Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Admit it, you still love Jaromir Jagr

By Brian Metzer
October 24, 2016

Jaromir Jagr celebrates after scoring his 750th career goal on Thursday.
Jaromir Jagr celebrates after scoring his 750th career goal on Thursday. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Penguins (and their fans) started a long and tumultuous relationship with Jaromir Jagr on June 16, 1990. The young Czechoslovakian with the flowing mullet, great hands and whimsical -- and sometimes strange -- personality was selected fifth in the NHL Draft and almost immediately stole the hearts of all involved.
He was heard reading weather reports on the radio before he could fully grasp the English language. He was dubbed Mario (Lemieux) Jr. when people realized that shuffling the letters of his name spelled it out while he was lighting up scoreboards around the league.
Jagr joined Lemieux and many other future Penguins’ Hall of Famers to win two Stanley Cups and was the clear heir to the hockey throne in Pittsburgh. He would ride sidecar to Lemieux until the latter moved on.
Unfortunately, it didn’t play out as hoped.
The love affair burned white hot for more than a decade before fizzling into animosity and distain. There was a much-ballyhooed “he said, she said” situation that stemmed from Jagr saying that he was “dying alive,” although many believe that comment to have been taken out of context. Lemieux had just returned to the ice and the team’s financial issues at the time took their toll, making it difficult to maintain Jagr’s contract.
It all resulted in a trade that sent the misunderstood superstar to the Washington Capitals in what now looks like one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history.
Jagr was just 29-years-old when his time in Pittsburgh ended, but he had accomplished more than most do in their careers. He had quickly become one of the most dangerous scorers in the game, producing highlight-reel plays on a nightly basis.
Between the lockout shortened ‘94-‘95 and ‘00-‘01 seasons, he won one Hart Trophy, five Art Ross Trophies (including four in a row from 1997 to 2000) and was an All-Star in each of those seven seasons. He skated in Pittsburgh for 11 years, playing 806 games and scoring 439 goals, 640 assists to total 1079 points.
He left a city, an organization and thousands of fans feeling empty when they lost their hockey prince.
Which is why it was so much harder when the he and the Penguins flirted with a comeback over the years. It’s always easier to give those we love a second, or even third chance and that came close to happening in 2011. The two sides came close to reconciliation, before hearts were again left broken. That pain was made even worse when Jagr opted to sign with Philadelphia and was part of a Flyers team that beat the Penguins in the 2012 playoffs.
But even after all of that, admit it, you still love Jaromir Jagr.
Image result for jaromir jagr penguins
Jagr's hair blows in the breeze during the skills competition at the 1998 All-Star Game

He’s been gone longer than he was here and that has allowed time for old wounds to heal. The Kladno Kid, as he was once affectionately called in local circles, has used the last 16 seasons to shoot up the all-time lists in almost every statistical category.
He's behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in career points with 1,871. He scored his 750th goal last week, putting him behind only Gretzky and Gordie Howe on that list. He comes to Pittsburgh on Tuesday as a member of the Florida Panthers trying to add to those totals.
What once were boos have been replaced with cheers. Jagr is still very much himself and there is no doubt that he’ll hit us all with some colorful commentary when he meets the local media.
Even the Penguins have seemingly begun the healing process, featuring him in video montages and intros over the past two seasons. He’ll undoubtedly be a part of their 50th anniversary celebrations this season in some form, which is as it should be.
The Jagr of today doesn’t seem so misunderstood. He is smiling a lot, just like the kid that arrived in Pittsburgh in 1990, and he’s still lighting up scoreboards around the league.
Oh, and he’s growing back that signature mullet, which has everyone feeling nostalgic. It was even immortalized with a bobble head at a recent Panthers’ game.
The player has joked often about a desire to play until he is 50. Anyone who knows him doesn’t doubt that he’s fully capable of pulling off that feat, but you never know if it will actually happen.
So days like Tuesday should be celebrated.
Jagr might have left a void in our hockey hearts when his time here ended, but each return gets a little more special because you never know when it will be the last.
It’s ok to throw a little adulation his way. He’ll always be a little bit more ours than anyone else’s.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Steelers battle in loss to Patriots, but limp into bye week with issues on D

Jeremy FowlerESPN Staff Writerhttp://www.espn.com/blog/pittsburgh-steelers/October 24, 2016
Oct 23, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) forces a fumble as he hits New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) forces a Chris Hogan fumble in the first quarter. (Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports)
PITTSBURGH -- With the bye week coming, the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for November football knowing Ben Roethlisberger's absence doesn't have to be crippling, in part because of Landry Jones’ respectable play.
The Steelers battled in Sunday's 27-16 loss to the New England Patriots. But the performance won't assuage concerns that follow back-to-back losses, particularly with a defense that suddenly lost its fastball -- the run stop -- the last two weeks.
"We're nowhere near where we want to be," said running back Le'Veon Bell about his 4-3 Steelers, citing one touchdown on four red-zone trips as a missed opportunity.
Something has to be tightened up when Miami's Jay Ajayi and New England's LeGarrette Blount just combined for four touchdowns and 331-plus yards over back-to-back weeks.
The Steelers' defensive game plan was bold yet understandable. They were willing to give up rushing yards in exchange for minimizing damage inflicted by Tom Brady, according to coach Mike Tomlin. Mission accomplished. Brady finished with 222 passing yards. That's a win. Rob Gronkowski got loose a few times downfield, but 93 yards and a score isn't superb by his standards. The Steelers held up better than many expected against a quarterback who entered the game with a 113.4 passer rating against Pittsburgh. That's encouraging for future weeks.
But when Pittsburgh played nickel defense against tight ends Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, the Patriots countered by running Blount, often behind the very tight ends the Steelers were trying to stop.
Blount's 127 yards and two scores on 24 carries put Pittsburgh away. This defense isn't built to withstand run-stopping issues. Even in down years, it's usually a top-10, maybe top-five against the rush. Nearly every Steelers defensive player says ad nauseam in the locker room each week: Must stop the run. The Patriots had two 100-yard rushers on Pittsburgh all-time before Sunday.
And to think the Steelers -- with a sobering eight sacks through seven games -- got decent pressure on Brady for much of the first three quarters, forcing him to convert a few third downs with his legs.
The postgame locker room was filled with defensive players not accustomed to this sort of game.
"We hold ourselves to a standard," linebacker Jarvis Jones said. "The last couple of weeks, we haven't been that defense. We have to get it corrected."
It's obvious this isn't a Roethlisberger offense right now. Nobody expected that. If it were, perhaps Tomlin would try a fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter instead of a 54-yard Chris Boswell field-goal attempt that sailed right. Tomlin said he "took that chance," down 27-16 with 9:05 left, because he wanted to make it a one-score game and he's seen Boswell connect from that distance before.
Overall, Jones' line of 29-of-47 passing for 281 yards, one score and one interception didn't leave the Steelers uneasy. The Steelers can work with that. Both Bell and Tomlin said Jones was not the reason the Steelers lost, though Bell noted he has a chemistry with Roethlisberger that's hard to duplicate in one game.
Especially when stars Bell and Antonio Brown play like stars, the Steelers have a chance to do damage, with or without Roethlisberger. The two combined for more than 250 yards. And the offensive line looked imposing while pulling downfield and creating holes in a creatively called game by offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The Steelers eased pressure on Jones with hesitation handoffs, reverses and manageable passes in the short-to-intermediate range.
If Roethlisberger misses Week 9 at the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers can't repeat a first-half performance that netted seven points off three red zone trips. That won't beat good teams.
As the final seconds ticked and the Steelers scrambled for one more score -- another failed drive -- this looked like a team that needed a bye week. Brown, who suffered a minor quad injury, was on the sideline, holding his helmet, a scene you rarely see during a key offensive sequence.
Within a few yards from him were several key starters wearing warmups, injured for another week.
Time to regroup for a week of rest and a nine-week push that needs to be buttoned up for a playoff shot.
What's certain: The Steelers wouldn't mind seeing New England again.
"Any day," Jones said.

Steelers Rewind: Self-inflicted wounds haunt Steelers in 27-16 loss to Patriots

By Christopher B. Mueller
October 24, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Cobi Hamilton (83) cannot hang onto a pass from quarterback Landry Jones during the first half of an NFL football game with New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (26) defending in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Cobi Hamilton (83) cannot hang onto a pass from quarterback Landry Jones during the first half of an NFL football game with New England Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan (26) defending in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. (Don Wright/AP Photo)

Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/sports/article110064887.html#storylink=cpy
PITTSBURGH -- With Landry Jones under center and several starters out due to injury, the margin for error was already tight before the Steelers even kicked off against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Costly mistakes and missed opportunities weren't affordable given the present circumstances, but they were ultimately what did the Steelers (4-3) in Sunday afternoon in a 27-16 loss to the Patriots (6-1) at Heinz Field.
There wasn't a body among the 66,009 fans that felt Jones could outduel Brady and complete the improbable upset, but he came awfully close. Jones played relatively equal to his counterpart, finishing 29 of 47 for 281 yards and a touchdown. But it was his first quarter interception on an underthrown pass to Antonio Brown in the end zone was the first mistake that left points off the board, and a sign of more to come.
The Patriots capitalized on Jones' interception with a 13-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped off by a 19-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Brady to Kevin White. The Patriots then went up 14-0 on a three-yard run by LaGarette Blount.
Already down multiple scores at the start of the second quarter, it appeared that the route was on for the Patriots, who were already favored by seven points despite heading into unfriendly confines. Instead, Jones and the Steelers responded. The backup quarterback found Brown for a 51-yard gain on the Steelers next possession, then connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 19-yard score. Suddenly, there was life again. 
After the Steelers forced a three-and-out, Jones led the Steelers down to the New England 14-yard line and again found Heyward-Bey for a 14-yard touchdown that appeared to tie the game, except a holding penalty on tackle Chris Hubbard, filling in for starter Marcus Gilbert, negated the score. Chris Boswell then missed a 42-yard field goal two plays later.
Boswell later avenged his miss with a 32-yard field goal, which made it a 14-10 game at halftime, and then connected on a 46-yarder on the Steelers' first possession of the second half. 
The Steelers defense, which had done a solid job of limiting the Patriots offense in the first half, started to break down. Brady found Rob Gronkowski for a 36-yard touchdown with 6:27 left in the third quarter on a blown coverage by rookie Sean Davis, and then led a six-play, 75-yard drive finished by a five-yard Blount touchdown run to begin the fourth quarter. The touchdown increased New England's lead to 27-16 in what would be the final score of the game.
Although the Patriots were outgained by the Steelers in total offense, they finished an efficient 7 of 12 on third-down conversions to extend drives. The Steelers committed 10 penalties for 85 yards, and were 5 of 16 on third down. Bell finished with 149 all-purpose yards, and Brown led all receivers with 106 yards on seven receptions.
The Steelers have a bye next week before traveling to Baltimore for their second AFC North game of the season against the Ravens. 
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) scores during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016.
New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) scores during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. (Don Wright/AP Photo)

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/sports/article110074742.html#storylink=cpy
LaGarette Blount, Patriots RB
Blount's 127 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries marked the second consecutive week the Steelers glaringly failed to stop the run. He finished with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average and was consistent in all four quarters, capitalizing on a Steelers defense that has tackled poorly all season. "We didn't come off blocks and make enough tackles in the run game," coach Mike Tomlin said. "(Blount) fell forward. We realize by the structure of how we call the game, there was going to be a little bit of that. But not enough guys coming off of blocks and making tackles." Blount did it against a team he has a little bit of bad blood with, nonetheless, after the Steelers cut him during the 2014 season after he walked off the field during a loss.
It was a tale of two halves for Gronkowski. The Patriots tight end only had one catch for 13 yards at halftime, but that might have been by design. The Patriots lulled the Steelers defense into keying off Gronkowski and then went back to him in the second half three times for 80 more yards. "They didn’t throw the ball to him a lot in the first half and came out the second half and had two big plays, two explosive plays that set him up for the touchdown," Jarvis Jones said. "They were huge plays in the second half and ended up why the game transpired the way it did." His first big play came on the 36-yard touchdown to make it a 20-13 game, swinging the momentum right back into New England's favor. "It was just a play where there was a split safety and I had a little bender go to the right up the middle," Gronkowski said. "A little seam route that bended between the split safety, and I had a good look. Tom threw the ball perfectly, right on the money for me to make the play." 
  • Hubbard's penalty couldn't have come at a worse time. The Steelers had finally started to gain some momentum with what appeared to be 14 straight points. Jones was looking better than advertised, taking what the defense gave him and finding his receivers on underneath routes. Hubbard looked to dispute the call during the game and said it was reactionary. "He slipped, and I was trying to put my hands out and I did. They called it, and I was pretty upset about that one." After the penalty moved them back 10 yards, the Steelers failed to pick up the third down conversion that would have given Boswell a shorter field goal. Instead, his 42-yarder went wide right. "It gives the other team momentum is what you do in those situations right there," Ramon Foster said. "We've got to capitalize. Red zone errors, we can't have those."
  • With Ben Roethlisberger out, it was clear that Bell was the focal point of the offense. On 13 targets, he set a personal single-game high with 10 receptions. The Patriots had a hard time keeping him in check. "He breaks a lot of tackles and makes a lot of people miss where they really can't get their hands on him to tackle him," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "It seems like you hit him and you have him stopped, but it's four or five yards later until he's on the ground." Bell felt Todd Haley orchestrated a good offensive gameplan, and they would have had a lot more success if it weren't for self-inflicted wounds. "It wasn't the gameplan," Bell said. "It wasn't, sometimes even execution. I think we were executing well. I think we moved the ball well. We just got to the red zone and turned the ball over. You can't have that." 
  • Jones' performance quelled all the calls this week for the Steelers to give third-stringer Zach Mettenberger an opportunity at quarterback. Jones showed progression from the appearances he made last year, and followed up on his statement of wanting to be cautiously aggressive by taking shots down the field. "I thought for the most part I played decisive," Jones said. "Were there plays I wanted to have back? Absolutely." He took sole responsibility for his first-quarter interception. "That was just a bad ball," he said. "AB ran a good route. I threw a crappy ball." What stood out the most about Jones, however, was his poise in the huddle. For a quarterback that didn't receive his first NFL game experience until last season, Jones looked more assured in his decision making. "I think he did an outstanding job and was very confident," Alejandro Villanueva said. "I think he was making a lot of plays. I think he didn't get the full support from the rest of the offense as a group."
  • The Steelers offense didn't have any trouble sustaining drives or gaining yards, and it wasn't by accident that they held an advantage over the Patriots in total offense. It was their inability to finish those drives with touchdowns that hurt them as they finished 1 for 4 on red zone opportunities. "We have to find a way to put points on the board," Brown said. "We had a couple trips to the red zone, didn't find a way to put points on the board and when you are playing a good team, you have to score in those situations." The lack of red zone scoring was a collective failure. "We kicked field goals instead of scoring touchdowns," Jones said. "So, everyone had a hand in it. We have got to solve this red-zone issue for us to be the offense that we want to be."
  • Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler didn't mince words when asked about the challenge of spying Brown for an entire game. "He's one of the best, if not the best (that I've ever faced)," Butler said. "He's one or two. He has no flaws." Even with a backup quarterback and one of the best cornerbacks in the league following him, Brown was able to get back on track after a couple down games against double and triple coverage. Brown suffered a thigh bruise that limited him in the third quarter, which caused him miss a few plays in the second half. 
  • The Steelers are limping into the bye week with five starters out and a number of others playing through bumps and bruises. The second half of the season won't get any easier, so the Steelers will benefit from the week off. "I think everybody knows. Health. Period. That's it," Foster said, when asked about the importance of the bye week. "I won't elaborate, but that's pretty bold. It's health. Point blank, period." The Steelers should get DeAngelo Williams, Cam Heyward, Ben Roethlisberger, Markus Wheaton, Eli Rogers and Marcus Gilbert back and suited up in the coming weeks after the bye. Tight end Ladarius Green is also available to return. 
3: This was the third consecutive meeting the Steelers have lost to the Patriots. 
5: Mike Tomlin's fifth regular season loss to the Patriots as a head coach. He holds a 2-5 record against New England.
7: Boswell went 3 for 5 on field goal attempts to make the seventh time in his career he's tallied three field goals in a regular season game. 
28: Brown now has 28 career games with 100-or-more yards receiving. He now is one game away from tying Hines Ward for the most in franchise history. 
151: Will Gay extended his regular season games-played streak to 151, which ranks first among all NFL cornerbacks. 
"It stings because we were right there. We left a couple plays out there, a couple of opportunities where we could have had things go our way," Brown, on how bad the loss hurt. 
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: at Baltimore Ravens, M&T Bank Stadium
Sunday, Nov. 6: 1 p.m. (CBS)
The Steelers haven’t had a three-game losing streak since the ill-fated 2013 season when they dropped their first four games en route to a second straight 8-8, non-playoff season. When the Steelers return from their bye in two weeks, they will try to stop the bleeding against an AFC North rival that they’ve had little success against of late. Dating back to the 2014 AFC wild card, the Steelers have lost three in a row to the Ravens. In 2015, the Steelers were beaten twice by Baltimore by a combined score of 43-37, including a 20-17 loss at M&T to journeyman backup Ryan Mallett. All-time, the Steelers are 24-20 against the Ravens with a 9-11 record in Baltimore. The Ravens fell to 3-4 with a 24-16 loss Sunday to the New York Jets, who the Steelers beat 31-13 in Week 5. While the Steelers are still atop the AFC North at 4-3 after Sunday’s loss, they know they must be better if they hope to maintain that lead. “I guess if you look at the records, that’s nice,” wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey said. “I guess the team that wins the division goes to the playoffs, but after that loss I can’t really think about that. You have to learn how we’re going to get better, get healthy and find a way to beat Baltimore in two weeks.” Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers are 6-3 following their bye week but have lost their last two in a row (Week 12 at Seattle in 2015 and Week 13 vs. New Orleans in 2014).

Patriots defense not passing the eye test

By Christopher L. Gasper
October 24, 2016
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) is tackled by New England Patriots during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) is tackled by New England Patriots during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. (Jared Wickerham/AP Photo)

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/sports/article110074742.html#storylink=cpy
PITTSBURGH — The Patriots defense doesn’t allow a lot of points. But it does allow for a lot of backhanded compliments (despite what some in New England think, bend-but-don’t-break is not a superlative) and varying views on just how good the unit is.
Asking someone how good the Patriots are on defense is like asking about universal health care. Some people believe in it. Others think it’s doomed to fail. The question of the season is how good is the Patriots defense? We still don’t have an answer after a 6-1 start.
The Patriots defense remains inscrutable. They’re statistically impressive, but aesthetically adequate. They leave you wanting more. None of that changed on Sunday in a 27-16 victory over the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers at Heinz Field. The defense did its job, allowing the Steelers into the end zone just once, creating an end zone interception, and playing its best third-down defense of the season. But it also left you scratching your head wondering how Pittsburgh backup quarterback Landry Jones could channel Terry Bradshaw on certain drives and the Steelers could be allowed to hang around long past their bedtime.
Despite what the scoreboard said the reality is that this game was a no-win for the Patriots defense from the start. If they shut down the Steelers without Big Ben, everyone points to the two-time Super Bowl winner’s absence. If they play the way they did on Sunday and let Jones (29 of 47 for 281 yards with one touchdown and one interception) throw for nearly 300 yards and keep the game in question into the fourth quarter, they’re penalized for that.
No one remembers that Pittsburgh still had dynamic running back Le’Veon Bell (21 rushes for 81 yards and 10 receptions for 68 yards) and all-world wide receiver Antonio Brown (seven catches for 106 yards) at its disposal.
Let’s just say the members of the Patriots defense aren’t huge fans of being labeled a bend-but-don’t-break group.
“I feel like every year it’s something. We’ll never be just, ‘You’re a good defensive team.’ Nobody will say that to us,” said safety Devin McCourty. “So, we don’t care. Whatever we are in points allowed we know that’s what’s important. We know that is what the game comes down to. But everyone is going to find stats that go against you to ask you about. That’s your job. You’ve got to ask about the stuff we don’t do well. If you just ask us the good stuff I think readers would be pretty bored. It is what it is for us.”
The downside of the Patriots decade-and-a-half run of greatness is that the big picture is always looming in the background. The ability of pedestrian Pittsburgh quarterback Jones to maneuver his team up and down the field has to be disconcerting because the Patriots won’t be playing Jones in the playoffs in January.
A defense that was earmarked for greatness hasn’t allowed points, but it hasn’t imposed its will like the famed Steel Curtain defenses. The Patriots are more like a wire hanger defense, easily malleable but hard to break.
But the expectations for a group with so much talent and Bill Belichick, the greatest defensive mind in the history of the game, demands more.
“Yeah, we’ve got to give up the least amount of yards, the least points,” said McCourty, when asked about the critiques of his defense. “Some weeks it’s going to be like that. Some weeks we’re going to go out there and play like Houston, didn’t give up a point, didn’t allow them in the red area.
“But other weeks we’re going to allow them in the red area. There is going to be a sudden change. That’s when it matters, when you make key plays in the game to turn it around and we complement the offense and the special teams. At the end of the day, we just care about winning, man. That’s what we’ve got to focus on and that’s what we’ve got to do.”
That’s good because the Steelers outgained the Patriots, 375 yards to 362 yards. The thought of those famous Terrible Towels being waved in a Pittsburgh surrender to their AFC overlords vanished.
There was a five-drive stretch in this game where the Steelers got the ball in their territory and drove to the Patriots’ 14, 24, 14, 28, and 26. The results were touchdown, missed field goal, field goal, field goal, and field goal. Belichick always says sacks are overrated, but the Patriots didn’t get Jones to the ground once.
On the other hand, the Patriots held the Steelers to 5 of 16 on third down and allowed one touchdown in four red zone trips. The Patriots defense bailed out the offense after Chris Hogan fumbled on New England’s first offensive snap of the game. Malcolm Butler made a brilliant end zone interception on a pass intended for Brown, setting up the Patriots’ first score.
In the fourth quarter with the Patriots leading 27-16, Julian Edelman fumbled a punt and put the defibrillator paddles on Pittsburgh, which recovered at the Patriots’ 43 with 10:37 left. The defense only allowed 7 yards. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin foolishly elected to have Chris Boswell attempt a 54-yard field goal in a stadium that is a graveyard for field goal kickers. The kick missed.
Earlier in the game, Tomlin had a dubious challenge of a Rob Gronkowski catch that was clearly a catch and down by contact.
This was a theme for the Steelers. They were willing accomplices in their own demise. They missed two field goals, squandered turnover opportunities, committed false start penalties, including one that negated a second-quarter touchdown, and showed situational ignorance, instead of situational awareness. Cue the calliope.
“We stopped ourselves. But they’re a good defense,” said Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught Pittsburgh’s lone TD. “Coach [Matt] Patricia, he does a great job of doing adjustments at halftime. They did a great job.”
It’s hard not to have faith in a defense that is allowing only 15.3 points per game. But the eye test tells you a defense stacked with Pro Bowlers and desirable free agents should look more dominant against a pedestrian passer such as Jones or a faux franchise quarterback such as Ryan Tannehill.
The Patriots rope-a-dope brand of defense is working for now, even if it’s not working for everyone who watches them.

Patriots lucky they faced wounded Steelers

October 24, 2016

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, left, heads for the end zone as Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Robert Golden tries to hold him back during the third quarter of an NFL football game at Heinz Field on Sunday, October 23, 2016. Staff Photo by Nancy Lane

PITTSBURGH — In the end the margin of victory in the Patriots’ 27-16 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday was not 11 points. It was one torn meniscus.

Minus that frayed piece of Ben Roethlisberger’s knee, the Patriots might well have not survived the way they played yesterday at Heinz Field. In the short term that doesn’t matter, because the NFL is a bottom-line business — and the bottom line is the Patriots will travel to Buffalo next weekend at 6-1 and carrying a two-game cushion in the AFC East because Rex Ryan’s team did yesterday what it always seems to do when it is on the cusp of something big. It backslides.

While the Patriots played poorly and won against a Steelers team missing its most important players — Roethlisberger on offense and explosive defensive end Cameron Heyward on the other side — Ryan’s Bills played poorly and fell on their egos in Miami, losing 28-25 to a team that committed 13 penalties but trampled Ryan’s defense for 256 rushing yards and a win that prevented next Sunday’s game from being a meaningful clash in Buffalo for the AFC East lead.

For far too long yesterday there seemed to be a chance that would still be the case, however, because the Patriots couldn’t find a way to create much separation between themselves and depleted Pittsburgh. But in the end, they won because Pittsburgh’s backup quarterback, Landry Jones, couldn’t make the Pats defense pay for allowing four trips into the red zone, and Pittsburgh’s notoriously poor pass coverage of tight ends came back to haunt its defense when the game was still in doubt.

There are two ways to look at this kind of outcome then. You can ignore the many concerning things about it — two lost fumbles, four penetrations into their red zone by a team without its quarterback, second best receiver and a decent tight end, plus a kicker whose GPS seems utterly out of whack after missing another extra point — because they won and again have a two-game lead in the AFC LEast.

And winning is like absolution: Your sins are washed away.

Or you can look at it as a hint that this team may really be no better than the other few good teams in pro football. Fortunately for the Patriots there are barely a handful of them, and far less than that in the AFC. So they can play as they did yesterday and still win on many afternoons, because their opponent will find a way to lose if they can’t quite find a way to win on their own.

Or you can ask yourself these questions: How often do you think a Roethlisberger-led Steelers offense would go 1-for-4 in the red zone? How often would it be 5-of-16 on third down (31 percent conversion rate)? But the more important fact yesterday was it didn’t matter, because Roethlisberger was in street clothes and often wearing a pained expression.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had warned his players all week it had little margin for error because of its missing pieces, yet errors they did make. They had a touchdown pass called back for holding. Jones threw a pass he quite rightly later described as “crappy” that was picked off in the end zone by Malcolm Butler with the ball on the Patriots’ 16-yard line and at least a field goal likely to open the game.

As great quarterbacks so often do, Tom Brady responded to that first mistake by driving his team 80 yards in 13 plays, the final 19 a screen pass to James White for a touchdown on third down. Facing a similar circumstance to the one young Jones had just blown, Brady responded not with a mistake but with a touchdown.

Try as they might, these not so steely Steelers could never fully recover from that, trailing the rest of the day.

Each time the Steelers felt they might be closing in, Brady proved he was the difference between them. They kicked a field goal to cut the lead to 14-13 midway through the third quarter, and Brady came right back and found Gronkowski with a 36-yard touchdown pass on a seam route that unwisely left strong safety (a title may be overstating it) Robert Golden one-on-one with Gronk. Or at least he ended up that way when the second safety unwisely chose to abandon what the Steelers had been doing all day — doubling Gronk on seam routes — and instead turned his back on him to help out on an already covered out route run by Danny Amendola.

“He just ran through the middle of the defense,” Brady said. “Looked like they lost track of him for a little bit.”

How do you lose track of a 6-foot-6 tight end who is the most dangerous player on the planet at his position? Beats me. Beat the Steelers, too.

Then, when the Steelers came away with another field goal to cut the Pats’ lead to four points at 20-16 to open the fourth quarter, Brady answered again with Gronkowski, who out ran poor Golden on a deep cross for a 37-yard gain to the 5-yard line. One play later, LeGarrette Blount trampled his way into the end zone, and it was again a two-score margin and the end of the debate really.

Every time Landry produced three points, Brady produced seven on the next drive. When Landry delivered a red zone interception, Brady responded with a red zone touchdown pass. Had Roethlisberger been healthy, things might have been different. This might have been a classic shootout, the kind of game you talk about all week long. Instead it’s the kind you’ll want to forget as quickly as possible.

It was a win, but it wasn’t the kind that should make you sleep well at night.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Without Ben Roethlisberger, time for Steelers Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell to prove their worth

By Mark Madden
October 21, 2016
Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) looks to block for running back Le'Veon Bell (26) as Bell scores a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in Pittsburgh. Bell ranked better than Brown in a recently published formula rating NFL receivers. (AP Photo/Don Wright) 
The Steelers are reputed, by some, to have the best quarterback, best running back and best wide receiver in the NFL.
When the Steelers host New England Sunday, they will be without said quarterback. Knee surgery will sideline Ben Roethlisberger, perhaps as long as 4-6 weeks.
But the Steelers still have the other two guys.
Let’s see how good Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown really are.
True, the Steelers will be minus other components like defensive end Cam Heyward, their least replaceable player on that side of the ball, and tackle Marcus Gilbert, whose reputation has grown in his hiatus.
But if Bell and Brown are truly the best at their positions, they should give the Steelers a legit chance against the Patriots.
Bell’s efforts may be hindered by the continued absence of Gilbert, and the Patriots won’t need to spy on Steelers practices to know Bell is likely to pile up carries.
Bell’s effort may also be hindered by offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Haley has a tendency to outsmart himself: “We know that they know, that we know that they know.”
Bell got 16 touches in last Sunday’s 30-15 loss at Miami. That’s too few, especially considering that only 10 of those were runs. The score should not have turned the Steelers as one-dimensional as they were: 37 passes, 16 runs. (Don’t blame just Haley. Roethlisberger often steps under center with a run/pass option.)
Haley might be too enamored of Bell’s versatility.
Bell shouldn’t be lining up in the slot, or splitting wide, or going in motion more than an absolute minimum of the time.
Bell should line up behind the quarterback and take handoffs. If Bell is the best running back in football, have him run the ball. The Steelers defense stinks, especially without Heyward. Time of possession will be critical.
Win or lose, I expect a big game from Bell Sunday. Bell had large output when Roethlisberger was out last season, topping 100 yards in three of those four games.
I’m not nearly as optimistic about Brown.
Last year, when injury to Roethlisberger foisted Jones and Mike Vick upon an unsuspecting public for four games, Brown caught just 17 balls over that span and complained so much about it that teammate Heath Miller told him to shut up.
Brown gets antsy in the pantsy when his numbers dwindle. Stats are his first priority. Roethlisberger often feeds Brown the ball during fourth-quarter garbage time to inflate his production by way of keeping his focus maximized.
Brown’s numbers won’t be as great with Jones at QB. Brown ranks just 11th in receiving yards as it is.
It’s easy for Bell to pick up some slack. He’s going to get more carries.
Brown has to keep his composure, be a leader in the huddle and find small ways to comfort and elevate Jones. Those accomplishments don’t often feature twerking as an exclamation point. Brown must temporarily shelve his ego and put winning first.
Brown might not get the ball as much. But persevering, maintaining possession and manufacturing a big play when a sliver of opportunity presents is necessary for the Steelers to even have a puncher’s chance vs. New England.
Bell and Brown don’t have rings. Maybe they don’t deserve one. How each responds to Sunday’s big challenge in Roethlisberger’s absence will say a lot about both.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Penguins rally in 3rd, top Sharks 3-2 in Stanley Cup rematch

By Will Graves, The Associated Press
October 20, 2016
Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz (14), center Evgeni Malkin (71) and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Patric Hornqvist (72) celebrate the winning goal in front of San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones (31) during the third period of an NHL hockey game on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Pittsburgh. The Penguins defeated the Sharks 3-2.
Down two goals — and even worse, down two defensemen — after two periods on Thursday night against San Jose, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan offered his players a much-needed reminder.

Read more here: http://www.heraldonline.com/sports/article109559602.html#storylink=cpy
"You can win ugly in this league," Sullivan told them.
The Stanley Cup champions responded with 20 minutes of grit against an opponent only too familiar with how deep the Penguins can dig when the moment requires.
Evgeni MalkinScott Wilson and Patric Hornqvist scored in a 7:15 span in the third period to lift the Penguins to an unlikely 3-2 victory in a rematch of last June's Stanley Cup Final. Hornqvist and Malkin both finished with a goal and an assist while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots to buy the Penguins time until the offense finally got going.
"We played right," Malkin said. "We moved the puck quickly. We shot the puck. . We did the right things. There were lucky goals, off the post, off the goalie. It's not pretty, but it's important goals."
Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks, who controlled the first 40 minutes and appeared well on their way to a one-sided victory before falling apart late. Martin Jones made 17 saves but saw the play in front of him break down in the third.
"This league is really a race to three goals, that's pretty much how it works, and we couldn't get the third goal," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer said. "Again, let them hang around, which is something we've done lately."
The Penguins captured the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup in an entertaining final last June, finishing off the Sharks in Game 6 in San Jose. If San Jose wanted a glimpse at just how close it came to its first title, they need only look toward the rafters at PPG Paints Arena during warmups to get a look at the banner the Penguins raised last week.
San Jose insisted Thursday had nothing to do with revenge or any sense of payback. Last June is gone. For now the Sharks are still trying to find an identity even with nearly the same roster back for another run.
They're off to a hot start and certainly looked fresh playing for the third time in four days on the road. Not so much Pittsburgh, which failed to generate anything in a shutout loss in Montreal on Tuesday. It looked like more of the same 48 hours later with captain Sidney Crosby (concussion) and defenseman Kris Letang (upper body) out of the lineup.
Hertl gave San Jose a 1-0 lead 5:04 into the second thanks to a strange sequence in which Fleury lost control of his stick when a shot from Brent Burns smacked off the handle. The puck was briefly cleared but as Fleury tried to chase the stick down, the Sharks rushed back into the zone and Hertl eventually jammed a rebound off a shot by Joe Pavelski past the stickless goaltender.
San Jose's lead doubled shortly after Hornqvist's goal was overturned, stripping Chris Kunitz to create a 2-on-1 that ended with him taking a pass from Logan Couture and burying it by Fleury.
Things changed quickly even with Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta unavailable after leaving with undisclosed injuries.
Malkin's second of the year -- a shot from between the circles 6:47 into the third -- got Pittsburgh started. Wilson tied it 2:14 later when he collected the puck from the corner and darted to the net before slipping a backhand by Jones.
Hornqvist completed the comeback by slamming a rebound by Jones on the power play to give the Penguins the lead. Sullivan praised his defensemen while also giving credit to Malkin, Kunitz, Hornqvist and Phil Kessel for fueling an improbable comeback.
"They played inspiring hockey," Sullivan said. "They played the right way in the third period and they were hard to handle because of it. When those guys play that way, they give us a chance to win."
Game notes
Crosby did not skate Thursday, a scheduled day off. ... The Penguins also scratched Conor Sheary (eye). ... San Jose scratched Fs Michael Haley and Ryan Carpenter and D Dylan Demelo. ... The Penguins went 1 for 5 on the power play. The Sharks were 0 for 3.
Sharks: wrap up a five-game road trip Saturday at Detroit.
Penguins: visit Nashville on Saturday.