PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger's advice to right tackle Marcus Gilbert shortly before the rookie made the first start of his career on Sunday against Seattle was simple and direct.
"I said, 'Let the game come to you, don't go to it," Roethlisberger said.
Gilbert may have followed Roethlisberger's words of wisdom a little too closely in Pittsburgh's 24-0 romp over the Seahawks. The second-round pick out of Florida found himself on his heels twice while dropping back into pass protection.
The first resulted in a Roethlisberger sack in the first quarter that helped snuff out an early Pittsburgh drive. The other sent a shiver through the entire franchise.
With the ball at the Seattle 20 late in the first half, Gilbert shuffled back as Roethlisberger lined up in the shotgun and looked downfield. Seattle defensive end Raheem Brock spun around Gilbert and dived at the quarterback's legs just after Roethlisberger released the ball, a 16-yard completion to tight end Heath Miller.
The play drew a flag for unnecessary roughness on Brock and sent Roethlisberger crumpling to the ground. He only ended up only missing two plays, but the near-miss was an eye opener for Gilbert.
"It was a miscommunication," Gilbert said. "It was the dude on my side. (Ben) had the ball out but (Brock) came on and hit his knee. You can't really do anything about that."
Still, Gilbert hadn't quite shaken the moment on Monday, telling teammate Ramon Foster how badly he felt.
"I told him, 'I got (Ben's) nose broken last year,'" said Foster, who started at left guard in place of injured Chris Kemoeatu. "It's just one of those things, don't let it happen again. I think he'll learn from it."
Though Roethlisberger praised Gilbert's play — saying he felt Gilbert "did a great job" — and coach Mike Tomlin was impressed with the production while running to Gilbert's side, the youngster's busy first day on the job was symptomatic of a unit that remains a work in progress.
Roethlisberger was only sacked twice, but too a series of shots, not all of them because of his tendency to hold onto the ball even as the pocket collapses around him.
One of the hits came on a quick screen, a play that requires Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball the instant he gets the snap.
"It was kind of crazy," Roethlisberger said. "I have never thrown a speed screen to a wide receiver and got hit below the knees. I'll be fine and we'll get through it."
And hopefully get through it upright.
The Steelers (1-1) travel to reeling Indianapolis (0-2) next week and while the Colts won't have injured quarterback Peyton Manning, they do have elite pass rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Running the ball would help take some of the pressure off, but the Steelers haven't exactly lit it up on the ground. They abandoned the run in the season opener against Baltimore after falling behind and had similar trouble against the Seahawks, running for only 16 times for 30 yards in the second half, forcing them to rely on Roethlisberger's arm to run out the clock.
"I thought we had some movement there in the first half, running the football on (Gilbert's) side," Tomlin said. "I thought we could have run the ball better in the second half. We all bear the responsibility for that."
Gilbert's performance, however, was likely enough to earn another shot. The Steelers opted to give him the first crack at replacing injured veteran Willie Colon rather than pursue a free agent. He wasn't perfect, but then again neither was the rest of the line.
The Steelers scored just two touchdowns on four possessions when they got the ball inside the Seattle 5. The Seahawks stuffed Rashard Mendenhall on fourth down in the first quarter and made Pittsburgh settle for a Shaun Suisham field goal at the end of the first half right after Roethlisberger went down.
"It's just one of those things where we've got to cover our man up front and make some gaps for Rashard and those guys in those situations," Foster said.
Roethlisberger grew impatient in the third quarter, audibling out of a run at the Seattle 2 in the third quarter and lobbing a pass to Mike Wallace for a touchdown instead.
"Ben just made a play like he always does," Foster said.
And the Steelers won their home opener, like they always do. Roethlisberger's knee will be OK, though the scare provided a teaching moment for Gilbert and his linemates.
"Keep (Roethlisberger) up and he'll make plays," Gilbert said. "Ben is going to hold the ball as long as he can to find and make plays. It's great to have a quarterback like that who is pretty tough."