SAN FRANCISCO — Ben Roethlisberger sat stoically at his locker in a cramped Candlestick Park locker room, hands on his cheeks, watching a team trainer wrap ice around his injured left ankle.
"I want you guys to know he didn't play with any needles," one trainer said.
It will be difficult for Roethlisberger and the Steelers to take the sting off this loss.
Roethlisberger threw three interceptions with a sprained left ankle, and the Pittsburgh Steelers missed a chance to take over the AFC's top spot in a 20-3 loss against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night in a game delayed by two power outages.
"Even when the lights go out, you got to stay prepared. I just didn't play good football," Roethlisberger said.
San Francisco's lights-out return to prime time helped salvage what could have been an embarrassing evening for everyone involved on the NFL's biggest stage after a pair of power outages delayed the game for close to 35 minutes in all.
Enough time to ice Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger, playing on an ankle that had him in a walking boot during the week, threw two early interceptions and another in the waning minutes.
Even all those Terrible Towel-waving Steelers supporters couldn't will the road team to victory when San Francisco's unique home-field advantage became two blackout delays.
"I just feel like San Francisco took a big step to show the NFL and to show the state of California that they need a new stadium," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "I think it was a very strategic move, and Candlestick may be no more."
So might be Pittsburgh's chance at a first-round bye.
The Steelers (10-4) missed a key opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North and gain the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed. Instead, they trail Baltimore (10-4) in the division because the Ravens beat the Steelers twice.
Vernon Davis caught a 1-yard touchdown pass for the 49ers (11-3) one play after setting himself up with a 21-yard reception from Alex Smith, Frank Gore ran for a 5-yard score and David Akers kicked field goals of 22 and 38 yards to overtake Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for San Francisco's single-season scoring record.
San Francisco became the first team in NFL history to hold an opponent without a rushing touchdown through each of the first 14 games.
"I think we showed the world we can play the game of football on a national stage," Davis said. "At the end of the day that's what it's all about: respect."
San Francisco rode its vaunted defense once again.
Carlos Rogers, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown made interceptions, while Rookie of the Year candidate Aldon Smith had 2½ sacks for San Francisco's stingy defense. The 49ers also have gone 36 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Rashard Mendenhall had 15 carries for 64 yards.
Roethlisberger still finished 25 for 44 for 330 yards, but was sacked three times. After his second pick, he fumed as he limped off the field and could be seen yelling into his chin strap.
The 49ers made a big statement in their most meaningful home game since their last trip to the playoffs in January 2003, when San Francisco came from behind to stun the New York Giants 39-38 in one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.
They had to wait 20 minutes to get started after the power went out the first time. It didn't seem to faze San Francisco.
"It wasn't too bad. It was unusual," Alex Smith said. "You don't expect to have to deal with it, and it happened twice. But it was the same for both teams."
Smith wasn't sacked after being taken down 18 times in the previous three games, including nine in the Niners' prime time flop at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night against Jim Harbaugh's big brother, John.
Jim Harbaugh prepared for the Steelers by comparing notes with his brother after the Ravens won both meetings this season with Pittsburgh in one of the AFC's fiercest rivalries. Apparently it worked.
The Steelers are 0-for-Harbaugh this season.
"I think we need to acknowledge that was 49er football tonight," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We played the game on their terms."
The 37-year-old Akers, who long admired Rice from afar growing up in Kentucky, topped Rice's 138 points scored in 1987.
Yet Akers has said he doesn't feel deserving of the points mark over a great such as Rice — who clowned around on the field before the game catching passes from fellow Hall of Famer and former QB Steve Young, including one in the end zone.
It was after Akers' second field goal when everything went dark for a second time. Thousands of flashbulbs went off in the midst of the black, with a sellout crowd of 69,732 sitting in darkness — including all those Steelers fans who travel the country with their team.
NFL security chief Jeff Miller said he witnessed a transformer blow up while he was monitoring a gate outside the stadium, where a shooting during the preseason already put a negative light on this venue.
The second delay came early in the second quarter and halted the game again between the playoff-bound teams for about 15 minutes. Miller and other NFL officials gathered in the press box to assess the situation, remaining in constant contact with the commissioner's office.
This was the 49ers' only Monday Night game this season and their final regular-season home game at Candlestick Park. The NFL certainly will want to make sure there are no problems when San Francisco hosts a home playoff game next month as NFC West champions — and Miller said he remains confident Candlestick can capably host a playoff game.1 comment on this story
The Steelers? Well, they had plenty of time to ponder that thought, too.
"Stand around, talked, through footballs a little bit," Roethlisberger said, "just wondering how this happens at a professional stadium."
Notes: The 49ers lost left tackle Joe Staley to a second-half leg injury. WR Ted Ginn Jr. injured his right ankle on the second-half kickoff. ... Pittsburgh managed just 84 yards rushing.
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