Friday, December 15, 2017

The Steelers can talk a big game, but they’re not going to win it

By Dan Shaughnessy
December 14, 2017
New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) breaks up a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) breaks up a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Patriots-Steelers. This is epic. It’s is a classic clash of football cultures.
The Patriots do things quietly. The Steelers are loud.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots pretend it’s just another game. Mike Tomlin and the Steelers go into Hype Overdrive.
But we know how it will unfold. After all the news and noise, the Patriots will go into Pittsburgh and cut the Steelers’ hearts out. Again.
The Patriots had plenty of problems in Miami on Monday night. They were outplayed and outcoached. Tom Brady had one of the worst games of his career. New England’s wide receivers were invisible. The Patriots’ offensive line played on roller skates. Cornerback Malcolm Butler was terrible, then compounded his poor play by retweeting a tweet that highlighted Jay Cutler’s success against New England’s blitzes.
On Sunday, the Patriots play the team with the best record in the conference. If the Patriots lose, they risk falling to the third seed and being forced to play a first-round playoff game for the first time since 2009. They would also cede home field in a potential AFC Championship game against the Steelers.
Meanwhile, there’s mounting tension in Foxborough because Brady’s training guru, Alex Guerrero, no longer travels with the team. Belichick doesn’t want Brady’s training svengali (who treats a couple of dozen other Patriots players) flying with the team, or standing on the Patriots’ sideline in team apparel. It’s hard to imagine Brady’s happy about this.
All of the above would alarm most teams and most fan bases, but the Patriots and their followers are not alarmed.
Why? It’s simple. Patriot Nation has no fear of Heinz Field and little respect for Tomlin and the mighty Steelers.
You won’t hear any of this from Belichick or any of his players, of course. The Patriots are too seasoned and smart to supply the enemy with motivation. But Belichick knows he’s the boss of Tomlin and the Patriots know they can handle the Steelers. Patriots fans are trained to be cocky when the Steelers are standing in the way of Patriot destiny.
How many of you remember anything about last year’s AFC Championship game?
Me, neither.
I looked it up and the clips indicate that the Patriots manhandled the Steelers, 36-17, on a rainy, 40 degree night in Foxborough. With Tomlin applying the same losing defensive schemes he always features, Brady completed 32 of 42 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots converted 11 of 17 first downs. It was the worst defensive performance against the Patriots in their entire Super Bowl-winning season. Will the Steelers have the stones to blitz the Patriots early in this weekend’s game?
The Patriots always beat the Steelers. With Brady at quarterback, the Patriots are 10-2 (including playoffs) against the Steelers since 2002. They are 3-0 vs. the Steelers in the playoffs in the same span. With Brady at QB, they are 5-2 at Heinz Field.
We delight in mocking the Steelers. We poke fun at Tomlin talking about his players’ injuries with unusual detail and precision. Tomlin will tell you exactly what happened to his player and even project the date of that player’s return to action. This is not how Belichick rolls. If a Patriots player were scheduled for a leg amputation, Belichick would not disclose which leg was coming off. You’d have to figure it out with a visual inspection next time you see the guy.
We chuckled last month when Tomlin talked about the Patriot matchup when he still had games to play vs. the Bengals and Ravens. When the Patriots had games in front of them vs. the Bills and Dolphins, Belichick could not have been waterboarded into talking about Pittsburgh.
In the 17-year reign of Belichick and Brady, New England has won three road playoff games. Two of those were in Pittsburgh, both AFC Championship games.
Beating the Steelers is always more fun than beating the Falcons, Seahawks, Eagles, Panthers or Rams. It’s almost as much fun as beating the Jets. Part of it is because of the abject insecurity of Steelers fans. Pittsburgh is a terrific NFL city and Heinz Field is one of the league’s great venues. The Steelers have won more Super Bowls than any franchise. Western Pennsylvania football fans are knowledgeable, tough, and bleed black and gold.
All that said, those folks are wildly insecure when it comes to the Patriots. They’re still crying about Deflategate and Spygate. And let’s not forget the 2015 September matchup in Foxborough when Tomlin and the Steelers accused the Patriots of cheating by putting the voice of Scott Zolak into Pittsburgh’s headsets during the first quarter.
How do the Steelers counter that? Do they put the voice of the late Myron Cope in Brady’s headset Sunday? Do they put their six Lombardi trophies on display outside the Patriots’ locker room?
Tomlin on Wednesday took a shot at the Patriots’ insistence that this is just another game, stating, “We all talk goals . . . it’s ridiculous to goal-set and not acknowledge natural things along the way . . . We were simply answering questions . . . When we do interviews and people ask us about potential big games down the road, we’re going to politely answer questions and do so honestly . . . That’s us simply performing our professional duties.”
There you go. The Steelers are different from the Patriots.
But deep down, we all know the Steelers can’t beat them.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Steelers' Antonio Brown deserves to be NFL's MVP

By Kevin Gorman
December 13, 2017
Antonio Brown is the best player in the NFL. If that's not evident in his statistics, then it is in his heroics.
Not only does Brown lead the league in receptions and receiving yards, but he has set up the Steelers for three consecutive last-minute victories.
No wonder talk around the NFL is that AB should be MVP.
Even New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick endorsed the Steelers wide receiver.
“Absolutely, he's a great player,” said Belichick, who continued with the hyperbole. “Give it to (Le'Veon) Bell, too. Give it to (Ben) Roethlisberger, too, if you want to. They're all really good.”
That's part of the problem.
For one, the leading candidate plays for the Patriots. Belichick doesn't have to endorse Tom Brady, the game's greatest quarterback now and maybe in NFL history.
Quarterbacks have won the MVP award nine of the past 10 years, with 2,000-yard rusher Adrian Peterson the lone exception in 2012. No receiver ever has been named MVP.
Brown should become the first. He leads the league with 99 receptions, 1,509 receiving yards, eight 100-yard games, six 10-reception games, 70 receptions for first downs and 16 receptions of 25 yards or more.
“He deserves to be an MVP candidate, if not the MVP,” Roethlisberger said. “I mean, the first wide receiver to get it, I don't know anyone more deserving. You look at what he's able to do and what he's capable of doing every week.”
But Brown can't do it without Ben: “I don't know if he's caught a pass from anybody else yet this year, so I guess I contribute to a lot of it.”
Roethlisberger has thrown every pass Brown has caught, and some have been picture-perfect.
Bell has an NFL-best 358 touches, and leads the league in rushing yards (1,105), scrimmage yards (1,684), total first downs (89) and receptions by a running back (75).
So you can make an argument, as Belichick did, that you can't prioritize one player on the Steelers. In that case, Brown has competition from Bell for team MVP honors.
The difference is what Brown has done, in Big Ben's words, is “something spectacular.”
Belichick was asked what makes Brown special. His response: “Everything. Just make a list.”
Here goes: Brown has been the catalyst since the season opener at Cleveland, when he had 11 catches for 182 yards and made a sensational 38-yard catch in double coverage.
His 51-yard touchdown broke open the win at undefeated Kansas City, and he had three touchdowns in the victory over Tennessee.
But his performances in the past three games is what separates MVPs from All-Pros.
Brown has been their best player when the Steelers needed it most.
He had 10 catches for 169 yards against the Packers, including a toe-drag circus catch to set up Chris Boswell's winning field goal.
He had eight catches for 101 yards at Cincinnati, including the 6-yarder to tie the score despite taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Bengals safety George Iloka.
Brown saved his best for Baltimore, with 11 catches for 213 yards, including a 34-yarder that set up Boswell's winner to clinch the AFC North division title.
“It's always on the bucket list,” Brown said of the MVP race, with Brady, Seattle's Russell Wilson and Philadelphia's Carson Wentz. “Even to be mentioned with those guys is something special. We all know it's a quarterback league. To be mentioned with those guys, I'm extremely honored and I'm extremely grateful for it.”
It's a quarterback league, but Brown deserves to be the NFL's MVP — even if he plays a position that has never won the honors.
It's time to kick that bucket.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Patriots fans can’t be quite so confident against Steelers now


By Steve Buckley
December 13, 2017

Related image
(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Thank you, Miami Dolphins, for ramping up the volume to Sunday’s big Patriots-Steelers showdown at Heinz Field.

We can talk all we want about why the Pats lost Monday night — Tom Brady went off the cliff (Max Kellerman: Right again!), the Pats seemed to lack energy, Rob Gronkowski, Marcus Cannon and Trey Flowers were out of the lineup, etc. — but it still brings us to the same place. And that place is Pittsburgh.


It’s true that Sunday’s game was going to be must-see TV anyway, with or without the Pats’ stink bomb 27-20 loss to the Dolphins Monday night. Pats-Steelers may be several notches below Pats-Jets or Pats-Broncos, but it’s enough of a rivalry that most New England fans can recite past scores, as well as past score-settling.

This is partly because both teams have been very good for a very long time. But let’s not forget that little breach of decorum back in January 2002, when, in the run-up to the AFC title game, the Pats perceived the Steelers as being a little too public about their travel plans to New Orleans for the Super Bowl.

Not to mention that, after the Pats emerged with a 24-17 victory, Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart made this unfortunate remark: “It’s frustrating because we were that close, but the best team doesn’t always win sometimes.”

So there’s some there there.

But because of what happened against the Dolphins Monday night at Whatever They’re Calling It This Week Stadium, there’s one element that’ll be missing on Sunday. For the lack of any way to put it, let’s just call it . . . Patriot Nation Hubris.

The major flaw in the Pats-Steelers rivalry is that it’s mostly been one of those hammer-and-nail jobs. The Pats almost always beat the Steelers. If we limit the discussion to games started by Tom Brady — and, really, that’s all that matters — the Pats are 10-2 against the Steelers, including a 3-0 record in playoff encounters.

As recently as three weeks ago, all signs pointed to Sunday’s game being more of the same. Brady was going to throw touchdown passes, Gronk was going to spike the ball a couple of times, and, when it was over, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was going to be wanting to exchange registrations with the make-believe truck that hit him.

Anyone feel that way right now?

For real?

This isn’t some sky-is-falling, hot-takish, click-baity Death Ride I’m taking you on. I believe the Patriots are (probably) the better team. I believe the Pats will (probably) win on Sunday. And I (heartily) believe Tomlin will pull some kind of zone-defense lever that creates implausible opportunities for Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Tomlin's so pumped for this game that he was blathering about 'fireworks" even before the Pats were next on the schedule, something that should scare Steelers fans, not Pats fans.

And yet . . .

Don’t know about you, but the highlight of Monday’s game took place in the third quarter, when Pats safety Duron Harmon was seen delivering a dose of shake-the-ground, peel-the-wallpaper oratory at his defensive comrades. It was breathtaking to behold, as one could easily see that Harmon had the laser-beam focus of his teammates. And tell me you didn’t notice that defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, a man considered to be one of the very best in the business, stood in rapt silence as Harmon spoke, understanding the importance and necessity of what was happening.

When Harmon held one of these fireside chats during Super Bowl LI, it worked. It didn’t quite work this time, but that he had to do it at all — against the Dolphins — is something Pats fans might want to file away for future discussion.

The Pats simply haven’t been much in the looks department the last couple of weeks. Brady really did look bad against the Dolphins (Max Kellerman: Right again!), and it really did hurt not to have Gronkowski out there. (Obligatory note: Gronk is a great guy and not a dirty player!!! And the week off will make him stronger for the playoffs!!!)

The Steelers, meanwhile — you know, the nail to the Pats’ hammer — keep piling up win after win after win, including back-to-back, hard-fought victories over divisional opponents.

Two weeks ago, Pats-Steelers had the look, the feel, of a New England coronation. The Pats were going to win, win big, and in doing so claim top-dog status in the AFC and the home-field playoff status that comes with it.

It’s all different now in that the Pats can’t just sit back and wait for the Steelers to screw up.
This time, the Pats have to play great football, something that’s been in short supply the last couple of weeks.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Steelers miss Ryan Shazier in many ways

December 11, 2017
Image result for nix shazier steelers ravens
(Getty Images)
Little has been said about what Ryan Shazier’s absence means for Pittsburgh on the field. And rightfully so; football is so trivial when juxtaposed with Shazier’s current reality that even writing this sort of analytical article feels uncomfortable.
And yet, there’s still a season to play. And the Steelers are still contenders. And Shazier, even if it’s lower on his priority list now than at this time last week, still cares how the Steelers finish. After Sunday night’s shootout victory over Baltimore, the 25-year-old linebacker joined his teammates’ revelry via FaceTime.
That revelry won’t repeat often if tweaks aren’t made. The hard truth: Pittsburgh’s defense is gargantuanly weaker without Shazier, a potential first-team All-Pro linebacker. Last Monday night, the Steelers gave up 130 rushing yards to a bad Bengals ground attack that was mostly minus its best component, running back Joe Mixon. Cincy simply spread out and ran inside zone again and again. Sunday night, the Ravens rushed for 152 yards against Pittsburgh, as running back Alex Collins bounced outside and turned the corner again and again. Normally, Shazier rocketing around that corner.
Shazier is the most explosive, dynamic stack linebacker in football. Sometimes his aggression creates big plays for the offense, but usually it just makes them for the defense. The Steelers still have a D-line, but telling Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward to step up, or T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree to elevate their play on the edges, isn’t enough. Those guys are already playing great. Someone still must make the plays behind them. So far, no one has.
It will take two men to replace Shazier, and that’s not referring to rotating Sean Spence and Arthur Moats, subpar fill-ins who are splitting duties alongside stalwart starter Vince Williams. You need two men as in Spence or Moats and an extra body in the box. Most likely, that’d be versatile second-year safety Sean Davis.
This past summer, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler talked about the importance of playing more man coverage. “We can’t always play zone, especially against people like the Patriots”, Butler said on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan. “You look at the people who have beaten the Patriots in the past and a lot of them played man-to-man. I think the last time we beat them [in 2011] we were playing a lot of man-to-man coverage.”
In last year’s AFC title game, the Patriots spread out and picked apart the Steelers’ widened zones with receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan inside. That was with Shazier on the field. You can bet that prepping for the crucial Week 15 showdown, the Patriots are giddy to spread out and match receivers against Spence and Moats (or, if it’s an obvious passing situation, linebacker L.J. Fort).
Now is the time for Butler—who has done a great job calling matchup zones this season including on blitzes - to follow through on the man coverage plans. To stop New England's multifaceted ground game (which is a much bigger part of that offense than people realize), the Steelers must bring an extra defender into the box. The downside is this leaves more space outside. More space means wider zones, which was the problem in last year’s AFC championship. A defense’s counter is to press.
Of course, this is easier said than done. In man coverage, your players still have to win against their man. To be ready for this moment, the Steelers signed Joe Haden in late summer. But Haden has been out since fracturing his leg on November 12. If he doesn’t return this Sunday, Pittsburgh has a problem. Second-year corner Artie Burns has had a stellar season on the right side, but on the left, Coty Sensabaugh has been erratic, and the team knows little about the man who has taken some of Sensabaugh’s snaps, third-round rookie Cameron Sutton (Sunday against Baltimore was Sutton’s second NFL game). All it takes to fell man coverage is one weak link.
The alternative, though, is zone, where a weak link in the middle of your defense can result in failure like what we’ve seen. It doesn’t have to be lockdown man coverage, just physical man coverage. Beat New England’s receivers at the snap and Tom Brady must hold the ball. That gets precarious against a Steelers five-man rush that’s much stronger than when these teams met a year ago.
That five-man rush is much weaker than it was a month ago now that it’s best interior blitzer is gone. And so is the man coverage overall, for that matter, given that the super blitzer was also the only defender with enough athleticism to cover detached running backs like James White and Rex Burkhead. And when Shazier wasn’t bogging down in a man matchup, he served as a terrifying middle-field patroller.
Maybe Pittsburgh’s plan needs to just be what it wound up being against Baltimore: Give the ball to Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and hope to score around 40 points. Because the more you think about Shazier’s on-field impact, the more ominous his absence appears. Of course, the more you think about Shazier’s off-field world, the less you the on-field stuff seems to matter.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Steelers become Shalievers

By Kevin Gorman
http://triblive.com/sports/
December 11,2017

(http://www.steelers.com/photos/)

Something that started as a simple hashtag — #Shalieve, Ryan Shazier's synergy of his surname and believe — has become a rally cry for the Steelers.
When their first game since Shazier suffered a spinal injury cried for a rally, the Steelers summoned their source of inspiration.
After a 14-point, first-half lead had slipped to an 11-point, second-half deficit, they did the very definition of synergy: produced a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.
The Steelers found a last-minute synergy in their offense, special teams and defense to beat the Baltimore Ravens, 39-38, Sunday night at Heinz Field and clinch the AFC North division title for the second consecutive year.
“It's not a joke,” Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said. “It was 100 percent that. We Shalieve.”
Mitchell laughed last week, figuring he would be the last player to use that phrase. Long before Shazier was injured last Monday night making a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals, Mitchell had teased his teammate about how silly it sounded.
“It was something I kind of joked around with Ryan — like, what are you talking about?” Mitchell said. “But seeing my brother go down when he put it all on the line for us, I think that's what motivated us to come out and play in the second half and especially the fourth quarter, to come back and get this win. We Shalieve it.”
The Steelers saluted Shazier before the game, whether it was James Harrison going shirtless like Shazier in warm-ups or wearing T-shirts with his No. 50 on the front or 15 players wearing custom cleats with his image and synergetic saying.
Bud Dupree and Cam Heyward carried Shazier's No. 50 jersey to the sideline, in a show that he was with the Steelers in spirit on Sunday night, even if he couldn't be there in person.
Afterward, the Steelers shared a video message from Shazier on their team Twitter account: “You guys scared me, but we know how to pull it out, baby.
“Here we go Steelers.”
But it was bittersweet, as Shazier's absence was felt on the field. The fourth-year inside linebacker was an every-down player who called signals for the defense and led the team in tackles.
The Ravens attacked the soft spots, taking advantage of missed tackles and penalties for a 25-point swing. Baltimore held a 38-29 lead with 6:44 remaining.
Then Shazier was shown on the Jumbotron during the playing of the pump-up song, “Renegade,” and the Steelers suddenly came alive.
They scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, including the first career touchdown for fullback Roosevelt Nix, and took the lead on Boswell's 46-yarder with 42 seconds remaining. When they needed a stop, rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt came up with a strip sack of Joe Flacco to end the game.

Afterward, the Steelers called Shazier on Face Time, giving him the game ball and promising to bring an AFC North championship hat and shirt to his hospital room — even though visiting hours were long over.
“We just told him that we got that crown for him,” Heyward said. “He was happy about it. I know a lot of guys were emotional about it. Sucks that he couldn't be out there, but we just wanted to make him proud and get that ‘W' for him.”
Not just for Shazier.
“We were playing for something much greater for ourselves: We were playing for Ryan. We were playing for Mr. Rooney,” Mitchell said, referring to the late Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who died in April. “Both of those two needed this win and we were happy to give it to ‘em.”
For a team that has dealt with such loss, the Steelers sure find ways to win. This was their eighth consecutive victory, their fourth in five games on a last-minute field goal by Boswell.
“Championship teams find ways to win,” said Roethlisberger, who visited Shazier after practice Thursday and then passed for a season-high 506 yards against the Ravens. “In the past, you felt like we just couldn't quite get over that hump, for whatever reason.”
Which brings us to the game circled all season on the schedule: The Patriots visit on Sunday, another hump the Steelers couldn't quite get over.
We know the reason: Tom Brady. He has shredded the Steelers' defense, especially in the AFC championship game last year, and you can only imagine what he will do to a struggling secondary and a middle no longer manned by Shazier.
The Steelers-Patriots winner likely will earn the top seed and home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.
“This is the game. Now we can talk about it,” Mitchell said. “This is the game everyone has been waiting to see. ... I've been thinking about this game since we lost it last year. I'm very much looking forward to playing them.
“For us to be the champ, we have to beat the champ. I feel we can beat every team in the NFL but the Patriots. That's what it's been. Now we need to knock them off, prove to ourselves that we can do it, and do it.”
To Mitchell, that's not a joke, but the 100-percent truth. What once sounded silly has become the Super Bowl rally cry for a team that just finds ways to win.
The Steelers Shalieve.
Do you?
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Steelers ride last-minute Chris Boswell kick to win over Ravens, division title 

Steelers lock up AFC North with win over Ravens

By Will Graves
December 11, 2017
Chris Boswell kicks a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left to give the Steelers a 39-38 lead in Sunday night's game. (http://www.steelers.com/photos/)
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger’s record-setting day finished with a carry just as valuable as any of the franchise-record 66 passes he threw.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers poured onto the Heinz Field turf to celebrate a frantic 39-38 victory over Baltimore that wrapped up their third AFC North title in four years, Roethlisberger grabbed the familiar No. 50 jersey of injured linebacker Ryan Shazier and joined in the party
An emotionally draining week for the Steelers ended with Shazier recovering from spinal surgery in a nearby hospital but still very much in the middle of things. Just like always.
“We love our brother,” Roethlisberger said. “We wanted to get this one for him, and I’m glad we did.”
Barely.
The Steelers (11-2) blew an early 14-point lead and found themselves trailing by 11 going into the fourth before exploding for 19 points over the final 15 minutes, the last three coming on Chris Boswell’s 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left.
“I think championship teams find ways to win,” Roethlisberger said.
Having an offense that is starting to peak after a sleepy start certainly helps. Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two scores to become the first player in NFL history to go over 500 yards passing three times in his career. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards to fuel an MVP candidacy that no longer feels so far-fetched, including gains of 57 and 34 yards in the fourth to spark Pittsburgh’s comeback and running back Le’Veon Bell finished with 125 total yards and three scores.
“It’s an amazing feeling, especially for Ryan Shazier,” Brown said. “One of our brothers couldn’t be out here today. Obviously, he is watching.”
Shazier suffered his injury in the first quarter of a victory over Cincinnati last Monday. He underwent surgery on Wednesday and Roethlisberger visited him on Thursday.
“When you walk in and see him and see the smile and give him a hug, it really has taken that weight off and let us breathe a little easier,” Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers have done their best to let Shazier know is very much a part of their run. Linebacker James Harrison borrowed a page from Shazier’s pregame routine and warmed up shirtless even with the temperature hovering around freezing. Shazier’s helmet and jersey spent the game on the bench and several Steelers wore cleats with a special design featuring Shazier’s face and the popular #Shalieve hashtag.
“It was very emotional,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “Any time you can bring something to him that brings him some type of joy, some type of happiness, that’s good. At the end of the day we’re just trying to make sure he’s good.”
RAVENS ROCKED
Baltimore (7-6) meanwhile, saw its surge back to contention blunted after its defense spent the fourth quarter fruitlessly chasing Brown from one side of the field to the other.
“This is going to sting for a while,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “Especially the guys on defense because we care so much and we hold ourselves to a high standard.”
The Ravens certainly didn’t meet it after giving up 545 yards to the Steelers. Pittsburgh scored on its last four possessions. It’s not like the Steelers were taking advantage of a short field. All eight of their scoring drives went at least 50 yards, including two of 80 or more.
“I think in the fourth quarter the defense dropped the ball tonight,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “That’s kind of been our thing all year, consistency.”
SUPER SHOWDOWN
The win sets up the AFC game of the year next Sunday when Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots visit. New England beat the Steelers twice last season, including a lopsided 36-17 blowout in the AFC title game.
“We’re going to give respect where respect is due now,” Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey said. “But they’re not Superman. They lost this season, right?”
ALL-AROUND EFFORT
Brown, Bell and Roethlisberger hardly did it alone. Boswell has hit four game-winning field goals in the final minute in four of Pittsburgh’s past five games. Tight ends Jessie James and Vance McDonald combined for 14 receptions for 149 yards. Even fullback Roosevelt Nix got in on the act, scoring his first career touchdown on a 1-yard reception in which he basically pulled the ball off Baltimore safety Tony Jefferson’s chest as they tussled in the end zone.
“AB is gonna do what he do, I’m going to do what I do, Ben’s gonna do what he do,” Bell said. “But it’s the guys who don’t get the credit always that are the ones making the plays.”
UP NEXT
Baltimore: Needs to win out if it wants to reach the postseason. The good news? Their final three opponents are a combined 8-34, including the 0-13 Cleveland Browns, who the Ravens visit next Sunday.
Pittsburgh: The Steelers have beaten Brady at Heinz Field just once in his career, a victory in the 2011 regular season.

Ravens still can't stop the elite quarterbacks in the AFC

By Mike Preston 
http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/ravens/
December 11, 2017


Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards in Sunday night's 39-38 win over the Ravens. (http://www.steelers.com/photos/)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are like sharks. Once they see a weakness, they go after it.

When Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams was out of the lineup earlier this year with an ankle injury, the Steelers pounded the ball at the Ravens. Then on Sunday night, with cornerback Jimmy Smith sidelined, the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw 66 times, completing 44 for 506 yards and two touchdowns.
During the offseason the Ravens worked hard to rectify the problems of finding players who could cover and getting pressure on the quarterback, but it apparently didn't work. Well, not against a great quarterback like Roethlisberger and it wouldn’t against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, either.
The NFL is full of average teams and the Ravens have shown they are one, if not the top average team in the AFC, but they aren't in the top tier yet with the Steelers or Patriots. The Ravens’ Joe Flacco can't match the talent level of those quarterbacks and the Ravens can't stop them, not with Smith out of the lineup.

Opposing teams are going to watch the film of the Ravens’ loss Sunday night to Pittsburgh. We thought opponents might zero in on rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey, but they will continue to attack cornerback Brandon Carr.
I am confident the Ravens will win their remaining three games and get into the postseason, but I'm not sure they can beat New England, Pittsburgh or the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Ravens can't stop Brady or Roethlisberger and the Jaguars have too good of a defense. On Sunday night, the Ravens gave up 545 yards of total offense to Pittsburgh and the Steelers were 12 of 18  on third-down conversions. They found the Ravens weakness and then bled them to death

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sid Bream pulls a Michael Keaton at PiratesFest

By Tim Benz
December 9, 2017
Related image
Once my eye stopped twitching after flashing back to Francisco Cabrera's hit, I could appreciate the scene.
Former Pirate Sid Bream was at PNC Park Saturday afternoon. Yes, in Pirates jersey. Not a Braves one like the one he wore sliding across home plate to end Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.
He was on stage with four Pirates players he helped eliminate that fateful October night: Bob Walk, Doug Drabek, Mike LaValliere and John Wehner.
The men were holding court for a question-and-answer session with fans at Pirate Fest.
Bream, who maintained roots in Pittsburgh and seemingly identified as a Pirate despite the ominous footnote he holds, choked up at one point.
“I always wished I could've won (a championship) with these guys, because they meant so much to me,” said Bream.
He slightly turned his head away from Drabek and LaValliere, almost as if he didn't feel comfortable looking at them while talking about his slide, knowing how that play prevented his former teammates from going on to the World Series.
I admit I got choked up, too. Maybe it was Bream's reaction. Or maybe it was the ghost pain I still feel in my right hand whenever the topic of “When Sid slid” comes up.
See, while Bream was celebrating at home plate, I was at Syracuse punching a steel door in my dorm common room.
Bream and Cabrera broke my heart. That door broke my middle knuckle.
A fan asked the players if they thought the remaining core of the Pirates that has carried over from the 2013-2015 playoff years was good enough to make another playoff run.
The parallels are obvious. Those Pirates went through three consecutive empty postseason trips in 1990, '91 and '92. Their window closed after Sid slid. Twenty consecutive losing seasons ensued.
These Pirates missed the playoffs in 2016 after three qualifications in a row. Then 2017 got even worse. So are the Pirates headed for another two decades of losing?
With Bream's love for the franchise he once vanquished already on display, it made his answer ring loudly.
“This might be a little cruel, but I think ownership in some ways has a huge part in determining what a team is going to be like,” Bream paused as applause filled the room. “I think that there have been opportunities over the years here with the more modern day teams to bring in somebody that would tell the team ‘We want to win.' Take in point, the Houston Astros. They don't go out and get a rookie. They go out and get (Justin) Verlander. That tells the team ‘We want to win.' ”
Bream wasn't done.
“The first year that they were going to get over .500 (2012), they were 16 games over .500 in August. And they had an opportunity to go out and get Hunter Pence. But instead, they got someone else who wasn't established in the game. And you just saw the team go (downhill).”
The 2012 Pirates finished with 79 wins. Presumably Bream meant Travis Snyder, who had never played more than 82 games in a season at that point.
Ironically, Bream was sitting in exactly the same spot Michael Keaton was when he openly questioned the willingness of Pirates management to spend money for talent by saying “Write the check” moments before he went on the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in April 2006.
Bream's barb was pretty close to that level, as he preached at the team's biggest fan function of the year.
It's tough to debate Bream, especially when general manager Neal Huntington had this to say on that same stage minutes later in his own Q&A:
“There are a lot of those teams that put everything they have into this year's club. And their fans are thrilled. Until they don't win. Then, they start to lose 95 games. And they've got to rebuild. Because they've mortgaged their future for their present. It happened in Kansas City.”
Yeah, Neal. It happened in Kansas City. Exactly. Similar to those early 90s Pirates, the Royals had four straight years at .500 or better after a decade of losing baseball. But they actually won it all in 2015.
Do you think those five ex-Pirates who were on that stage before you would've taken that? How about guys from the more recent era?
Do you think the fans and alumni would be less inclined to hurl such pointed criticisms at you if those things had happened?
I say: “Yes.” “Absolutely.” And “no doubt”
So what's the message, Mr. Huntington? Don't ever “go for broke” because you might actually wind up broke?
Ok, I get it. But you haven't. And I don't feel like the Pirates are living on Major League Baseball's Park Avenue as a result.
Are you serious with this: “The fans are thrilled until the team doesn't win” bologna? Well, what if the team actually does, you know … win?
Ok, I better calm down. My twitching eye and throbbing Cabrera-knuckle injury are starting to flare up again.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.