Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Confident Vick prepared to fill in for Roethlisberger

By Will Graves
September 29, 2015

Confident Vick prepared to fill in for Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Michael Vick throws a pass during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Michael Vick's faith never wavered.
Not when months went by and the phone didn't ring. Not when his arrival in Pittsburgh at the end of training camp sparked small protests outside the Steelers' facility and a few raised eyebrows within it.
And certainly not when he saw Ben Roethlisberger grabbing his left knee in St. Louis last Sunday, the franchise quarterback's medial collateral ligament sprained and his immediate future very much in doubt.
Sure, this isn't the way Vick wanted to get back on the field. Yet the four-time Pro Bowler isn't about to apologize for the opportunity in front of him, the one he was convinced would come.
''I kept the faith and kept believing,'' Vick said Tuesday. ''This is what I love to do, so I continue to work hard at it. I just have to keep fighting every day.''
Vick will run out of the tunnel at Heinz Field on Thursday night as the starter when the Steelers (2-1) host Baltimore (0-3). What better showcase to go out and prove that at 35 and in the twilight of an enigmatic career that he remains one of the most unique talents to ever line up under center?
''I feel like I have a chance to go out and play freely and enjoy the game, enjoy this moment and be out there with my teammates,'' Vick said. ''God has put this in front of me and it's up to me to handle it like a professional.''
If Pittsburgh wants to keep pace in the AFC North while Roethlisberger's knee heals, Vick doesn't really have a choice. For perhaps the first time in his football life, however, Vick will work within an offense in which he is not the most gifted player.
The presence of All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell means Vick won't be required to save the day as much as not ruin it.
To that end, Vick and offensive coordinator Todd Haley have been cramming to put together a game plan that allows Brown and Bell to do what they do without asking Vick to do something he can't.
''He is not just stepping in and doing what Ben did, so to speak,'' Haley said. ''He is going to be doing what gives Mike Vick the best chance to help us succeed.''
And that includes letting the big arm and the impossibly fast legs that turned Vick into a video game legend in his prime a decade ago do their thing. Haley kept Vick under wraps when Vick replaced Roethlisberger late in the third quarter against the Rams.
Trying to protect a six-point lead, Vick did little more than turn and give the ball to Bell or fire complete a series of short passes that were mostly extended handoffs. He wasn't exactly perfect, fumbling once (recovered by Bell) and having his lone incompletion nearly turn into an interception. Maybe that's why he kind of shrugged his shoulders when the clock hit zero even as head coach Mike Tomlin raced over to congratulate him.
''All that was on my mind was how I can get better and what I could have done better,'' Vick said. ''That's just how hard I am on myself.''
Given four days to prepare for a struggling Baltimore defense, Vick should have more of the playbook at his disposal. He could also have Roethlisberger next to him on the sideline if Roethlisberger can ditch the crutches he's been on since Sunday.
''If I see something, have to talk to Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, or whoever it may be, I want to be there,'' Roethlisberger said. ''If I can help Mike in any way, I would like to do that.''
Especially if Roethlisberger is going to have to get used to the view. Roethlisberger declined to put a timetable on his return and admitted he initially thought he broke his leg. When an MRI revealed only a sprain and a bone bruise, he was relieved his season wasn't over.
''I want to get back as soon as I can, but we also have to be smart and not get too crazy,'' Roethlisberger said.
Meaning Vick will have time to figure things out. Once the initial adrenaline rush wears off against the Ravens, it will be back to football. He's not the breathtaking force of nature he once was. That hardly means he can't be effective.
''As long as I can put that helmet and shoulder pads on and have knowledge of what we are doing,'' Vick said, ''confidence will never be an issue.''
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Monday, September 28, 2015

For Tomlin, Vick will get it done

Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, 11:45 p.m.
Steelers top Rams 12-6; Roethlisberger injures knee
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Michael Vick, right, throws under pressure from St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long, left, during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)
It will around a month. It won't be for the season.

The Steelers are looking at life without franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but it could be worse.
It could be Bruce Gradkowski. It could be Landry Jones.

It's Mike Vick, though.

But really, it's Vick and Mike Tomlin.

And outside of New England, there might not be a bond tighter than the one between the Steelers' new starting quarterback and longtime coach.

So if Vick has anything left of what it was that once made him the NFL's It Guy, the Steelers are going to be all right.

The best motivation is the push to do right by a friend.

“I'm so thankful for Mike Tomlin … because I wasn't ready to give up on football,” Vick said.
“He's seen a lot in me, and I'm thankful.”

Confidence can't be taught. Humility can.

Vick exuded both after replacing Roethlisberger in the Steelers' 12-6 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. From inside the Edward Jones Dome visitors locker room, a lot of people — from Tomlin to Antonio Brown to Art Rooney II — took at least a moment to see how Vick handled himself.

Perfectly, that's how.

He was confident.

“I feel like I was born to do this,” Vick said.

He was humble.

“It's not just about me,” Vick said.

“There's a lot of great players in this locker room that complement the outcome of a football game.”

He was realistic.

“I won't put it all on my shoulders,” Vick said. “I'll take sole responsibility of everything that happens, but I'm just going to prepare myself and get myself into position to help this football team.”

He was leading even as Roethlisberger, his left knee wrapped and braced, limped out of the stadium on crutches.

There are moments that come to define great teams. If the Steelers become a great team, one of those moments will probably be what happened immediately after the final whistle was blown in this dome.

Tomlin, a Vick advocate if not outright fan, pumped his arms repeatedly while crossing the field. He zeroed in on Vick. Upon reaching him, Tomlin slapped the top of Vick's helmet, then pulled his fellow Hampton Roads football brother close.

Whatever words there were, they came only from Tomlin.

And they were uniquely for Vick, who has overcome an awful lot more than having to settle himself and the Steelers when a win was slipping away.

“He got us out of the stadium,” Tomlin said of Vick, who completed 5 of 6 passes for 38 yards.

“That is what the backup quarterback's job is. If he has to play next week, then he gets a full week of preparation. My standards and expectations will be different under those circumstances.

“It was above the line today. He got us out of the stadium.”

Spoken like the man Tomlin prefers the public to hear, see and know.

That man has no time for nonsense or hypotheses. That man dismisses facts as speculation. That man makes statement out of questions.

Part of Tomlin might be that man.

A truer part of Tomlin is the man who found Vick in the middle of the field, and enjoyed a moment that was hard earned.

Only a little over a month ago, Vick could not find a coach willing to give him a look. Now, the best coach for him will look to Vick to steel the Steelers for the games they'll play without their best player.

Vick will make mistakes. He has made mistakes.

Vick will learn from them. He has learned from them.

Vick's it, though.

You don't have to like it. But if you haven't figured it out by now, you need to understand what it is all about in this league.

It's the starting quarterback and the coach.

And the Steelers absolutely cannot replace Roethlisberger.

But it's not all about Vick.

It's Vick and Tomlin.

And it's more than good enough to win.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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Mark Barron's hit on Ben Roethlisberger looked illegal

Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
September 27, 2015
Steelers top Rams 12-6; Roethlisberger injures knee
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is injured as he is hit by St. Louis Rams strong safety Mark Barron during the third quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
You saw the play. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a left knee injury midway through the third quarter Sunday at St. Louis. Roethlisberger has a sprained MCL and will miss four to six weeks as he recovers, a team source told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.
Roethlisberger was hit low on the play, so it's worth asking: Was he hurt by an illegal hit?
The contact occurred when Rams safety Mark Barron blitzed the left side of the Steelers' offensive line. Barron stumbled as he cut inside. Based on the television replay from the end zone, it appeared that Barron reached toward Roethlisberger with his left arm and ultimately barreled into his leg with the left shoulder.
In 2009, you might recall, the NFL clarified its quarterback protection rules to include below-the-knee hits from defenders on the ground. The impetus was the torn ACL suffered by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Here's the relevant passage from the NFL rule book: "A rushing defender is prohibited from forcibly hitting in the knee area or below a passer who has one or both feet on the ground, even if the initial contact is above the knee. It is not a foul if the defender is blocked (or fouled) into the passer and has no opportunity to avoid him." The rule includes two footnotes: "(1) A defender cannot initiate a roll or lunge and forcibly hit the passer in the knee area or below, even if he is being contacted by another player. (2) It is not a foul if the defender swipes, wraps or grabs a passer in the knee area or below in an attempt to tackle him."
Barron appeared to stumble on his own and did not appear to be blocked to the ground before the contact. Barron told reporters in St. Louis that "I tripped over somebody’s feet and on my way down I caught a piece of his leg." If anything, his actions fit the description of a "lunge" followed by a forcible hit to the passer. Referee John Hussey's crew did not call a penalty. Mike Pereira, the NFL's former vice president of officiating and now a Fox analyst, said he believes that one should have been called. The NFL routinely reviews coaches' tape of all games and frequently issues fines for plays that weren't penalized during the game.
No one is suggesting that Barron's hit was dirty. But from this vantage point, it appeared to fall into the big bucket of quarterback contact the NFL tries to avoid. You can see why.

Pirates host Cardinals with chance at first division title since 1992

Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen (22) scores from second base on a hit by Jung Ho Kang as the ball gets away from St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina during the eighth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, July 11, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The Pirates return home to wrap up the regular season Monday night with at least a shot of winning the National League Central.
FanGraphs rated the Pirates’ chances of overtaking the St. Louis Cardinals and capturing the division crown at 10.7 percent entering Sunday’s play, while Baseball Prospectus gave them slightly more hope at 13.5 percent.
Not great odds but at least the Pirates’ three-game series with the Cardinals that opens at 7:05 p.m. PNC Park still means something.
The Cardinals (98-58) hold a three-game lead after both teams lost Sunday, St. Louis dropping an 8-4 decision to the Milwaukee Brewers and the Pirates (95-61) getting blanked 4-0 by the Chicago Cubs.
The Pirates have already clinched a postseason berth for a third straight year but not won a division title since 1992.
Left-hander J.A. Happ (10-8, 3.88) will start for the Pirates on Monday night against Lance Lynn (12-10, 3.16) while Charlie Morton (9-8, 4.54) faces Michael Wacha (17-6, 3.15) on Tuesday night and Gerrit Cole (18-8, 2.60) opposes Tyler Lyons (2-1, 3.96) on Wednesday night.
If the Cardinals and Pirates finish tied for first place, they would play a one-game playoff Oct. 5. Home-field advantage would go to the winner of the season series, which is currently tied 8-8. That adds even more importance to this series.
The Pirates are 5-2 against the Cardinals at PNC Park, including rallying twice in extra innings to win back-to-back games on July 11 and 12, the last two days before the All-Star break, during St. Louis’ last visit.
Pirates utility player Sean Rodriguez is hitting .406 (13-for-32) against the Cardinals this season with four doubles and a home run. First baseman Pedro Alvarez has gone 13-for-45 (.289) with four doubles and three homers.
Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong has a .304 batting average, going 17-for-56, with one double and three home runs. Third baseman Matt Carpenter is 14-for-47 (.298) with one double, three homers and 10 walks.
The Pirates are off Thursday then play the Cincinnati Reds in a three-game series beginning Friday night at PNC.
While the Reds are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers for last in the NL Central just two years after falling to the Pirates in the NL wild card playoff game, they hold a 10-6 advantage in the season series and are 22-13 against Pittsburgh since the start of 2014.
Reds third baseman Todd Frazier has hit 13 home runs against the Pirates in the last two seasons.
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Steelers top Rams 12-6; Roethlisberger injures knee

BY R.B. Fallstrom
September 28, 2015
Steelers top Rams 12-6; Roethlisberger injures knee
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is taken off the field on a cart after being injured during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Ben Roethlisberger left the Edward Jones Dome on crutches.
Beating the St. Louis Rams 12-6 on Sunday proved costly for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost Big Ben with a left knee injury.
''I've never seen him down, so it was a little shocking,'' wide receiver Antonio Brown said.
The Steelers scheduled an MRI Monday for Roethlisberger, who was injured on a diving, sliding sack by Mark Barron in the third quarter.
''He is being evaluated, I gave you all the information I have,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ''I promise I will give you some more when we get it.''
Teammates on both sides of the ball know they've got to step up in the meantime.
Pittsburgh's offense, which averaged 32 points over its first two games, was struggling before Roethlisberger was hurt.
Roethlisberger hasn't missed a game since late in 2012, and this was his franchise-record 108th victory, passing Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. He was 20 of 24 for 192 yards and an interception.
Le'Veon Bell scored from a yard out in the first half, but the Steelers needed their defense most.
''You grow infinitely when you pull those out,'' Tomlin said. ''Obviously not the type of game we're searching for, but a win nonetheless.''
Other observations from Steelers vs. Rams:
BACKUP PLAYS: Michael Vick was caretaker for the Pittsburgh offense, going 5 of 6 for 38 yards with two carries for minus-2 yards. He signed a one-year deal in late August and is still learning the offense.
''He got us out of the stadium,'' Tomlin said. ''That is what the backup quarterback's job is.''
BACKS DEBUT: Bell and Rams rookie Todd Gurleyboth played for the first time this year. Bell was coming off a two-game suspension, and Gurley coming off left knee surgery last November while still at Georgia. The Steelers All-Pro had the better day with 62 yards rushing and 70 receiving. Gurley didn't start and split time with Tre Mason, gaining 9 yards on six carries with one reception for 5 yards.
''It's the first game. I've got to get in the groove of things,'' said Gurley, the 10th overall pick in the draft.
KEY STOPS: The Steelers held the Rams to 2 for 10 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth and allowed just two field goals by Greg Zuerlein. Will Allen's interception with 1:56 left set up a field goal by Josh Scobee to put Pittsburgh ahead by six points.
''Fourth quarter picks are great,'' Allen said. ''Lawrence Timmons did a great job of causing a hot throw and I was just in position.''
BIG CATCHES: Antonio Brown had 11 catches for 108 yards, his third straight 100-yard receiving game. Nine of them came in the first half, tying the franchise record set by Hines Ward in the second half against Cincinnati on Nov. 30, 2003. He extended his NFL record to 21 consecutive games with at least five receptions and 70 yards.
LOW PRODUCTION: The Rams have totaled 16 points the last two games, plagued by dropped passes, penalties and all-around ineffectiveness. Kenny Britt was the lone offensive standout Sunday with seven catches for 102 yards.
''We're 1-2, the world's not ending,'' quarterback Nick Foles said. ''We will figure it out.''
WELL-TRAVELED: Attendance of 52,433 included thousands of Pittsburgh faithful waving Terrible Towels and disrupting the Rams offense enough that Foles had to go to a silent count at times. Even with the boost provided by Steelers fans, the Edward Jones Dome was more than 13,000 shy of capacity.
BURN UNIT: Kickoff was delayed about 26 minutes by a small fire near a corner of the south end zone from sparks emitted by a pyrotechnic display during Rams player introductions. The cleanup job was hampered by a malfunctioning wet-dry vacuum that spewed collective material back out. Neither team made any plays near a circular mark left between the 3- and 4-yard line.
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Paying Homage to a Forgotten Baseball Record

By Sean Braswell
September 28, 2015

Rennie Stennett – Seven Hits (photo from Associated Press)
There’s nothing more sacrosanct in baseball than a seemingly unbreakable record. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Hack Wilson’s 191 RBIs in a single season, Cy Young’s 511 career victories — each name and number has become emblazoned on the collective imagination of baseball fans. But there are some baseball records — just as unlikely to be surpassed — that rarely get mentioned, that are forgotten or consigned to the trivia bin.
One of those took place 40 years ago at Wrigley Field in Chicago, where a now-obscure Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman named Rennie Stennett smacked seven hits in one nine-inning baseball game — a single-game feat far rarer than hitting for the cycle or even slugging four home runs. A feat, in fact, unequaled in baseball’s modern era (and matched only once before that, in 1892). And Stennett didn’t even play the whole game.
Getting seven hits in one game demands a serendipitous combination of skill and circumstance.
Stennett, a 24-year-old fan favorite from Panama, did not expect to be in the Pirates’ starting lineup on Sept. 16, 1975. And in contrast to his teammate Dock Ellis, who had pitched a no-hitter while high on LSD five years earlier, it was not because he was in a psychedelic haze but because he was nursing an injured ankle. Earlier that day, the 160-pound speedster had popped two York Peppermint Pattie candies for breakfast in a joking bid to keep Willie Stargell from raiding his plate at the training table (a favorite pastime of the 225-pound slugger). It proved to be all the fuel he would need.
Come game time that afternoon, Stennett was in his customary leadoff position and wasted no time, smacking a double off Cubs starter Rick Reuschel. Stennett singled for his second hit of the game later that same inning as the Pirates jumped to a 9-0 lead. The second baseman was not your customary leadoff hitter, but rather a free swinger in the vein of many Pirates hitters, including the legendary Roberto Clemente. And Stennett was not letting many balls go by that afternoon.
Of course, getting seven hits in one game is rare for good reason: It demands a serendipitous combination of skill and circumstance. For one thing, just getting to the plate seven or more times generally requires your team to beat the bejesus out of the other team’s pitchers. And Stennett benefited from the most lopsided shutout in Major League Baseball history as the Pirates’ famous “Lumber Company” of sluggers pounded the Cubs with a 24-hit barrage in a 22-0 victory in front of 5,000 distressed fans at Wrigley. As Stennett collected his third hit, a single in the third inning, the Pirates’ win probability chart — a graphic depiction of one club’s probability of winning at each point in the game — already looked as insurmountable as the Sears Tower.
Getting to seven hits also requires that your manager leave you in the ballgame — hardly a given when a high-scoring affair is as lopsided as the contest in Chicago that day. By the time Stennett had collected two more hits in the fifth inning — a double and a single, taking him to five for the game — the Pirates were leading 17-0, and Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh had started pulling starters like Stargell from the game.
Most of all, though, getting seven hits calls for a seriously good hitter who is seriously “in the zone.” Numerous batters have stepped up to the plate seven or more times in a high-scoring ballgame, but only Stennett came away with seven hits. He singled in the seventh inning for his sixth hit, and then tripled in the eighth inning for his seventh, at which time Murtaugh pulled him for pinch runner Willie Randolph. All told, Stennett went 7-for-7 with two doubles, a triple and four singles — and he did it off five different Cubs pitchers. “I felt that day, if I made contact, it was going to fall in somewhere,” Stennett later told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I could feel it the whole day. Didn’t matter who was pitching.”
Rennie Stennett’s baseball fortunes took a turn for the worse two years later in August 1977, when the second baseman, who was leading the league in hitting with a .336 average, broke his leg trying to stop his slide into second base on a double-play ball. Stennett, just 26, was never quite the same ballplayer.
In the four decades since then, Stennett has coached teams in Panama and worked at baseball camps in Brazil as well as the occasional Pirates fantasy camp. And he can still enjoy something more than just the occasional golf game or playing with his grandkids in Boca Raton: His own slice of baseball immortality.