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Randle El's flip is a flop

His lateral costs Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- Nice catch, Antwaan Randle El. Nice run after the catch. Forty-nine yards.

Everything would have been just fine for you and the Steelers. Terrific, in fact. Probably first and 10 from the Patriots' 15. Was it greed? Was it Antwaan being Antwaan?

Randle El, the speedy Steelers receiver, wanted more. He wanted a touchdown. So as he's running deep in Patriots territory in the second quarter, about to get tackled, he spots Hines Ward to his right. He laterals to a seemingly unexpecting Ward, who fumbled the ball, which Patriots safety Eugene Wilson recovered.

In the 23-20 loss to the Patriots -- in which the Steelers came back to tie it with 1:21 left before Adam Vinatieri's 43-yarder with one second remaining -- that Antwaan moment seemed to make all the difference in the Steelers being 2-1 as opposed to 3-0.

''It's not necessarily out of nowhere," Randle El said about the miscue. ''We practice it sometimes. I just didn't get the right connection on that. I blame myself because I probably should have held on to it and I probably would have scored. It was a mistake and mistakes will kill you against the Patriots."

It was a tough day for Randle El, who also dropped a pass from Ben Roethlisberger on their game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. ''I knew I had the 5 yards, but I was thinking touchdown and I took my eyes off the ball," Randle El said.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher acknowledged he was a little surprised by the lateral.

''You don't want to do that in a game like this," said Cowher. ''You don't want to ruin opportunities. He understands that. He was trying to make a play. I just told him, 'Let it go, learn from it, and let's move on. Don't dwell on it.' "

It was Roethlisberger's first regular-season loss in 16 games. Both of his career losses have come against the Patriots.

The Steelers have a bye this week and then play the Chargers. The Patriots play the Chargers Sunday.

''It's a down feeling because we had a streak going, but as far as a loss goes, it could have been to Cincinnati and it would hurt," Randle El said. ''A loss is a loss. We played our hearts out and made some mistakes. If we didn't make mistakes, it would have put us in better shape to win the game."

At the time of Randle El's miscue, Pittsburgh was ahead, 10-7. If there hadn't been a fumble, it might have been 17-7, Steelers. The Patriots had a three-and-out on their next series, so the turnover didn't cost Pittsburgh its 3-point lead, but the Steelers know that when a team has a chance to put the Patriots away, it must do it.

Ward said, ''We'd done it numerous times in practice. I can't fault 'Twaan for that. He just tried to make a play. I thought I was getting out in front and I was going to block and he ended up pitching it to me. I took my eyes off the ball. I really wasn't ready for it. Even though I wasn't ready for it, when he pitches the ball, I've got to be ready for it.

''We do that in practice, so I'm partly to blame. We don't usually turn the ball over like that. We left some plays out there."

Randle El said he didn't hear any disparaging remarks from the coaches, but he certainly heard them from the fans.

''We have an understanding on this team . . . we were trying to make a play. It wasn't a bonehead play, but we were trying to make a play and it didn't work out. There's no rule about it. If you're going to do it, complete it. Make it happen. That was a mistake on my part but I probably should have held on to it."

Ward had an 85-yard touchdown reception, his first of two scores, in the first quarter to tie the game, 7-7. He ran a deep slant and blew past Asante Samuel and Rodney Harrison.

''That was great timing between Ben and I. He threw it to me before I even made my break," Ward said. ''That's the timing we're starting to develop. We felt that we had control of the game at that point, but we just couldn't finish it off."

Roethlisberger, who went 12 of 28 for 216 yards and two touchdown passes, was kicking himself for not being able to take advantage of Patriot miscues and the injury to Harrison.

''They started losing guys on offense and defense, and we didn't take advantage of it like we should have, and they beat us today," the quarterback said. ''[Harrison's] their inspirational leader, the guy who gets them going, and I think they probably played more inspired when he went down.

''We just didn't execute as well as we should have on offense."

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