Dolphins 17

(0-1, 0-1 away)

Steelers 28

(1-0, 1-0 home)

Coverage: NBC

8:30 PM ET, September 7, 2006

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA 

1 2 3 4 T
MIA 0 10 7 017
PIT 0 14 0 1428

Top Performers

Passing: D. Culpepper (MIA) - 262 YDS, 2 INT

Rushing: W. Parker (PIT) - 29 CAR, 115 YDS

Receiving: H. Miller (PIT) - 3 REC, 101 YDS, 1 TD

Miami (9-7) at Pittsburgh (11-5)

Miami (9-7) at Pittsburgh (11-5) Thursday 8:30 pm EDT

PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers successfully defended a Super Bowl twice in the 1970s under Chuck Noll. But doing that again under Bill Cowher will be quite difficult.

For the third consecutive year, the NFL will salute the defending Super Bowl champions with the season opener on a Thursday night when the Steelers host the Miami Dolphins. The last two years the New England Patriots got the honor of hosting the opener and won each time.

Now it's the Steelers' turn to bask in the glory of a championship, but they may be in no mood to celebrate.

Ben Roethlisberger, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl last February, nearly died in a June 12 motorcycle accident. After undergoing surgery for multiple facial fractures, Roethlisberger missed no practice time during the preseason.

But Roethlisberger became ill during practice on Sunday and needed to have an emergency appendectomy, sidelining him for at least Thursday's opener.

Cowher will now turn to veteran Charlie Batch, who went 2-0 last season when Roethlisberger was out with a knee injury.

"We have confidence in Charlie," Cowher said. "He's started in this league and played his share of pressure games."

The 31-year-old Batch was a starter with the Detroit Lions from 1998-2001, compiling a 19-27 record. In his last year with Detroit, Batch completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,392 yards and 12 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

Last season with the Steelers, Batch was 23-of-36 for 246 yards and one touchdown with one interception. He proved to be better than Tommy Maddox, who was released in the offseason.

Over the last two seasons, the Steelers are 27-4 with Roethlisberger as the starter and 4-3 without him.

Pittsburgh also will be missing running back Jerome Bettis, who rode into the sunset with a Super Bowl title, and wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who signed with Washington in the offseason.

On top of that, Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward did not play in any of the team's preseason games due to a sore right hamstring. But the Steelers' all-time leading receiver (574 catches) has practiced this week.

"You know I'm not missing this game," Ward said. "Yes I will play on Thursday."

Batch will need him to run his precise routes against a Miami secondary that underwent offseason changes. Former Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Madison was released and replaced by Will Allen and safety Jason Allen was selected in the first round of the 2006 draft.

But the Dolphins are more worried about Pittsburgh's running attack. Willie Parker rushed for 1,202 yards last season and set a Super Bowl record with a 75-yard touchdown run in the 21-10 win over Seattle.

"The Steelers always have a strong offensive line and good backs," Dolphins Pro Bowl middle linebacker Zach Thomas said. "The run-blockers on that line make it go."

Left guard Alan Faneca has made the Pro Bowl each of the last five years and center Jeff Hartings is a two-time Pro Bowler.

The Dolphins ranked 17th against the run last year as Thomas again led the team with 162 tackles.

Miami's other star on defense is end Jason Taylor, who has 92 1/2 career sacks. His total of 76 are the most in the NFL since 2000.

Pittsburgh's defense returns all but two starters and is anchored by nose tackle Casey Hampton, safety Troy Polamalu and linebackers Joey Porter and James Farrior. Brett Keisel replaces Kimo von Oelhoffen at right end and Ryan Clark succeeds Chris Hope at free safety. Von Oelhoffen signed with the New York Jets and Hope signed with Tennessee.

Facing Pittsburgh's defense is a tough first act for Daunte Culpepper, who was acquired by Miami from the Minnesota Vikings for a second round pick,

Culpepper tore three right knee ligaments in an October 30 game against Carolina. He made a miraculous recovery from that injury and played in all of Miami's preseason games.

The Dolphins have not had a Pro Bowl quarterback since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season. Since his retirement, the list of quarterbacks has included the likes of Jay Fiedler, A.J. Feeley and Brian Griese.

Culpepper's arrival brings instant credibility to an offense that was headlined by Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Chambers and running back Ronnie Brown, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

The Dolphins closed coach Nick Saban's first season with a six-game winning streak and finished 9-7.

But that doesn't quite compare to Pittsburgh's eight-game winning streak, including four postseason wins and the 21-10 triumph over Seattle in Super Bowl XL.


Passing Leaders

R. Tannehill66.440452712
M. Moore50.02100
B. Roethlisberger67.14952329
R. Golden100.02500

Rushing Leaders

L. Miller21610995.18
R. Tannehill563115.61
L. Bell29013614.78
L. Blount652664.12

Receiving Leaders

M. Wallace6786212.910
J. Landry847589.05
A. Brown129169813.213
L. Bell8385410.33

Team Averages & NFL Ranks

Total YardsMIA
Yards PassingMIA
Yards RushingMIA
Yards AllowedMIA
Pass Yds AllowedMIA
Rush Yds AllowedMIA

Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)

Pittsburgh leads 2-0
Sep 26, 2004MIA 3, PIT 13