offensively without changing the game plan.' And I think I was able

to do that."

Just like in that 21-10 win over Seattle in the Super Bowl,

there was a Hines Ward touchdown catch, a long Parker run and a

favorable call from an official, helping the Steelers go up 14-7.

Ward, who sat out the preseason with a sore hamstring, caught a

7-yard touchdown pass from Batch late in the first half. Parker

used his speed to get loose on a 32-yard run to the Dolphins 35,

and cornerback Andre Goodman drew a 23-yard pass interference call

on Cedrick Wilson. Goodman started because of Travis Daniels' ankle


Batch, making his first season-opening start since 2001 with

Detroit, looked rusty for two drives, only to settle in and throw a

27-yard scoring pass to Nate Washington to finish off a 75-yard

drive early in the second period. It was the first regular-season

catch for Washington, a 2005 free agent from Tiffin University

whose only other career reception came in the AFC title game.

Batch was 15-for-25 for 209 yards.

Miami couldn't get a running game going until the second half --

at one point, Brown had 11 yards on nine carries -- but tied it at 7

when Wes Welker's 47-yard punt return set up Brown's 2-yard run.

The Steelers unveiled their five Super Bowl championship banners

during a pregame show highlighted by fireworks and an in-stadium

concert, but the mood in Heinz Field wasn't entirely celebratory.

A moment of silence was held minutes before the opening kickoff

for the late Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O'Connor, who was buried earlier

in the day. O'Connor died in office last week of brain cancer. His

son, Corey, was introduced to the crowd.

Game notes
Porter's interception was the ninth of his career and first

for a TD. ... The Steelers have won nine in a row, five in the

regular season. ... Miami was denied its first seven-game winning

streak since 1985. ... Ward has caught a pass in 120 consecutive

games. ... The Steelers outrushed Miami 143-38. Pittsburgh has

allowed only one 100-yard rusher since the 2004 season. ... Batch

is 3-0 as a replacement starter the last two seasons.