PITTSBURGH (AP) – Nick Saban must be wondering why he left LSU for this.

The Miami Dolphins lost five fumbles in the first half and seven overall in a miserably played game, exhibition or not, and the Pittsburgh Steelers had just enough offense to capitalize in a 17-3 victory Saturday night.

James Harrison, filling in for injured Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter, scored on a 69-yard return of quarterback Gus Frerotte’s fumble in the first quarter for the Steelers’ fourth return touchdown in two preseason games. But Pittsburgh’s only touchdown on offense – Ben Roethlisberger and the starters were shut out for a second consecutive game – was backup Verron Haynes’ 1-yard run in the third quarter set up by, of course, a Dolphins fumble.

Frerotte had moved ahead of A.J. Feeley in the race to be the Dolphins’ opening day quarterback, but it was hard to tell as Miami lost nearly as many fumbles as Frerotte had completed passes. Dolphins general manager Randy Mueller supposedly talked to the agent for unsigned quarterback Tim Couch last week, and the way Frerotte and Feeley played Saturday couldn’t have convinced Mueller and Saban the offense is in good hands.

Especially on a night the Dolphins could barely keep the ball in their hands for more than a couple of plays in a row without turning it over in their third consecutive exhibition loss.

Maybe a 58-minute weather delay at the start resulting from a violent thunderstorm got both teams out of sync, but neither starting offense produced any scoring in a first half that included eight turnovers – including two Steelers fumbles and a Roethlisberger-thrown interception.

Frerotte wasn’t entirely to blame after going 7-of-18 for 87 yards and losing two fumbles as several receivers dropped balls that should have been caught, but he also couldn’t get anything going for the second game in a row. He is only 13-of-31 for 147 yards and an interception in those two games, including last weekend’s 27-17 loss to the Jaguars.

Feeley’s numbers Saturday looked much better, 16 of 20 for 95 yards, but he completed mostly dumpoffs to the running backs or short, safe throws to his receivers that didn’t produce much yardage after the catch.

Just as in Monday night’s 38-31 win over the Eagles, the Steelers’ starting offense didn’t get much work. Roethlisberger was 6-of-11 for 51 yards and is 8-of-15 for 64 yards in two games, not playing past the first quarter in either game even though coach Bill Cowher planned to play his starters for the first half Saturday.

Charlie Batch, the former Lions starter who has barely played the last three seasons with Pittsburgh, played more than a half and went 6-for-11 for 55 yards. A couple of times he couldn’t locate open receivers near the end zone, and Cowher could be seen gesturing downfield to him as if to point out he had receivers open.

Notes: Dolphins first-round draft pick Ronnie Brown, who ended his holdout on Monday, didn’t get any carries. … Steelers Pro Bowl WR Hines Ward played one series after also ending his holdout Monday and made a 3-yard catch on a third down in which he needed four yards to keep a drive going. … Steelers RB Jerome Bettis was pulled after getting 11 yards on two carries. … Saban grew up about 70 miles from Pittsburgh in northern West Virginia. … Jeff Reed missed a 28-yard field goal try in the first quarter after Willie Parker’s 37-yard run gave the Steelers a first down at the 9. Reed later kicked a 26-yarder. … Due to the turnovers and several lengthy video reviews, the first half took nearly 1 hour, 40 minutes to complete – not including the rain delay.

AP-ES-08-20-05 2346EDT


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