Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Blueshirts have no answer for Crosby

New York Post
November 30, 2010

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: Sidney Crosby is challenged by Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers during their game on November 29, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The Garden, charged as were Marc Staal and Dan Girardi last night with the responsibility of stuffing the genie-with-the-12-game point streak back into the bottle, was ready early, booing Sidney Crosby as he delayed the opening face-off for ice cleanup.

"There was confetti, white and all over the zone, and we didn't want anybody skating over it," he said. "Don't know what it was, from a show before or what?"

Either it was a sneak asbestos attack -- cue the EPA again -- designed to protect our town from the hottest player in the NHL or the closest thing Crosby will ever get to a ride up the Canyon of Heroes.

Girardi gave the Pittsburgh star an after-the-whistle shove on the game's fourth shift, before Crosby took down Ryan Callahan during a 60-foot off-the puck race through the neutral zone, and the Ranger got the penalty for interference.

"Definitely a slew foot," said Dubinsky, who then said he didn't want to make a "huge story out of it, because it was not."

It was a little late for that, much like the home team in the second period. For 30 minutes the Rangers and coach John Tortorella, who matched every center he had against No. 87 with exception of Artem Anisimov, were pretty cool in the face of a guy who has 26 points during a 10-2-1 Penguins run that began immediately after the Rangers left Pittsburgh with a 3-2 overtime win.

Surrendering only Max Talbot's quickie off an inadvertent handpass by Ruslan Fedotenko into Staal's feet, the Rangers appeared to have things reasonably locked down until Crosby inevitably turned the key.

The Kid made an are-you-Kidding-me between-the-legs feed past Staal to send Pascal Dupuis into the zone, then took the give-and-go pass and feathered a backhand feed -- past Staal again -- to Kris Letang up the slot.

"Sometimes you think he's going to shoot but he ends up passing it," lamented Staal.

Letang one-timed the feed past Henrik Lundqvist even faster than Crosby can get on your nerves, which is pretty fast indeed. Despite Marc Andre Fleury's attempt -- a short-side goal to Marian Gaborik to put the Rangers back in it, they went down 3-1, their only consolation Crosby's being penalized for a third-period trip of Sean Avery that Dubinsky thought was similar to the one he got away with on Callahan.

"I think Duby has done his fair share of things out there that are questionable," said Crosby, surprisingly offended that Dubinsky had said "that's the kind of player" the best player in the NHL is. "Guess he's talking again. I'm not surprised.

"How many penalty minutes do I have? Please. He's holding me going up ice and I'm trying to push him off. If I tripped him, I tripped him, but I am not a dirty hockey player. I think Duby is smarter than that."

Duby is not smart enough to stop Crosby. Then again, nobody is, as the third youngest player (24 years, 44 days) in NHL history to record 500 points morphs from spectacular to even more routinely so.

"I don't know if he's elevated his game other than the consistency with which he's playing," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "You see the great plays. He's always had the ability to do that."

Now he just does it even more often. The league's best creator is rapidly becoming one of its better goal scorers, and the Gretzkian absurdity of it all is that the reluctant shooter scored 51 goals last season to tie Steven Stamkos for the NHL title.

So who doesn't love to hate a player that good?


Winning QB winning them over

Tuesday, November 30, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Ben Roethlisberger gets protection from Maurkice Pouncey #53 and Chris Kemoteatu #68 against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Pittsburgh won 19-16 in overtime. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Funny, no one has mentioned this week that the Steelers should trade or release Ben Roethlisberger.

Not during Baltimore week.

Not with first place on the line in the AFC North Division Sunday night.

Not after Roethlisberger played such a terrific game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday.

Really, isn't it amazing how the ill will toward Roethlisberger and the Steelers because of his sexual assault case in March in Milledgeville, Ga., has died down because the team is 8-3 and he's playing great football?

Did you know you can buy a Christmas ornament with Roethlisberger's likeness on it for $9.99 to hang on your tree?

I'm betting it will be a huge seller this year.

I give Roethlisberger a lot of credit. He has won back Steelers fans by keeping a couple of promises. He apologized for acting like a creep and promised to be a better person. From what I can tell, he has done that. He also apologized to his teammates for causing such a distraction -- notably his four-game suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the start of the season -- and promised to do his part to make the team a Super Bowl contender. No question, he has done that.

Did you see Roethlisberger in the 19-16 overtime win against the Bills?

"I told him after the game, 'I'm happy to be on your team. I'm glad I'm playing with you,' " wide receiver Hines Ward said.

Roethlisberger helped the Steelers convert 8 of 10 third-down plays in the first half and build a 13-0 lead. He scrambled for 18 yards on a third-and-17 play in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal and a 16-13 lead. Then on a third-and-8 play on the winning drive in overtime, he looked right for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and looked down the middle for Ward and tight end Heath Miller before finding wide receiver Mike Wallace to his left for a 17-yard gain just as the Bills' pass rush closed in.

"It's so rare for a guy to be able to stay focused in that beehive," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "You have to have a special gift. He's got it."

Roethlisberger's 18-yard scramble was, for me, the best play of the season. He made a spectacular move in the pocket to spin away from linebacker Chris Kelsay, who beat offensive tackle Flozell Adams to the outside. An instant later, feeling pressure from defensive end Marcus Stroud who was chasing him with foul intentions, he sprinted to his right.

"My thought process at that point is to get up to the line of scrimmage but not go over it," Roethlisberger said. "People talk about me taking too many sacks and not going down and taking hits. But that's just me. Whatever it takes to make a play."

"He's always looking down the field," Ward said. "That's why we as receivers can never give up on a play."

There was no play to be made this time. Roethlisberger had to run. The problem was he couldn't get to the first-down marker and get out of bounds. He had to cut back inside to avoid a hit from safety Jairus Byrd before being tackled from behind by linebacker Aaron Maybin.

"It's third-and-forever and he gets the first down," Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny said.

"He was going to get that first down, come hell or high water," Arians said.

"That was just the competitor coming out of me," Roethlisberger said.

"When you see your quarterback do that, other guys feed off it," Ward said.

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Ben Roethlisberger runs for an 18-yard gain against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

Roethlisberger's work continued on the sideline after that drive. Four plays after his scramble, Sanders dropped a third-down pass that would have gone for a first down and maybe a touchdown. The kid was inconsolable coming off the field.

"I told him, 'I'm coming back to you. Don't let it happen again, but I'm coming back to you,' " Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger had a similar message earlier for running back Rashard Mendenhall, who lost a fumble at the Steelers' 29. "No one felt worse about it than him," Roethlisberger said. "I told him, 'Keep your head up. Keep running. We're going to need you.' Sure enough, we did."

Mendenhall had six carries for 27 yards on the winning drive. Soon after kicker Shaun Suisham ended the game with a 41-yard field goal, Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu found Roethlisberger on the field, gave him a hug and apologized for having a rough day that included four holding penalties.

"I told him I didn't care about that," Roethlisberger said. "I told him I liked the way he kept fighting. He has to move on from this. We're going to need him in the next game."

The Baltimore game.

As much as the Steelers need Kemoeatu to be of sound mind and body against the Ravens, they need a healthy Roethlisberger more. He said he aggravated a foot sprain late in the first half against the Bills. He said his foot originally was hurt in the New England game two weeks earlier.

"The only time I can remember Baltimore beating us recently was when we didn't have our starting quarterback," Ward said.

The man's memory is right on. The Ravens beat the Steelers in October when Roethlisberger was suspended. They beat them last December when he missed the game with a concussion. They beat them in December 2007 when he sat out with a sore arm and a bum ankle to get ready for the playoffs.

The Steelers have won the past five games against the Ravens when Roethlisberger has played.

"I like our chances with Ben," Ward said.

So do I.


• Game: Steelers (8-3) vs. Baltimore Ravens (8-3), 8:30 p.m.

• Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Harrison pleads innocent on latest hit

Monday, November 29, 2010

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: James Harrison rises after hitting Ryan Fitzpatrick during their game at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Harrison was flagged for roughing the passer during the play. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- James Harrison said he did nothing wrong on the play that resulted in a personal foul penalty yesterday and will be reviewed by the NFL this week.

The Steelers' outside linebacker said some unlikely sources will back up his claim that he made a legal hit when he belted Ryan Fitzpatrick in the chest as the Bills quarterback released a pass in the Steelers' 19-16 overtime win.

"The whole (Bills') offensive line," Harrison said. "Ain't never had that one. That's a first."

Harrison said he does not expect the NFL to fine him for the play. His greater concern is that such a penalty will eventually cost the Steelers a game.

Yesterday's game pivoted a couple of plays after Harrison was called for roughing the passer for the third time in the past five weeks.

The Steelers were leading, 13-0, and firmly in control before Fred Jackson caught a slant pass and turned it into a 65-yard touchdown. Three plays earlier, Harrison slammed into Fitzpatrick on second-and-10 from the Bills' 20-yard line.

He was penalized for leading with his helmet on the hit.

"They're making these calls and when it comes down to it, it's a possibility that it could cost us the game," Harrison said.

Harrison and coach Mike Tomlin were clearly upset about the call after it happened.

Tomlin did not comment on the officiating after the Steelers had to sweat out their eighth win of the season.

"I'm not even going to talk about it," he said.

Harrison said just as with Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell a week earlier, he made sure he did not land on Fitzpatrick.

He did not get fined for his roughing-the-passer penalty against the Raiders. The three-time Pro Bowler said he should not have been flagged for it yesterday.

"I guess referees are getting to a point where they're afraid not to make a call," Harrison said.


Highlights: Steelers 19, Bills 16 (OT)

Suisham, Steelers count their blessings

Monday, November 29, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Steelers' Shaun Suisham #6 kicks the game winning field goal in overtime of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010. The Steelers won 19-16 in overtime. (AP)

View all related imagesORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Monday, Nov. 1, started like any other day for Shaun Suisham. He got up at his home in Greenville, Ohio, made sure things were cool with his wife, Erin, and baby daughter, Sienna, had a little breakfast and probably checked the newspaper to see which NFL kickers had missed field goals the day before.

Hey, it's what you do when you're unemployed and looking for a kicking job in the league.

Then, the telephone call came.

Suisham's mother-in-law, Gloria Croley, died of a massive heart attack that morning as she was getting ready to go to work. She had just turned 60 Oct. 24.

"It was hard to believe," Suisham said. "We had just had a big party for her."

It still hurts Suisham to talk about it.

"It's amazing what can happen in a month," he said. "I really didn't envision myself being here today with the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Certainly, not kicking four long field goals to beat the Buffalo Bills, 19-16, in overtime Sunday.

Wow, what a first impression!

"It's so awesome what he did," said Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda, who is the holder for Suisham's field-goal attempts.

"He's just happy to have another shot, happy to be back in the league. His energy and enthusiasm are unbelievable. He deserved this."

Suisham, signed Nov. 16 to replace the popular and, until this season, incredibly productive Jeff Reed, made his Steelers' debut against the Oakland Raiders Nov. 21, but did nothing more than kick off and make five extra points. The challenge was a bit bigger on this cold, windy day at Ralph Wilson Stadium in a game the Steelers had to have to hang with the Baltimore Ravens on top of the AFC North Division. Suisham made 45- and 46-yard field goals in the second quarter to give the Steelers a 13-0 halftime lead, hit a 48-yarder for a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter, then was good from 41 yards in overtime.

Kicker Shaun Suisham is mobbed by teammates including Daniel Sepulveda, right, after kicking the winning field goal against the Bills in overtime Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)

You should have seen Suisham's new teammates swarm him after the game. Clearly, the Steelers knew how important this game was.

"Yeah, that was a lot of fun," Suisham said, grinning.

A deeply religious man, Suisham, 29, believes in God's will. He had been out of work all season and said he "was going to visit [retirement from the NFL]" after this season. Then, Reed missed a late 46-yard field goal at Cincinnati Nov. 8 that forced the Steelers to sweat out a 27-21 win. The next week, he missed from 26 yards in a loss to the New England Patriots. That prompted Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to make a change that had Pittsburgh buzzing for a week. Reed had been a splendid kicker for most of nine seasons and helped the team win two Super Bowls.

You might say Suisham had a big kicking shoe to fill.

"How could I [worry about that]?" he asked. "I mean, I wouldn't be any better for this football team if I worried about it.

"When I came in here in 2005 to [Steelers] training camp, Jeff was great to me. I've always remembered that and certainly appreciate it. But you just take the opportunities when you get them. To be with a new team and to come through for them is special."

Suisham was released by the Washington Redskins last December after missing a 23-yard field goal late in an overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints. He kicked for the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs but missed from 48 and 49 yards in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. He wasn't re-signed by the Cowboys and had unsuccessful tryouts this summer with the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams.

No, Suisham probably didn't envision being with the Steelers Sunday.

Did I mention he believes in God's will?

After the 2009 season, Suisham sold his house in Virginia and moved to Greenville so his wife could be close to her family. For a time, they lived with Harold and Gloria Croley before moving into their new house in March.

"In one way, I hated being out of work," Suisham said. "But in another way, it was a blessing. We ended up back in Ohio for a reason. My wife got to spend the most time with her mother since she was in high school. My daughter got to be around her grandparents. [Gloria] was such a great grandmother ...

"The way things worked out, I wouldn't change anything."

Nor would Tomlin.

"How 'bout Shaun banging field goals for us?" he gushed.

And how 'bout this for -- pardon the poor pun -- a kicker to the Suisham story?

"He's now," Tomlin said, "a Steeler."

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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Saved by Polamalu, once again

It takes special plays to dispose of these Bills

Monday, November 29, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Buffalo Bills guard Kraig Urbik tackles Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu after his interception during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y. on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010. Pittsburgh won in overtime 19-16. (AP)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- There was an active and even robust football buzz in Buffalo this weekend for the first time in forever, with the recent blizzard of Bills touchdowns earning quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick the nickname Ryan Fitzmagic, and getting spectacular wideout Stevie Johnson called Stevie Wonder.

Fitzpatrick, caught up in the heady atmosphere of the rare two-game winning streak, even called on his Harvard education to tell the Buffalo News, "In order to beat [the Steelers], we're going to have to score some points."

So at least that $135,000 in tuition wasn't wasted.

Curiously though, Fitzmagic failed to specify how many points would be necessary. Turned out it was more than 16 in regulation, which he'd apparently rectified in overtime by whipping the winning touchdown pass 40 yards to Stevie Wonder at the goal line.

But Stevie, floating free behind Ike Taylor, dropped it.

Poor Stevie Blunder. Don't know what Fitzmagic was thinking as he left the field, but it wasn't "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life."

Even at that, the Bills gave Mike Tomlin's team way more than it wanted on a cold northern Sunday, and the visitors held on due mostly to one inviolate fact: In most matchups, the Steelers simply have too many players who are capable of monstrous plays at the most urgent coordinates, and most of them play without the ball.

"Needless to say we made significant plays at critical moments in the game," Tomlin said. "Troy [Polamalu] made significant plays, timely plays, the kind of plays we've come to expect. There's a guy who didn't practice much this week and yet he's always ready to deliver for his teammates."

The Steelers are 8-3 this morning essentially due to four special deliveries, one each from Polamalu, James Farrior, Ryan Clark and punter Daniel Sepulveda, whose 55-yard punt with a short snap from directly beneath the goalpost gave the Steelers a new grip on an overtime that was sliding over a cliff.

Abandoned by an offense that generated a touchdown on the game's first possession and then took the next three hours off, caught in a tug-of-war by an unlikely saboteur named Chris Kemoeatu (four penalties, three enforced), the Steelers' defense delivered one monster moment after the next until Shaun Suisham's fourth field goal closed out a 19-16 victory.

This is a defense that has allowed exactly one touchdown in the past 137 minutes, 9 seconds of action, including Sunday's 12:46 of overtime, an overtime that looked like the Bills would not even require as Fitzpatrick drove them to the Steelers' 12 with three minutes left in the fourth quarter.

But when he tried to hit Johnson on a quick slant at the goal line, Willie Gay got a hand in the way and Polamalu swooped under the deflected football for his fourth interception of the season.

"I was one-on-one with Johnson and I was just trying to do anything to stop the slant," said Gay. "I don't even know what happened on the play. I looked up and Troy was running the other way."

The Steelers are now 20-3 all time when Troy intercepts, and Polamalu added a fumble recovery to account for both Steelers takeaways Sunday.

But this wouldn't end until the other safety made an even bigger play. Ryan Clark snaked his arm in front of Buffalo wideout Donald Jones just as Jones was about to convert a third-and-3 from the Steelers' 41 on the first possession of overtime. That pass gets completed, the Steelers are likely 7-4 today.

"It makes it so much easier to play defense when you have players like that," said nose tackle Chris Hoke. "You don't have to be out there trying to do more than you're responsible for. The players we have who can make big plays are innumerable."

That was awfully fortunate, because even after Sepulveda's remarkable punt, and Stevie's blunder, the Bills still had a third-and-6 from the Steelers' 36, with the conversion meaning likely victory.

So cue James Farrior.

Fitzpatrick scrambled to his right, thought better of it when he thought he saw a seam up the middle, and got a faceful of Farrior just as he hit the accelerator.

"I saw the quarterback scramble and I thought Lawrence Timmons was going to get him," Farrior said. "He escaped that, but turned toward me; there wasn't a lot to that."

Except that the Bills never had the ball again and the offense awoke at dusk and rode Rashard Mendenhall on a seven-minute winning drive.

In the end, Troy Polamalu's shower went overtime as well. He was still in the spray at 5:28 p.m., 45 minutes after the game ended, at which point the Steelers closed the locker room. But I know what he would have said.

He'd have said that he was blessed, and, like Farrior, that there really wasn't much to it.

Of that, we are all blessed to know better.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

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Steelers' ugly victory still counts

Monday, November 29, 2010

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Rashard Mendenhall is tackled by Chris Kelsay #90 and Jairus Byrd #31 of the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. Mendenhall carried 36 times for 151 yards and a touchdown. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

A month from now, no one will remember the score. Only that the Steelers won a game they were supposed to win, and the Buffalo Bills lost a game they were expected to lose.

"Good road victory for us, and by that I mean things didn't always go our way," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin in describing Sunday's 19-16 overtime win. "We didn't play as well as we'd like to play, from an execution standpoint. It looked bleak at times, but we didn't have a bleak approach to our work on the sideline."

Bleak? Calling the Steelers' three-point victory over the 2-9 Bills bleak is a major league stretch. In the NFL, a win is a win is a win.

OK, so the Steelers were a dropped Steve Johnson touchdown catch from being upset by a team that is still learning how to win close games against good teams.

Buffalo fans should be encouraged by the excellent job that first-year coach Chan Gailey is doing. The Bills are a lot closer to respectability than their record would indicate. But they still have a long way to go before they catch the Steelers.

Buffalo has lost three overtime games this season. The Bills also lost in overtime to Kansas City and Baltimore -- the same Ravens who host the Steelers next Sunday night for first place in the AFC North.

I don't see the Ravens giving back their win over Buffalo, one in which they squandered a big lead (Sound familiar?) And I don't expect the Steelers to say yesterday's win was tainted, nor should they.

"The speech is always the same when you win," defensive captain James Farrior said in describing Tomlin's postgame words to the team.

In other words, the Steelers would rather be lucky than good.

Bad teams like Buffalo lose close games.

Good teams like the Steelers win them.

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Troy Polamalu #43 and Lamarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills during their game at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

"You have to tip your hat to Pittsburgh because they are used to big games," Bills safety Bryan Scott said.

When it comes right down to it, the game got too big for the Bills. The Steelers know the feeling.

A year ago, the Steelers resembled the Bills. They lost five games by three points each and missed the playoffs.

This season, the Steelers are 2-1 in games decided by three points or fewer.

Coincidence? No.

"Our games are always like this. For some reason, that's how our games end," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "We knew this wasn't going to be a soft team. We could see it on film."

Taylor lived life in the fast lane against Buffalo. His break-up of a sure touchdown pass to Lee Evans late in the fourth quarter forced the Bills to settle for a field goal and sent the game into overtime. In the extra session, Taylor watched along with the rest of his teammates as a wide-open Johnson dropped the sure touchdown pass that would have won the game.

Strong safety Ryan Clark defended his teammates. He insisted the game was won before Johnson's drop.

"The biggest thing was that guys stepped up and made plays," Clark said.

Nickel back William Gay deflected a fourth-quarter pass that was intercepted by strong safety Troy Polamalu, who also recovered a Buffalo fumble in the third quarter that was forced by outside linebacker James Harrison.

The same Buffalo offense that scored 49 points against Cincinnati, 34 points against Baltimore and 30 points against New England managed only one touchdown against the Steelers.

"We're starting to make strides in the right direction," said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (seven receptions for 107 yards). "We're not playing our best football, but we can learn from what we had to overcome today."

That's what good teams do. That's why the Steelers are the Steelers, and the Bills are the Bills.


Williams proves to be quite the handful

Bills' nose tackle causes the Steelers a whole lot of trouble

By Allen Wilson
Buffalo News Sports Reporter
November 29, 2010, 12:40 AM

ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Ben Roethlisberger escapes the rush while Chris Kemoeatu #68 holds Kyle Williams #95 of the Buffalo Bills during the game at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 28, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

The Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers won't meet again this season, and that's probably a good thing for Chris Kemoeatu.

The Steelers' left guard got more than he wanted from Bills nose tackle Kyle Williams, who dominated their matchup Sunday.

Williams finished with 10 tackles, including two sacks and another stop behind the line of scrimmage. He also drew four holding penalties on Kemoeatu (one was declined), including two in the fourth quarter. The first wiped out a 42-yard run by running back Rashard Mendenhall and the second negated a 17-yard Ben Roethlisberger pass completion to receiver Emmanuel Sanders that would have sewn up the game for the Steelers.

"I thought some of the holding calls were kind of iffy," Kemoeatu said after Pittsburgh pulled out a 19-16 victory in overtime. "I do know which ones I did hold on, which were obvious. I know the ones I didn't hold on that were called, too. But I can't blame the refs. It's something I just have to work on as far as keeping my hands inside and moving my feet. I know I made some mistakes out there. It was a tough day."

Williams made it tough. The fifth-year veteran was virtually unblockable most of the game as he continues to string together Pro Bowl-caliber performances.

He leads the Bills with five sacks and went into Sunday's game ranked second in the NFL among interior defensive linemen in tackles.

"I think I'm the same way since I've been here," said Williams, a former fifth-round draft pick. "I'm going to go out there and play as hard as I can every single time and try to get after those guys, no matter who we're playing."

The Steelers' offensive line problems have been well-documented, and it was evident again Sunday. Roethlisberger was sacked five times and would have gone down more if not for his uncanny knack for escaping tacklers. Still, the Bills' defensive line had its way with the Steelers' blockers on numerous occasions. No one was more disruptive than Williams, whose play drew praise from both locker rooms.

"He's definitely a great player," Kemoeatu said. "Everybody knows he's strong as hell. I thought we had a good week preparing for him. But my hat goes off to him. He's a helluva baller. He's physical, comes off the ball and just hits you in the helmet. I kind of got stunned a couple of plays, but I managed to recover. He gave us a lot of trouble today."

"They couldn't block him," Bills inside linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "I don't know how many times Kyle got into the backfield, but it was a lot. When he makes plays like that he can make it a long day for anybody."

Williams never gave much thought to what he was doing to Kemoeatu, though it was obvious to everyone in Ralph Wilson Stadium. And who knows how many times Kemoeatu held Williams and it wasn't called?

"I tried to get off the ball and work my rush off of how he is going to set," Williams said. "I had some good ones, I had some bad ones. That's how the game goes."

As well as he played, Williams said there were no positives that can be drawn from a loss, which was the Bills' fourth in a row by three points.

He did say Sunday's game was another example that the Bills can hang with the best teams in the NFL.

"I don't think we're a pushover," he said. "There's no quit. We're going to go fight and make some things happen."

Kinda sums up the way Williams plays. Just ask Kemoeatu.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sidney Crosby: Hat Trick & 200th Career Goal

Crosby shows Flames why 'he's the best in the game'

By Vicki Hall, Calgary Herald
November 27, 2010

Sidney Crosby (87) of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his 200th career goal with Evgeni Malkin (71) against the Calgary Flames at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Penguins defeated the Flames 4-1.
Photograph by: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images

A reporter posed the obvious question Saturday afternoon to Mark Giordano as the Calgary Flames packed up their bags for the long flight home.

Is there any possible way to contain Sidney Crosby when he's dialled in, like he is right now?

Giordano paused for a brief second and offered up an honest response.

"Well, I don't think so," the dependable rearguard said in the aftermath of a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "If there is, no one has really figured it out."

The Calgary Flames certainly haven't figured it out. But they're far from alone in that category.

Sid the Grown-up is riding a 12-game point streak. With the sixth hat-trick of his career Saturday, he vaulted over Steven Stamkos into the penthouse of the National Hockey League scoring race with 18 goals and 40 points in 25 games.

On Saturday, he very nearly pulled off a Mario trick by scoring five different ways. He capitalized at even-strength and on the power-play. In the final minute, he whipped one in short-handed into an empty net.

And he came so, so close to scoring on a penalty shot just 4:14 into the proceedings.

"Crosby had a great game," Flames captain Jarome Iginla said of his Olympic linemate. "He showed why he's the best in the game right now."

No argument there. The Flames are probably still trying to figure out how No. 87 slinked into the background on a second-period rush with Chris Kunitz.

Somehow, Robyn Regehr and Jay Bouwmeester lost track of Crosby. Kunitz feathered a pass through the slot, and Crosby banged it into the open cage.

"I just kind of fell off to the side of the net and got lost," Crosby said. "He made a great play to get it to me."

On his second goal, Crosby waded into the high-traffic, high-punishment area code in the slot and tipped a Paul Martin point-shot home.

The puck is a keepsake, as that was his 200th career goal.

Yes, he's only 23. The former Timbit player from Cole Harbour, N.S., is on pace for a career-high of 59 goals (he scored 51 last season.)

Heading into the season, did he set a goal for the number of goals he wanted to score?

"No.," he said. Last year I felt like I shot a lot and did everything I needed to do, and obviously the puck went in. I don't have a number in mind You just have a certain way you want to play and hope that results in goals - doesn't mean it always does. You're going to hit posts, miss chances. But, no, no total. You just have an idea of what you want to do to be successful."

The latest installment of Crosby brilliance was met with shrugs in the Pittsburgh locker-room.

"He's been outstanding," Craig Adams said, "as we've come to expect of him."

The Flames, however, made a point of paying homage to one of the great stars in the history of the game. The handle "Sid the Kid" no longer applies.

"An elite-level player like him has great creativity in his game and has a tremendous skill set," said Calgary head coach Brent Sutter. "He's a tough guy to defend, because he is so strong. He is a north-south guy. He gets into the really tough areas and creates chances for his linemates and his team.

"It's because of his work ethic and how hard he plays every shift."

Giordano could only shake his head.

"He seems to find those spots," he said. "I thought our game plan was to play him hard. And we were playing hard. He's one of those guys who, when he gets a chance, he'll make it count.

"He's the best player in the game for a reason."


© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sid the Kid has passion to be great

By Bucky Gleason
Buffalo News Sports Columnist
November 24, 2010, 12:01 AM

Drew Stafford knew the kid long before he became The Kid. Sidney Crosby was 15 years old when he showed up at Shattuck-St. Mary's High in Minnesota, where Stafford's parents were teachers and he was a star senior for the national powerhouse. Crosby was the most glorified sophomore in school history.

"His legs were the size of that trash can," Stafford said in the Sabres' dressing room. "He was born to be a hockey player, born with a hockey player's body. He had such a baby face. He was just a kid like everybody else. But then we got on the ice. He's threading passes under sticks, making nice plays and you're like, 'Man, this kid's for real.'"

Yeah, the kid was for real.

Crosby finished with 72 goals and 162 points in 57 games that season and along with Stafford's 49 goals and 116 points helped Shattuck to a national title. Crosby left for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he had 120 goals and 303 points in 121 games for Rimouski over his next two seasons.

"It was pretty awesome," Stafford said. "With the way the hype goes and the media building him up and everything, it's easy for a kid, especially one that age, to get caught up in it. He had no problems with that whatsoever. He backed up the hype. You could see how good he was. He's very levelheaded."

The Kid leading the Penguins tonight isn't one. He's a 23-year-old superstar who six years ago became the name and face of the NHL. He's acutely aware of his image and would never, say, suffer a mysterious black eye at a charity event or become one for his community. Instead, he leads by example in Pittsburgh.

Crosby's greatest asset isn't his speed or shooting ability or even his puck-handling skills or his vision. It's his passion. His competitiveness drove tireless practice habits that developed his talent. It's a quality the best athletes share and cannot be taught. Crosby has it in spades.

For years, he viewed himself as a playmaking center, but he adjusted his style last season and became a 50-goal scorer and more complete player. Now, he's playing better than at any point in his career, which says a ton.

Crosby two years ago became the youngest captain to hoist the Stanley Cup. He has won a scoring title and been named most valuable player. He scored the winning goal in overtime at the Olympics, giving Canada the gold over Ryan Miller and the United States. He had 51 goals last season, tying Steven Stamkos for the NHL lead.

Over his past 82 games, he has 56 goals and 123 points. He has 15 goals and 35 points in 22 games this season and is riding a nine-game scoring streak that includes nine goals and 20 points. He's on pace for 55 goals and 129 points, both of which would be career highs.

Imagine his numbers if he played in the Wayne Gretzky era, when players were slower and teams had less depth. Crosby excels with less room, against better defenses. Maybe he could have scored 92 goals or posted 215 points in a season, the way The Great One did with the talent-rich Oilers in the 1980s.

Or he might have scored more.

"He would have ran away with the game, just like Gretzky did," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "The game is a lot tougher now. He's still thriving in a tougher game. The depth of players in the game now is a lot better going back to the early '80s, when teams usually had one good line or possibly two."

Gretzky once pointed to Crosby as the player who could break all of his records. It was a ridiculous statement until you consider the source. Gretzky's records appear safe for the foreseeable future.

If given the opportunity, Gretzky might choose his words differently and say Crosby was capable of becoming the best player in history. Now, there's something that makes sense.


Photo credit: Getty Images


Monday, November 22, 2010

Young receivers step into spotlight

Monday, November 22, 2010

A wise man once said that speed kills.

I can't recall who said it, but it sure wasn't Steelers coach Mike Tomlin prior to yesterday's game against Oakland.

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21: Mike Wallace had 3 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Tomlin saw the light -- rather, a need -- when he relented and finally permitted rookie wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown to suit up in the same game and turned them loose on the Raiders.

"We had an opportunity to put a hat on both of them today," Tomlin said.

"They are talented young men."

Make that fast and talented young men.

Sanders caught two passes for 35 yards, including a lunging 22-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter.

And Brown scared the heck out of Oakland coach Tom Cable -- along with the rest of the NFL, for that matter.

In his first NFL game, against Tennessee, Brown had an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball. Against the Raiders, he returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, only to have it called back because of a holding penalty on a record-setting day when the officials were apparently paid for how many times they tossed their yellow flags.

Later in the quarter, Brown made a gutsy 21-yard reception across the middle that set up Ben Roethlisberger's 16-yard touchdown scramble.

The second quarter belonged to the Steelers, who outscored the Raiders, 21-0, en route to a 35-3 rout at Heinz Field.

It also belonged to the Steelers' kid receivers, who are growing up.

"I was extremely happy," Sanders said. "It felt good. Pregame, we got to work out together. First time in the regular season."

A few lockers away, Brown was asked about returning a kickoff the first time he touched the ball in an NFL game, dressing for three additional games, and then not dressing for the next five contests. While he sat, Sanders dressed in his place.

How did that make him feel?

"It's humbling," Brown said. "Thank God for the opportunity today."

Tomlin has been up front with both players that he wanted Sanders, the team's third-round draft choice, and Brown, a sixth-round pick, to engage in a weekly competition for playing time.

Survival of the fittest.

"We haven't been bashful about how we pitted those two against each other all year," Tomlin said. " 'Two dogs, one bone' is the phrase we've been using. They've grown because of the competition. They've driven one another. They're not finished products, but it's not too big for them."

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21: Antonio Brown evades tacklers during a punt return against the Oakland Raiders during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Sanders and Brown, who are best friends, didn't permit the competition to affect their friendship.

"Antonio, that's like my brother over there," Sanders said. "Antonio has made me better, and I'm pretty sure he'll tell you that I've made him better. He makes me better because each week you've got to compete in practice every day. You've got to seize the moment."

"This has made me stronger," Brown said. "Football is a challenge, period. I don't take it as me against anyone else. I'm going to make the most of this opportunity."

Given Brown's play-making potential, it was confusing to me why Brown didn't dress for five consecutive games, given that veteran Antwaan Randle El's punt-return role has been reduced because of Sanders.

Randle El is more experienced than Sanders and Brown, but they are younger, faster and have more big-play potential.

Both players have a greater upside than Randle El. The only thing missing is experience.

The only way they'll gain experience is to continue playing and be permitted to play through their mistakes.

Roethlisberger said Brown didn't run the best route on his 21-yard reception, but Roethlisberger still came away impressed.

"He could have had a lot easier catch, but he wrestled it away," Roethlisberger said.

Sanders and Brown were targeted a total of five times against Oakland. Randle El did not record a catch in a game for the first time this season.

Brown had seven punt returns for a 9.4-yard average against the Raiders. Randle El made a fair catch on his only punt return yesterday.

Sanders was optimistic but realistic about the chances of him and Brown playing next Sunday at Buffalo.

"Hopefully next week the same thing happens," Sanders said.

Tomlin, of course, said no such thing.

"They have a ways to go," said the coach. "We're going to continue to use whatever motivational ploy to keep these guys (ready). I don't have to (decide) until 90 minutes before kickoff next week."

Steelers' defense 'took it personally'

Monday, November 22, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21: Troy Polamalu runs with the ball after intercepting a pass against the Oakland Raiders during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

This is how bad the Steelers' defense was in the 39-26 home loss Nov. 14 to the New England Patriots: "If our offense had scored a million points, it wouldn't have mattered," safety Ryan Clark said. "We would have lost, one million-and-one to one million."

This is how good the Steelers' defense was in the 35-3 home win Sunday against the Oakland Raiders: The two teams still could be playing and the Raiders wouldn't have a touchdown. "Your pride kicks in at some point," Clark said. "We all have egos. We took it personally all week. It wasn't because of the bad things people were saying about us. It was because we felt like we let the team down [against New England]. We couldn't allow that to happen again."

And so they didn't.

The performance by the Steelers' defense was especially significant for two reasons:

1) It ended, at least for now, the comparisons to last season when the defense's futility was huge in the team's five-game losing streak after a 6-2 start. A loss Sunday would have made it two in a row after the 6-2 start this season. "I thought our defense came out of the locker room ready to play," coach Mike Tomlin said.

And 2) It came against maybe the NFL's hottest offense. The Raiders came in after averaging 38 points and 458 yards in consecutive wins against Denver, Seattle and Kansas City. Their running game was second best in the league, averaging 162 yards per game. Running back Darren McFadden was best in the league, averaging 108 yards.

On this day, McFadden had nowhere to run. It didn't matter that the Steelers were playing without defensive ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. McFadden finished with an almost-unbelievable 14 yards on 10 carries. As a team, the Raiders had 61 rushing yards, 24 coming on a run by backup Michael Bush late in the third quarter. That was the first run of 20-plus yards that the Steelers allowed this season, making them the last team to give one up. The Raiders finished with 182 total yards, the fewest, by far, that the Steelers have allowed this season.

"We knew they were going to try to run the ball," Clark said. "They weren't going to be tricky. They were just going to try to run downhill. As a defense, we enjoy that. We're built for that. Teams that want to come in and outphysical the Steelers, how many are able to do that well?"

The Raiders had a big problem when they couldn't do it. The other part of their offensive game is the deep pass. "When you can't block 51, 56, 92 and Lawrence" -- that would be linebackers James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons -- "you can't throw the ball downfield," Clark said. "The pressure our guys got was unbelievable."

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21: Jason Campbell is sacked by James Farrior during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Steelers sacked quarterback Jason Campbell four times and drove him out of the game, then got to backup Bruce Gradkowski twice. Harrison had two of the sacks and generally was a monster with two tackles for losses, two quarterback hurries, an interception, a pass defense and a force fumble. Farrior, who played another strong game with seven solo tackles, had a sack as did Woodley, cornerback Bryant McFadden and linebacker Jason Worilds.

"[Defensive coordinator Dick] LeBeau called a lot more blitzes," Harrison said.

"Coach LeBeau called a great game," Clark added.

The Raiders' longest pass was for 17 yards to wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins. They converted just three of 14 third-down situations and made it into Steelers territory twice. Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu had interceptions. Cornerback Ike Taylor forced a fumble that Timmons recovered.

But it wasn't just Taylor and Polamalu who played well in the secondary. Bryant McFadden had a solid game. And get this: So did nickel back William Gay, who was picked on by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, then absolutely trashed by the fans and media. On consecutive plays midway through the first quarter, he strung out Darren McFadden on an end sweep enabling Polamalu to make the tackle for a 5-yard loss, then blitzed and batted down a Campbell pass at the line of scrimmage.

"I was proud of him, how he came to work this week," Clark said. "Here in Pittsburgh, you can't have a bad game. But it wasn't just him. We all didn't play well last week. He came back and played a lot better today and had a lot tighter coverage. And he did it against receivers. He wasn't guarding the tight end like last week."

It's funny how it works in the NFL. When you play poorly, you hear about it from the coach. Tomlin made the Steelers practice in pads on a Wednesday last week for the first time since who knows when. But when you kick a little fanny, you get rewarded. Tomlin gave the team the day off today. It's the first Monday they've had off this season.

"We earned it," Farrior said, grinning.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10326/1105126-66.stm#ixzz160sf8GE8

The going got nasty, and the nasty got going

Monday, November 22, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Line judge Adrian Hill seperates Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Raiders defensive back Mike Mitchell during Sunday's game at Heinz Field.

Just as a matter of taste, that was pretty much exactly what I was looking for in a Steelers-Raiders collision, a total unreconstructed brawl of a football game in which all rules and most protocols are marginalized on the altar of general mayhem.

An actual contest might have been better, but let's not quibble.

First a general description:

Undisciplined, unfocused, unrepentant, unreliable and unforgiven -- and that was just the officials.

"I'm not going to question the officiating," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, last seen 25 yards from the sideline doing exactly that. "I understand the climate that we're in from that standpoint, and I'm just not going to do it; our guys aren't going to do it. We're going to play football, and we're going to try to play it as fairly as we can, as cleanly as we can. We didn't do it very successfully today in some instances."

That the Steelers somehow put a 35-3 tattooing on the white-hot Raiders while simultaneously committing 14 penalties for a franchise record 163 yards was one of those odd creatures so ugly it was beautiful, playing like viral video about the winner of the world's ugliest dog contest.

Usually, coaches will walk into a postgame news conference and announce confidently that you're simply not going to win when you commit 14 penalties, but when the opponent commits seven of its own, including the one that gets its best defensive player ejected, all frets are off.

Decorum had already been hacked to tatters by the time Ben Roethlisberger shot a perfect 22-yard scoring strike to Emmanuel Sanders for a 21-3 lead late in the first half. Then things got nasty.

"Me and him were going at it," said Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu in reference to Oakland defensive tackle Richard Seymour. "Then Ben was saying something and I guess he took it out on Ben."

Seymour turned and popped No. 7 with a straight right, and the quarterback went down like he'd been hit by Mike Tyson. That right got in!

"I haven't seen a quarterback get punched since I've been in the league," Tomlin said. "It was unfortunate. I've got big-time respect for Richard Seymour as a football player."

I've got the same thing for him as a puncher, frankly.

"Definitely, definitely, he should be fined," Kemoeatu said. "I thought that was cheap, really cheap. I mean really uncalled for."

So Kemoeatu hit Seymour in the face, instantly drawing an offsetting penalty.

"I'm sure I'll be hearing about it," he said.

Referee Tony Corrente eventually clicked on the field mic to announce incorrectly that No. 93 (defensive tackle Tommy Kelly), in perhaps some sort of unprecedented James Bond maneuver, "has ejected himself."

That's when Tomlin bolted the sideline to correct Corrente. Seymour should have been ejected instead. Corrente agreed, and Seymour began a deliberate walk to the tunnel that ended around dusk.

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 21: Ryan Clark #25 and James Farrior #51 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Jacoby Ford during the game on November 21, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

In the infractions department, the Steelers were just warming up. Fifteen Steelers were penalized while they were allegedly improving to 7-3. Eighteen flags flew against the Steelers in toto, two on one play, with 14 being enforced, three short of the franchise record.

"It's tough when you play the brand of football that we play," said Steelers safety Ryan Clark, nailed for unnecessary roughness even as he was knocking himself senseless in the first quarter. "But you just have to keep working."

Cornerback Ike Taylor got whistled for interference and for holding, and had his pick-6 nullified when James Harrison collected the second of his three penalties, this for tackling Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell in a manner that apparently caused the poor fella some discomfort.

Harrison accomplished this, in Corrente's words, by falling on him "with the full weight of his body."

I wonder what's the allowable percentage of Harrison's body mass index that can be applied while he's falling on top of an opponent. Perhaps the officials are putting too fine a point on the league's new and worthy safety concerns.

Art Rooney II wouldn't comment about that Sunday, even though he'd previously issued a warning that games like Sunday's impromptu flagapalooza appeared to be inevitable. Had the United States Ambassador to Ireland been on hand, official comment would have not have been so difficult to come by. It would have been harder to avoid.

The league is in a transition period relative to enforcement on the standing rules that prohibit rough play, and inconsistencies are going to be plentiful until it reaches a new understanding.

But that doesn't excuse the seven holding penalties the Steelers drew, nor the two offside penalties, nor the illegal block, illegal formation and clipping penalties.

Clipping? They still have that?

What's next, piling on?

The Steelers endured their first 100-plus-yard penalty episode since Nov. 16, 2008 (a 115-yard atrocity they also managed to win, 11-10, against San Diego). Eighty-eight penalty yards was their previous high this season; 85 last year.

But I know this: You're not going to beat a fine club like the Buffalo Bills committing 14 penalties for 163 yards. Or certainly not by more than 35-3.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10326/1105134-66.stm#ixzz160r4ROl6

Raiders not ready to join elite

By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Inside the Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Tribune
Sunday, November 21st, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is helped from the field by Steelers guard Willie Colon after being hit late by Oakland Raiders defensive end Richard Seymour in the second quarter of the NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010, in Pittsburgh. (AP)

The Raiders hoped to take a step up in class Sunday and instead returned to earth.

Gone is first place. That belongs to the Kansas City Chiefs. Gone is a three-game win streak, courtesy of a 35-3 beatdown at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

It didn’t stop there. The Raiders lost their poise when Richard Seymour, by acclimation a team leader and their best defensive player, knocked Ben Roethlisberger to the turf with an open right hand to the jaw and was ejected following a Steelers touchdown pass.

The Raiders lost their running game, stopped in its tracks to the tune of 61 yards on 18 carries by a Pittsburgh defense that was as good as advertised - maybe even better - in terms of rushing defense.

The Raiders lost their dominance at the line of scrimmage, which had been evident over the past three weeks, and were whipped on both sides of the line by the Steelers.

They also look to have lost defensive end Trevor Scott, who sustained a knee injury (a possible season-ending ACL tear) while playing on the punt team on the final play of the first half.

Still intact is the Raiders ineptitude following a bye. They’ve lost eight straight times after an in-season week off.

You’ve got to hand it to the Raiders - when they go down, they go down in flames.

Some news, notes, quotes (courtesy of those on site and the Steelers’ P.R. department) and observations from the Raiders’ most convincing loss of the season:

– When Seymour yanked on the hair of Ryan Clady last year against Denver, he wouldn’t talk about it. Not so with his knockdown of Seymour in the first half.

“Well, first of all, I thought I let my teammates down,” Seymour said. “You never want to do anything to hurt the team. That’s first and foremost. It was a lot of ongoing (stuff) and you’re just out there to protect yourselv. It’s still no excuse. I’m not sure exactly what happened on the play. I just turned around, and he ran up on me quick. It was just a natural reaction.”

Roethlisberger was indeed taking a chance, running up on a player, particularly when his aim was to rub Seymour’s face in the fact that the Steelers had just scored.

“I just said, `Let’s get ready for the extra point,’ ” Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger also said, “I was not expecting that from him. Let’s move on.”

If that’s the case, Roethlisberger doesn’t know Seymour. As defensive coordinator John Marshall and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly both pointed out during the week, Seymour is not a nice guy on the field. He’s let his emotions get the better of him before.

If Roethisberger’s goal was to goad Seymour into in infraction that would remove the Raiders’ best defender from the field, he was successful. He’s also lucky he didn’t end up with a broken jaw for his troubles.

“I wasn’t around it but I heard Big Ben said something and I guess Big Rich didn’t like what he said,” Kelly said.

Raiders coach Tom Cable said he never saw the infraction (even though it was shown on the scoreboard at the stadium). Reminds me of the time Terrell Owens raced to the middle of the field and raised his arms at the Dallas star, instigating a brawl, and 49ers coaches insisted they never saw it.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin made no such claim.

“I haven’t seen a quarterback get punched since I’ve been in this league after a play like that,” Tomlin said. “It was unfortunate. I’ve got big-time respect for Richard Seymour as a football player. The guys’ got an 11-year resume that’s pretty impressive. (The game) got away from all of us today.

“I’m not going to let that play cloud my opinion of Richard Seymour. I think he’s an awesome football player and professional. It just got away from us, all parties involved, today.”

Steelers guard Chris Kemoeautu said he and Seymour had been going at it “exchanging words and punches the whole game, but if he had something personal with me, he should have taken it out on me, not Ben.”

More Kemoeatu:

“We knew how physical it was going o be and we weren’t going to take any BS from them. If they were going to try and push us around after the whistle, we wer going to try and get the last push in. If it was going to exchange words, we were going to get the last word in.”

– Pittsburgh wound up with 14 penalties for a franchise 163 yards, the Raiders seven for 55.

“We had to give it everything we got, whether it was eye-gouging or spitting on each other. A lot of that was going on this game. It’s uncalled for, but in the heat of battle, it happens,” Kemoeatu said.

– Considering the climate in the NFL, particularly when it comes to protecting quarterbacks, the Raiders are probably holding their breath that there is no suspension to go along with what will be a hefty fine for Seymour.

Asked if Seymour should be suspended, Pittsburgh’s Harrison said, “I don’t see why not. They’re trying to suspend guys for hits when that’s within the whistles - some hits that guys can’t even stop from doing . . . you tell me what the next step is for a guy who, blatantly outside the play, when it’s already said and done, and a guy is celebrating with his teammates, you punch him in the face.”

Oakland Raiders defensive end Richard Seymour leaves the field after being ejected for hitting Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger well after a touchdown-pass in the second quarter. (AP)

– Cable’s reaction was to move on.

“We’ve got to acknowledge the fact that we just got our tails whipped and move forward and don’t hang our heads and sit around and feel sorry for ourselves,” Cable said. “We’ve got work to do and we’ve got a good team coming to Oakland next week in Miami.”

– During the week, Cable talked about the possibility that field position would be a major factor. As it turned out, it was. The Raiders started 14 drives from an average of the 19.1-yard line and never beyond their own 28.

“It was big,” Cable said. “We weren’t doing enough offensively to change that. I thought the punting game was doing a good job of trying to balance it back up. Defensively, we were getting some stops but we weren’t able to get a couple first downs offensively where you are able to change it.”

– Here was Cable’s reasoning for yanking Campbell, which includes his rationale for staying with him against the Dolphins:

“They turned up the blitz a little bit more on him and it started to get out of hand a little bit for him. He’ll be the starter next week. There is no issue there. We just felt like a change was needed. As we all saw, it didn’t make a lot of difference.”

Guessing a lot of the fan base thinks there is an issue there.

– Campbell was 7 of 19 for 70 yards and an interception (and was fortunate to have a second pick returned for a touchdown by Ike Taylor called back on a questionable roughing call on Harrison). Gradkowski sparked some offense, but no points. He was 13 of 24 for 98 yards and forced an interception on Troy Polamalu when the Raiders had finally gotten deep into Pittsburgh territory.

“Today they were bringing a lot of blitzes, and their best players stepped up and made plays,” Campbell said. “We played against a real tough defense today and we’ve got to put this game behind us and bounce back.”

– Last week’s 39-26 loss to New England may have been the worst thing that could have happened to the Raiders, other than their own play.

“We got handled really good last week,” Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison said. “Compliments to New England - they played a great game and executed well. We wanted to come out and try and dominate this game and get back to the way we play ball.”

Linebacker Lemarr Woodley said the game plan was simple - choke off the run and get after Campbell.

“We knew what kind of team Oakland was and wanted to get in here and shut off the run,” Woodley said. “Once we did that, we forced them to go to the air, got some turnovers, hit their quarterback a few times and came out on top.”

– The Steelers rushed for 162 yards, but their lead back, Rashard Mendenhall, managed just 59 yards on 23 carries. The rushing yardage was inflated by 55 yards on three scrambles by Roethlisberger.

“They came out trying to enforce their toughness on us, but I don’t feel like nobody manhandled us today,” Kelly said. “I just feel like we didn’t execute our game plan. They didn’t run the ball down nobody’s throat. He got a couple of scrambles that hurt us.”

– According to the NFL Network, the Raiders complained to the league about the condition of the field before the game. Heinz Field is used by both the Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh.

“It was terrible,” Kelly said. “They got big divots like we’re playing golf out there. Come on, man. My shoe came off one time because my foot was stuck in the ground. You got professional groundskeepers. That should be taken care of.”

– Other than defensive end Trevor Scott, out for the year if he indeed has an ACL tear, the only player who didn’t complete the game other than Seymour was cornerback Chris Johnson (groin).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Analysis: Somehow, Crosby is now an underrated player

Sunday, November 21, 2010

No athlete should benefit as much from a TV show as Penguins center Sidney Crosby will from HBO's "24/7" next month.

The hockey world is about to get a behind-the-scenes reminder of just how valuable the NHL's biggest name is to his club. That value has been overlooked lately, as Crosby has become to his sport what Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is to his: underappreciated.

Crosby, 23, and Bryant, 32, are generally considered the most insatiably competitive, fundamentally flawless and steel-nerved players in their sport — in addition to being perennial top-five scorers on championship contenders. Yet, each owns just one just one regular-season MVP award.

It hasn't seemed to matter that both athletes have come close to doing the impossible by living up to their "next" tags. Bryant is one title from matching Michael Jordan's six. Crosby was the youngest captain of a Stanley Cup champion.

It hasn't seemed to register that each player has changed the core of his game. The aging Bryant, now primarily a deadly post-up shooter after years of slashing to the hoop, has averaged 27 points the past three seasons despite playing about four fewer minutes. Crosby, his legs still young, has averaged 0.64 goals per game since the start of last season compared to 0.46 in three prior campaigns.

Historically, the elite players adjust their styles — not to preserve, but to continue thriving. Bryant and Crosby have done exactly that. Crosby is skating on untested ice by dramatically morphing from playmaker to scorer at this early stage of his career.

Still, even off to the best goal start of his career (14 in 21 games) and with 10 of the 25 individual multipoint games recorded for a club with a bottom-third power play, Crosby is not the quarter-pole favorite for MVP.

That spot belongs to Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, the NHL leader through Friday in goals and points, according to rankings by ESPN.com and USA Today. Those are subject to personal bias — not that Hart Trophy voting by select members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association eliminates that possibility.

(Full disclosure: This reporter, a voting member for the PHWA year-end awards, didn't have Crosby in his top five for MVP two weeks ago in USA Today's biweekly rankings.)

Crosby is astonishingly undervalued by the media, even some members who are around him daily. But not anymore. Not after the past two weeks.

The Penguins were 6-6-1 before he scored twice to nearly rally them to a win at Anaheim on Nov. 5. That was the first of his eight straight games with a point, six of which were multipoint efforts. He has eight goals and 18 points in the span, and the Penguins have gone 5-2-1.

Crosby elevated his performances with his team seemingly at a crisis point. No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's confidence was nowhere to be found. No. 2 scorer Evgeni Malkin was inconsistent at best. Elite two-way center Jordan Staal had yet to play. The defense was leakier than Civic Arena's pipes.

Crosby boosted Fleury with public support. He produced while Malkin, who found his groove and has 10 points in his past five games. He won 90 of 136 faceoffs, nearly a 10 percent improvement on his 56.7 average.

He has done this after a season that was arguably his most impressive. In his fifth campaign, Crosby bested his single-season goal total by 12 on his way to 51 markers; finished tied for second in the NHL with 109 points; won 55.9 percent of faceoffs; and led the Penguins in scoring by 32 points — the greatest margin between a No. 1 and 2 scorers on a playoff team.

All that got him was a third-place finish in the Hart Trophy voting, his 720 points behind Henrik Sedin's 894 and Alex Ovechkin's 834 — even though Ovechkin and Sedin played with a teammate in the top 15 in scoring.

Crosby has 121 goals and 317 points in 232 regular-season games since winning his lone scoring title and MVP three years ago. He hasn't become any less valuable — just better every year.

"The type of game he plays, you really need to see every day to appreciate it," Penguins left wing Pascal Dupuis said.

HBO's camera crew will arrive in two weeks to spend a month for "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic." Along that road, everybody will get to see how valuable Crosby has been all along.

Give Thanks He's Here

The NHL's top scorers between Nov. 28, 2009, when Penguins center Sidney Crosby had a hat trick against the New York Rangers, and Friday:

Sidney Crosby, Penguins: 76 games — 53 goals, 64 assists, 117 points

Henrik Sedin, Canucks: 76 — 17, 93, 110

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals: 73 — 43, 64, 107

Daniel Sedin, Canucks: 75 — 41, 63, 104

Steven Stamkos, Lightning: 78 — 54, 47, 101

Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals: 77 — 35, 64, 99

Alexander Semin, Capitals: 75 — 45, 47, 92

Martin St. Louis, Lightning: 78 — 32, 60, 92

Eric Staal, Hurricanes: 74 — 35, 51, 86

Brad Richards, Stars: 74 — 26, 59, 85

Source: Penguins media relations

Defense gives us a reason to worry

Sunday, November 21, 2010
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH - NOVEMBER 14: Danny Woodhead of the New England Patriots runs by the Pittsburgh Steelers defense during the game on November 14, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Getty Images)

Watching Brett Keisel jogging on his recalcitrant hamstring toward the Steelers locker room after practice the other day, you'd never have suspected there was anything wrong, which is not something you could say about Pittsburgh's defense as a whole.

Or is it hole?

When you watch those guys, you know something's wrong. Something's pretty terribly wrong.


"I'm not concerned, no," said Keisel, trying desperately as we speak to give Mike Tomlin's team at least one of its starting defensive ends back. "But it'll be interesting to see how the defense reacts when you get punched in the mouth like we did last week."

The defense already had begun spitting out teeth anyway. Aaron Smith had long since gone to the sideline more-or-less permanently with a muscle tear, Keisel soon joined him, and now Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons have endured a week of limited practice.

The monitors in the recovery room are spitting too, spraying pejorative data in all directions.

This is a defense coming off a 29-point second half at the imperturbable direction of Tom Brady, coming off New England's 5-for-5 in the redzone (with three touchdowns), coming off a couple of 300-yard passing performances in the past three weeks.

In those three weeks, the Steelers have permitted seven touchdowns through the air. In the previous six weeks, they'd permitted only four.

"I think you always have to factor in who we were playing against," said cornerback Bryant McFadden. "You're talking about Drew Brees (sparking a 20-10 victory at New Orleans) and Tom Brady, and those guys were executing at a very high level.

"What we've got to do is go back to focusing on details."

But New England didn't just torch the place with Brady's fire. The Patriots became the first Steelers opponent this season to actually come close to running the ball at its customary output. They clawed out 103 ground yards, just four below their average, and as Bill Belichick said afterward, "We made them worry about it."

Worry might be a viable emotion for the matter at hand.

The most dangerous aspect of this afternoon's appointment has become the unspoken notion that the Oakland Raiders represent some kind of break in the headwind of talent that's ripped Pittsburgh's defensive reputation.

I wouldn't take much comfort in the giggly trivia that the Raiders are trying to win a fourth straight game today for the first time in eight years. That might be the big picture, but it's crazily out of focus. The Raiders of November 2010 are a much-improved version of the Raiders of December 2009, who scored three touchdowns in the final 8:21 to beat the Steelers, 24-21.

That means an encore engagement from mercurial wideout Louis Murphy, last seen in these parts racking up 128 yards and two touchdowns in that fourth quarter last Dec. 6. But this time, running back Darren McFadden arrives in Pittsburgh as the NFL's leading rusher, and the receiving corps includes one Jacoby Ford, the best player on the field two weeks ago when the Raiders clipped the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime to take over first place in the AFC West.

Raiders coach Tom Cable handed Ford the game ball minutes afterward, or long before NFL historians were even able to put his explosiveness into any kind of context. Ford, the rookie out of Clemson, had six catches for 148 yards when he wasn't piling up 158 yards returning kickoffs, one of which measured 94 yards and six points. On the way, Ford joined former Steeler Gary Ballman as the only players in league history to have at least 140 receiving yards to go with 150 or more kick return yards on one afternoon. Ballman did it at Washington five days before the Kennedy assassination.

The specter of a Raiders offense that averages 20 first downs, 361 yards and 26 points per game isn't exactly what Dick LeBeau's defense needs right now, but there are some coping mechanisms and they're not all that mysterious.

A sack, for example, would be nice.

There were none against New England.

A turnover, for another, would be nifty.

There were none against New England as Pittsburgh's always favorable turnover ratio has been inverted in the past month. The Steelers were a plus 9 for five weeks, a minus 1 for the last four.

A return to the lineup of a healthy Keisel might also prove beneficial.

"I don't know," Keisel said when asked pointedly. "I'm going to try, but we don't want it to go backwards. We have to go forward."

There was little sense of urgency in the big guy's voice, maybe because, as he insists, he's not concerned yet.

"If for some reason we don't play well, then, yeah, concern will set it," he said. "But I have faith in these guys."

Ya gotta have faith, but a lot of times, a strip sack is better.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10325/1104903-150.stm#ixzz15vm8kBmw

On the Penguins: Grading the first quarter

Sunday, November 21, 2010
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Penguins stumbled to a 1-3 start this season, and closed out the first quarter on a 4-0-1 run.

Seems only fitting, considering the extreme highs and lows they experienced through the first 21 games.

They had goaltending that ranged from awful to awesome. Penalty-killing that was as outstanding as their power play was exasperating. Evgeni Malkin would be magical in one game and go missing the next.

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Penguins forward Sidney Crosby has scored 33 points this season.

The reassuring thing for the Penguins, if there is one, is that their 11-8-2 record puts them on pace for a 94-point season, even though they haven't come close to playing their best with any sort of regularity.

There's no guarantee they ever will, of course, but if they do, those who projected them as a serious contender for the Stanley Cup will have a reasonably good chance of being correct.

Some facts, figures and reflections from the first quarter of the season:

• It is impossible to say, with any degree of certainty, that Sidney Crosby will win another scoring championship or league MVP award this season. If he continues to perform the way he did through the first six weeks, however, betting against him will be no way to get rich.

• The Penguins have proven they're capable of playing pretty well in their own end. What they haven't shown is that they are able, or perhaps willing, to do in game-in and game-out. On more than a few occasions, their team defense has been about as airtight as a window screen.

• The No. 1 power-play unit features two of the most gifted forwards in the world, Crosby and Malkin, yet the Penguins enter the second quarter having scored on just 13.5 percent of their chances with the extra man. That was good for 25th place in the NHL rankings going into Saturday night's games and, based on the quality of the Penguins' work with the man-advantage much of the time, they're lucky to be that high. While there's nothing easy about this game, is getting pucks and bodies to the net as hard as the power play has made it look at times?

• Remember when rookie center Mark Letestu stunned people by putting up four goals and three assists in the first seven games? He has no goals and two assists in the 14 since. A reasonable level of production for Letestu, who is not in the league solely because of his ability to generate points, is somewhere in the middle.

• The Penguins have shown a willingness to block shots, especially when they're shorthanded. They're averaging 12.8 blocks per game, but that's down from 14.4 last season. The Mark Eaton/Jay McKee factor, perhaps?

• Few things in this sport are more obvious than when Marc-Andre Fleury is playing with confidence, as he has during his past five starts. He's much more patient and under control, and a lot less likely to rely on the poke-check that seems to cause him more problems than it solves. Fleury has, at various points in his career, shown just how good he can be. His challenge for the rest of this season -- and the balance of his career -- is to make protracted slumps a rarity, not a staple of his routine.

• A month and a half ago, signing Mike Comrie for $500,000 looked like it had real potential to be a classic low-risk, high-reward winner for general manager Ray Shero. It didn't take long for Comrie to play his way out of the lineup, however, and unless something dramatic happens, it's hard to imagine at this point that he will be much more than an afterthought here before moving on.

• If the Penguins got a point in the standings for every blind, backhand pass thrown by Crosby and Malkin, they'd have clinched home-ice advantage for every round of the playoffs by Halloween.

• Looking for a reason to believe the Penguins can improve on their record? How about this: Crosby is the only one of their big-ticket talents to regularly produce to expectations this season. Malkin and Fleury have been up and down, and newcomers Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek have not played to the level they routinely reached with their former teams. If the top-earners on this team get their games in sync and keep them there, this group could do some serious damage.

• Most people seemed to recognize before this season that Jordan Staal was an important member of this club. Nothing he ever did on the ice, however, made that point as emphatically as his absence during the past six-plus weeks. If Staal is in the lineup, it's hard to imagine that things like the Penguins' third-period implosion against Boston Nov. 10 happen.

• The Penguins have taken seven of the past eight points up for grabs at Consol Energy Center. That's an encouraging pace, considering how poorly they fared there through the early weeks.

• Part of the reason the Penguins are reasonably well-positioned in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference races, despite all that has gone wrong so far, is the play of supporting-cast members like Deryk Engelland and Brent Johnson. The toughness and timely goaltending, respectively, they've contributed has been invaluable.

• Is it too late to fire Mike Yeo over the Penguins' wretched power play? Sure, he left the staff many months ago to become head coach of Minnesota's American Hockey League affiliate in Houston, but this has to be his fault, doesn't it?

Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10325/1104968-61.stm#ixzz15vlI0JSu