Saturday, November 30, 2013

Steelers' Bell earns respect of his peers

By Mark Kaboly
Published: Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Jimmy Smith knocks the helmet off Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell late in the fourth quarter. Bell was originally credited with a TD but on replay the ball was ruled dead at the 1-yard-line. (Gail Burton / Associated Press)

Jonathan Dwyer made sure he let Le'Veon Bell know the gravity of the situation.

Trailing by eight with a little more than 90 seconds remaining in a must-win game against Baltimore, Bell “needed to get in.”

“When I said that, he responded, ‘I got you,'” Dwyer said.

Bell ended up not getting the touchdown on a technicality, but gained something much more valuable, especially for a 21-year-old rookie playing in only his ninth career game.


Bell was knocked unconscious and lay motionless during a scary play involving a pair of traumatic head hits from Baltimore's Jimmy Smith and Courtney Upshaw that was violent enough to dislodge Bell's helmet.

“He sold himself out to score and you have to respect that,” Dwyer said.

Bell was diagnosed with a concussion, was helped off the field and did not return. The Steelers scored two plays later, but a failed two-point conversion gave the Ravens a 22-20 victory that catapulted them to the top of the AFC wild-card race while severely damaging the Steelers' hopes.

The effort resonated with veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery.

“He just laid it on the line during that point in time because he knew how important that play was for us,” Cotchery said. “We definitely have a lot of respect for him.”

The helmet hits to Bell was so violent that it snapped the hardened plastic clip on the right side of the helmet that holds the facemask in place. A Steelers equipment man said Friday while repairing it in the locker room that he never saw that happen before.

“It was really scary,” Cotchery said. “It was a real violent play. When his helmet came off you really didn't see him moving. That's not a sight you want to see.”

The Steelers did not update Bell's status Friday, but all indications point toward him being OK.
Bell took to Twitter to provide some information.

“I just wanna thank everyone for the txts and tweets...I am okayy! thanks for all your concern, I really appreciate it!,” Bell tweeted.

Dwyer said he talked to Bell Friday when the team met at the practice facility, and said Bell was in good spirits.

“We joked around about it,” Dwyer said. “We were talking about how he sacrificed his body for the team. You forget about the game there and think about life. Thank God he is OK.”

Bell will have to go through a series of concussion-related test before being allowed back on the field. Once symptoms have completely subsided, Bell will have to perform more comprehensive neuropsychological tests by team neurologist Dr. Joseph Maroon before being cleared to play.
The Steelers have an extended period of time off since they played on Thursday. They don't return to full practice until Wednesday before hosting Miami on Dec. 8.

“He understands the significance of the injury,” Dwyer said. “He is going to be smart about it and he's going to be come back when he is 100 percent ready. If he is ready this week, he's ready this week. If it is next week, then whatever. Just be smart about it.”

Bell has been getting better every week since missing the majority of the preseason and the first three games of the regular season with a foot injury. Bell had his best game against the Ravens as he rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown, averaged 4.6 yards per carry, had a career-long run of 43 yards and caught 7 passes for 63 yards.

Bell is one of 11 running backs in the league who is averaging more than 90 yards of total offense per game.

“He does whatever he needs to do to help the team win ball games,” Cotchery said. “That play where he got hurt, that is the type of guy he is. He just laid it on the line.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib

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Kunitz's 2 goals lead Penguins, 3-0

By Bob Bellone
November 29, 2013
Chris Kunitz (14) scores a goal in the first period of yesterday's 3-0 win at Tampa (Chris O'Meara/AP)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Sidney Crosby hit a milestone and helped his team get a win.

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Chris Kunitz scored two goals and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 21 shots, leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.
Crosby had assists on all three goals for Pittsburgh, which extended its winning streak in the series to eight games.
The Penguins also halted the Lightning's bid to tie a club record with an eighth consecutive triumph on home ice.
Kunitz opened the scoring seven minutes in, taking a pass from Crosby and lifting it past Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop from the left circle. Kunitz sealed the win, scoring into an empty net with 1:43 remaining in the game.
Crosby's accomplishment caught the attention of his coach.

Fri, Nov 29, 2013

Tampa Bay0
''It is amazing how often and how fast he has been on that score sheet,'' Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of Crosby, whose second assist was the 700th point of his career.
Crosby, the NHL leader this season with 36 points, appreciates the milestone.
''You obviously play to win, but when you get things like that, little individual things, I guess you enjoy it for a little bit,'' he said. ''It's fun to see that, but ultimately you play to win games. It's nice we were able to get a win in the same night.''
Brandon Sutter scored the second Pittsburgh goal on a power play midway into the third period. Sutter took his own rebound behind the net and banked it off the leg of Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman on the opposite side.
''It's part of the game. It was a really lucky bounce for them and unfortunate for us,'' Hedman said. ''Down one goal and they get a lucky one on the power play, so obviously it sucks a little momentum out of you. ... It could have gone either way. They got the bounces today.''

Three Stars

  1. Marc-Andre Fleury
    #29, Pittsburgh
  2. J.T. Brown
    #23, Tampa Bay
  3. Brandon Sutter
    #16, Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay had several excellent scoring chances. Richard Panik got loose in front of the Pittsburgh net just before the second intermission, but was stopped by Fleury, who earlier made a save on Nikita Kucherov on a partial breakaway.
''Part of the problem tonight was we let Fleury see shots, not all of them, but too many,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. ''And we were really having a tough time getting pucks to the net.''
The Lightning also came up empty in three man-advantage situations.
Bishop, who finished with 26 saves, has lost twice in his past three games.
The early goal set the tone for Pittsburgh, which has won all but one of the 15 games in which it scored first. The Penguins are 9-0 when leading after the first period, and Tampa Bay is 0-6 when behind after one.
NOTES: Crosby, Kunitz and C Evgeni Malkin each have seven-game point streaks against the Lightning, with a combined 23 goals and 22 assists. ... Pittsburgh broke a tie with Tampa Bay for second place in the Eastern Conference. ... Penguins LW James Neal was held without a point for the first time in six games, having collected 11 on six goals and five assists in his past five outings.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Steelers' longest half-yard

By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, 1:30 a.m.

BALTIMORE — The Steelers had come so far, if you think about it. And I don't just mean the literal and figurative mileage from the flops in London and Oakland or even the hard math of the 0-4 start that, by every reasonable reckoning, should have ruined them right away.
I mean, they had come so far to fall so hard, so close.
You stayed up and saw the final score: Ravens 22, Steelers 20.
You saw how it ended, too, with Emmanuel Sanders dropping yet another ball on a two-point try that would have tied the score with a minute left.
It was awful.
It was deflating.
It was, as a stone-faced Sanders would say when surrounded by cameras and microphones at his stall, “Really tough to take right now.”
It might even have been devastating for a team that could have uncannily overcome that start and climbed to .500 but instead fell to 5-7 and right back out of the AFC playoff picture.
And yet here's what's worse, if you ask me: All that transpired in that final minute and a half, all it took to cover that final yard and a half for the touchdown that set up the two-point try, all that went into the incompletion itself … was so sadly avoidable.
Let's rewind a bit: On that same final drive, Ben Roethlisberger fired a 20-yard bullet to Heath Miller for an apparent touchdown. But a video review showed Miller's knee touching before the ball crossed the plane.
“The ball will be spotted at the half-yard line,” referee Clete Blakeman told the crowd of 71,005 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Todd Haley sent in the next play. And this is where stuff started getting sticky, whether through lousy luck or not.
Roethlisberger didn't like the call.
Sometimes we just have to guess at that sort of thing. Not this time. Roethlisberger said so in no uncertain terms when asked why he had gone to the sideline and had a brief conversation with Haley.
“I went over there to get us out of the play he was going to call,” Roethlisberger said. “I knew what play was coming because we had talked on the sideline, so I just wanted to get over there and voice my opinion. I thought we had a better play down there than the one that we were going to do.”
Roethlisberger wanted to run, so he called a handoff to Le'Veon Bell, who sprinted off left tackle and dived into the end zone. But before the ball crossed, Bell's helmet was knocked off by a headfirst hit from Courtney Upshaw. Bell and another Baltimore player, Lardarius Webb, were shaken up, and Bell had to leave with what Mike Tomlin would later describe as a concussion.
Still, the play itself worked. Well, at least until an arcane — and ridiculous — rule was invoked that a play is ruled dead at the point of the ballcarrier's helmet coming off.
The ball was back at the half-yard line.
The third time would be the charm when Roethlisberger found Jerricho Cotchery all alone just to the right edge of the line with 1:06 remaining.
All they needed now was the two-point try to tie.
One problem: That was the two-point play.
Whether it was the infamous two-point play Tomlin laughably explained a couple years ago that he'd been saving in his “hip pocket,” we might never know. But it was the two-point play that was supposed to be used on this occasion, until it was needed for a touchdown.
So what to call for a two-point play now?
“Same exact play,” was how Roethlisberger described what came next.
It really was. The same receivers went to the same spots, same cadence, same everything … except the result.
Sanders dropped it. It clanged off his hands and fell to the turf, no fewer than the fourth time that occurred in the game.
“I didn't make the play necessary for my team to win, and I take complete fault for it,” Sanders said. “It's my fault was lost.”
Well, maybe yes and maybe no. Roethlisberger's thinking was this: Antonio Brown would be double-covered. Cotchery would be covered because he had just scored and he has seven other touchdowns this season.
So Roethlisberger decided immediately — “The way that play's drawn up doesn't give you any time to look left or right,” he said. “You have to get rid of the ball” — and chose Sanders, partly because of single coverage, partly because a reserve corner, Chykie Brown, had just stepped into the game for Webb.
“I knew they'd come after me,” Brown would say.
Roethlisberger's pass wasn't great, and, indeed, he had more than his share of misfires on this night. Moreover, Sanders admitted he didn't see it until late because Brown was in his face.
But the play still needed to be made.
Or it needed to be a better play.
Or there has to be another option that comes in from the sideline when Plan B had just become Plan A.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to turn this into another Haley bashing, and I'm not going to pretend that there weren't other factors in this loss, not least of which was the defensive secondary again crumbling when it counted most. There was fault to go around.
But this offense still clearly lacks imagination, diversity and, yeah, let's bring it up for the millionth time, a healthy vibe between quarterback and offensive coordinator.
Roethlisberger didn't make those last two calls. Haley did. Cotchery pointed out, too, that they used the same play last week in Cleveland to score on short yardage.
Is that a playbook or a one-page manual?
There isn't more?
Or could the coordinator have worried that the quarterback would come running over to the sideline again if he didn't like hearing a different signal?
What's going on isn't good enough, and if you need more evidence, then listen to Roethlisberger when asked why the Steelers didn't produce much until going to the no-huddle in the fourth quarter.
“I don't know,” he said. “Maybe with the no-huddle, going up-tempo, working with coach Haley during timeouts … I thought we did well tonight, but we were a little too late.”
The Steelers called five plays out of the no-huddle in the first half.
After averaging 31 points in their previous four games, largely because of the no-huddle, they called five plays from it in the first half.
What did the quarterback think of that?
“At times, it's hard to do a lot of the things we want to do. But we did it late, and maybe we should have done it earlier. And maybe I should have voiced that a little more. I'll take that on myself, as well.”
Feels like the ball is right back on that half-yard line again, huh?

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Tough loss for Steelers on several levels

By Scott Brown
November 29, 2013

Jacoby Jones returns a kickoff 73 yards to set up a Ravens field goal in the third quarter of last night's game.

BALTIMORE -- Fernando Velasco sat in front of his locker as a trainer fit his right foot for a boot and then adjusted the crutches that the Steelers center needed to walk out of M&T Bank Stadium. 

The Steelers were a lot like Velasco at the end of another classic slugfest with their bitter rivals and mirror image. 

Banged up following a valiant effort, the Steelers are also in need of some assistance after losing a 22-20 heartbreaker to the Ravens in a game each team badly needed to win. 

For all that prevented the Steelers from sweeping the Ravens for the first time since 2008 -- the early play-calling was as mystifying as it was conservative and there were assorted special-teams blunders -- they had the home team right where they wanted it after Ben Roethlisberger calmly flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery on fourth down. 

The Steelers called the same exact play on the two-point conversion that would have tied a game. Roethlisberger went to the other side of the field this time, noting that that Chykie Brown had just entered the game at cornerback for the injured Jimmy Smith and had man coverage on Emmanuel Sanders

Roethlisberger threw a quick, back-shoulder pass to Sanders, and the ball sailed through the hands of the player who fashions himself as a No. 1 receiver. 

A lame onside kick attempt by Shaun Suisham sealed the Steelers' seventh loss in 12 games, and the defeat means Pittsburgh has to win its final four games just to give itself a chance of making the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team. 

“I don't expect any quit,” a resolute Roethlisberger said after almost pulling off one of his patented fourth-quarter comebacks. “We haven't quit to this point. I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to fight my butt off all the way to the end.” 

The Steelers did just that after falling behind 13-0 and after injuries scrambled their offensive line more than usual. They also saw one of their players knocked out cold but were, oddly enough, the team penalized in the name of safety. 

Le'Veon Bell, who had the best game of his promising career, appeared to score a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. It came after a frightening collision with Smith near the goal line that caused Bell's helmet to pop off just before he fell across the goal line. A prayer circle quickly formed as medical personnel tended to the concussed Bell, and by the time he had been helped to his feet a rule that is supposed to protect players had taken the touchdown off the scoreboard. Since plays are ruled dead the moment a runner's helmet comes off, the ball was placed at the 1-yard line following a booth review of Bell's score. 

The Steelers needed two more plays to score their third touchdown of the second half against a Ravens team that has one of the best red-zone defenses in the NFL. But they ultimately came up a play short in yet another Steelers-Ravens game that was was tighter than a shrunken turtleneck. 

One thing that bodes well for the Steelers staying together and at least making a run at 9-7 is how quickly players were to accept blame for the loss. 

“It's my fault that we lost,” Sanders said. “It's something I've got to deal with, but I'm not going to let it hold me down. Redemption Sunday is coming up.” 

Sanders acknowledged that Brown did a good job of shielding the ball from his line of vision on the two-point conversion, but added, “That's no excuse. I consider myself a big-time player. I've got to come up with those plays.” 

Troy Polamalu said the Steelers' defense didn't make enough plays even though it kept the Ravens out of the end zone after Baltimore's first possession of the game. 

“Their defense played better than ours,” the Pro Bowl strong safety said. “That's what won them the game.” 

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, said he could have done more to help he Steelers win even though he played brilliantly in leading the Steelers back from double-digit deficits twice in the second half. 

Roethlisberger completed 28 of 44 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and he had the Ravens' defense on its heels by the end of the game. 

Had the Steelers attacked more in the first half than they did in the final two quarters they may have never needed Sanders to make what would have been a tough catch to send the game into overtime. 

But an insipid offensive game plan made it look like the Steelers were playing not to lose when they had every reason in the world to do whatever it took to win. 

The Steeler managed just 98 yards on total offense in the first half, and they didn't score before halftime for the first time this season. The Steelers went with a no-huddle attack almost exclusively in the second half. 

“Maybe we should have done it earlier and maybe I should have voiced that more, so I'll take that [blame] myself as well,” Roethlisberger said. 

Such selflessness in defeat isn't easy to muster, especially given all that was on the line and all of the good the Steelers did only to wind up with a loss. 

As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “I appreciate the effort of the guys, but we didn't come down here with effort in mind. We came here to win.” 

That's what made Roethlisberger and Sanders such a compelling sight as the latter walked to his locker after the loss that the Steelers may not be able to overcome. Roethlisberger pulled Sanders close and talked to him. 

"That's for us," Roethlisberger later said of the conversation. "In general [it was], 'Keep your head up.'" 

The Steelers will try to do the same.

Penguins rally past Maple Leafs 6-5 in shootout

By Will Graves
November 27, 2013
Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin puts the game-winning goal behind Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) to end a shootout during an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Penguins spent the first 25 minutes against the Toronto Maple Leafs showcasing all of their flaws, from defensive breakdowns to spotty goaltending to questionable decision-making.
Then they spent the next 40 providing a reminder why they remain one of the most potent teams in the NHL.
Evgeni Malkin picked up his first two-goal game in more than 18 months and added the game-winner in the shootout and Pittsburgh rallied by the stunned Maple Leafs 6-5 on Wednesday night.
''That game was all over the place,'' Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.
So was Bylsma's team, which fell behind 4-1 and 5-3 - looking comical at times in the process - before getting its act together in the third period.
Malkin and James Neal both scored in the third to tie it up, with Malkin and Sidney Crosby beating Toronto's Jonathan Bernierin the shootout as Pittsburgh narrowly avoided its third three-game losing streak of the season.

Wed, Nov 27, 2013

''Give everyone credit for sticking with it, because that first 25 minutes is as ugly as it gets,'' Crosby said.
Chris Conner and Kris Letang also scored for Pittsburgh while Crosby added two assists to lift his point total to a league-leading 33. Rookie Jeff Zatkoff stopped 11 of 13 shots after replacing ineffective starter Marc-Andre Fleury less than a minute into the second period.
''Jeff came in and made the stops he needed to make and played heads up,'' Bylsma said.
Having the third period off helped too. Toronto didn't record a single shot over the final 25 minutes of play and went 0 for 2 in the shootout.
James van Riemsdyk scored twice and added an assist for the Maple Leafs. Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri also scored for Toronto, but the Maple Leafs lost their way after taking a big lead.
''I thought we did some good things for parts of the game, but obviously against a team like that you give them an inch and they're going to take it all,'' van Riemsdyk said.
While the Maple Leafs fizzled, there were no problems for the Penguins, who peppered Bernier with a season-high 48 shots. The goaltender made 43 stops, but went just 1 for 3 in the shootout.
The Penguins have won 12 straight games against goaltenders making their first career starts against Pittsburgh.
It's a streak that appeared in jeopardy when Bozak put the Maple Leafs ahead 5-3 with 5 seconds left in the second period by tapping a lazy rebound by Zatkoff.
Instead, it proved to be the last sign of offense from Toronto. Pittsburgh's decimated defense, which lost starPaul Martin for 4 to 6 weeks earlier in the day with a fractured leg, clamped down and let Malkin, Crosby company go to work.
''We received the whole third period,'' Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. ''We didn't skate, we didn't forecheck, we didn't establish much.''
Neal's sixth goal in his past five games pulled Pittsburgh within 5-4 at 3:46 of the third and Malkin tied it less than four minutes later when he stood in front of the crease and nudged a scrambling Bernier into the net then tucked the puck under the sprawled goaltender.
''Slow start but we need to play whole 60 minutes,'' Malkin said. ''Not a great game for us but two points, it's fine.''
Toronto managed to extend the game through overtime, but was no match against Zatkoff in the shootout. Zatkoff stuffed Bozak and David Clarkson in the first two rounds, and after Crosby easily beat Bernier to give the Penguins the advantage, Malkin wrapped up the comeback by firing a wrist shot over the exhausted goaltender's right arm.
Pittsburgh dominated for stretches early, but the Maple Leafs kept effectively counter punching.
Van Riemsdyk and Kadri helped the Maple Leafs take an early 2-1 lead and things only got worse for Fleury early in the second. He failed to clear the puck behind the net, instead feeding it directly to van Riemsdyk, who pushed it across the goal to make it 3-1 just 13 seconds into the period. That was all for Fleury, stopped just eight of the 11 shots he faced.
Zatkoff didn't exactly settle in quietly. Another Pittsburgh turnover allowed Bozak to set up a wide-open Kessel for a one-time that pushed Toronto's lead to 4-1 just 29 seconds after Fleury skated to the bench.
Pittsburgh drew within a goal as Malkin and Letang scored on consecutive power plays, but the hard work seemed to evaporate in the final moments of the second as Zatkoff failed to control a rebound on a van Riemsdyk slap shot and the puck just sat in the crease for Bozak to tap in with just 5 seconds remaining in one of the weirder 20 minutes of the season for both teams.
It set the stage for what Bylsma called the best 25 minutes he's seen from his team in quite some time.
NOTES: The Penguins went 3 for 5 on the power play. ... Malkin's last multiple-goal game came on March 22, 2012, against Nashville. ... Toronto played without F Joffrey Lupul, who strained his groin in the second period of Monday's loss to the Blue Jackets. ... A crowd of 18,660 showed up the night before Thanksgiving to provide the Penguins with their 300th straight sellout.