CINCINNATI -- Leah Still was just waking up after seven hours under anesthesia when her father and other family members tried to help her sit up in her bed at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The 4-year-old who had spent much of last Thursday under doctors' supervision following a near six-hour surgery to remove a tumor from inside her body, was defiant.

She didn't want any help sitting up in her bed. She wanted to do it on her own. She did. Not just once, but twice.

[+] EnlargeDevon Still
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsDevon Still said his daughter, Leah, is in good spirits after she had a cancerous tumor removed from her body last week.
That's when the long-held suspicions of her dad, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, began ringing true. It was at that moment that he realized she was going to beat the stage 4 cancer that had been ravaging her body since June.

"She's going to bounce back from this fast because she's a trooper," Devon Still said in front of his Bengals locker Monday as he reflected upon what he saw from his daughter up close last week. "She's going to fight her way through this."

Still was back in the Bengals' locker room after spending the bulk of last week's bye in and around Philadelphia in order to watch his daughter as she underwent this latest round of treatments to eliminate the cancer that's called neuroblastoma.

A trip to a movie theater was the highlight of the week for Leah, who spent time the night before her surgery with friends and family in a packed viewing area while the movie "Dolphin Tale 2" played on the big screen. The same night as the movie viewing, Still began psyching Leah up for what she was about to endure.

He said he spoke to her about what surgery was. He tried to ease her uncertainty and answer any questions she had. To help illustrate his responses, Still asked her to look at his ankle, knee and back. In each of those places, the 25-year-old lineman has scars from his own series of surgeries.

The ploy helped, but she still was scared of what loomed the next morning.

So, in an effort to make his little girl smile, Still recorded a video that went viral the instant he uploaded it to Instagram.

"On the way to the hospital she was looking sad," Still said Monday. "You see in the beginning of the video that I said, 'I'm going to say it again.' The first time I asked her she was really down. She didn't really say anything. That's when I asked her again and that's when she started getting happy. So it was just to try to put a smile on her face and not to make her so nervous."

Still and the Bengals -- who originally cut him at the end of the preseason before adding him to their practice squad in part to help him retain health insurance to pay for Leah's treatments -- have put smiles on countless faces across the globe the past few weeks. On Sunday, the team announced it had sold close to 10,000 of the reserve lineman's jerseys, and that it was picking up the cost ($500,000 total) of making each one. That meant that full proceeds from the sales of Still's $100 jersey were going to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center for pediatric cancer research efforts.

By Sunday, the Bengals reported they had raised more than $1 million in nearly three weeks.

Jerseys have been purchased by people in every state, as well as Canada, Australia, England and Finland. Rapper Nelly is among those who have reached out to Still since his story was made public.

"We thought it was vital to get out the [story of] everyday life of a family who is going through life with a child that has cancer," Still said, "just to let everybody know how much support families need financially and just emotionally."

Still was hopeful Leah would be leaving the hospital and going home Monday to Wilmington, Delaware, where her mother and other members of Still's family take care of her while he's in Cincinnati. After some weeks, she'll get back to chemotherapy and radiation therapy and will undergo stem-cell treatments to regenerate her bone marrow.

"For them to be able to remove all the tumor," Still said, "just puts a smile on her face and it gives us something to hope for."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh knows Sunday's game in Indianapolis is going to be louder than the previous road trip to Cleveland.

The Colts play their home games indoors, for one. There's also that talk about the Colts artificially amplifying the sound when visiting teams are on offense.

"Rumor has it, they pipe crowd noise in there," Harbaugh said Monday. "So, we'll see if that's the case or not."

When asked if that's illegal, Harbaugh said with a smile, "Yes it is. That's the rumor. Sorry, Chuck."

Chuck Pagano, the Colts head coach, was a Ravens assistant under Harbaugh for four seasons. So, call this a playful jab at his former defensive coordinator.

The Ravens are 0-2 at Lucas Oil Stadium, losing by a combined score of 51-6 against Colts teams quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. In those two losses, the Ravens committed 11 penalties. In comparison, the Ravens have been flagged for 16 penalties in the first four games of this season, one of the lowest penalty totals in the league.

That trend of reduced mistakes has to continue for the Ravens as they play four of their next five games on the road.

"The challenge is you got to go play another team in their environment," Harbaugh said. "That takes an incredible amount of discipline and poise. The more disciplined and poised we are, the more able we are to execute and tune out the noise."

How that noise is actually generated depends on whom you ask.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- It's not an injury issue any longer for Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb. In order for him to get back on the field, he has to prove to coach John Harbaugh that he's in better shape.

A lower back injury sidelined Webb for the entire preseason and the first two games of the regular season. But, after looking stiff in his first game back on Sept. 21, he was a healthy scratch for Sunday's 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers.

The Ravens are paying Webb $205,882 per week whether he's active or not. Harbaugh said he'll have a good idea by the end of the week whether Webb will be ready to play at Indianapolis, but he won't reveal Webb's availability until Sunday.

"It could very well be this week," Harbaugh said about Webb showing improved acceleration. "I'm sure hoping this week. I want to see it this week."

With Webb out, the Ravens started Asa Jackson alongside Jimmy Smith and moved Matt Elam from strong safety to nickelback in passing situations. It's important for the Ravens to get back Webb for the Colts, who've gone with at least three wide receivers on 164 snaps (ninth-most in the NFL).

"It'll be based on how he practices and how he looks, just in terms of getting his acceleration and his burst back," Harbaugh said. "The things that everybody saw that weren't quite there. Then, he tells me that he's healthy now and he says he feels healthy. It's just a matter of that strength, quickness and burst, which should come back fast. Anybody that's ever trained, if you've been in great shape, you get back into shape pretty quickly."

When Elam covered the slot receiver, rookie third-round pick Terrence Brooks got his first defensive snaps of the season Sunday. He played 35 snaps and held up well in coverage. Harbaugh was impressed with Brooks' ball skills.

"He plays fast and has got a good sense for the ball back there," Harbaugh said. "He played well and merits more playing time."
CINCINNATI -- With their Sunday night game at New England looming, the Cincinnati Bengals returned to practice Monday afternoon and did so at near-full capacity.

Only three players not on injury lists -- linebacker Vontaze Burfict, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson and offensive guard Kevin Zeitler -- did not practice. Everyone else participated in the workout in some capacity. It's unclear who was limited and who participated fully since the team wasn't required to submit an official injury report.

The Bengals normally stay off the practice field Monday and use the day for film review, but last week's bye gave them an opportunity to go outside a little earlier in the week than normal. The NFL still won't require them to submit an injury report until Wednesday.

Burfict, Thompson and Zeitler each missed the Bengals' Week 3 game against the Titans. The week before, Burfict had suffered his second concussion in two games. Thompson had been run from the Bengals' Week 2 win against the Falcons with a knee injury, and Zeitler picked up a calf injury in the same game.

Those three weren't at practice during the 30 minutes media were permitted to watch, but receiver Marvin Jones and defensive end Margus Hunt were among those who were. Jones was working out for only the second time since breaking his foot in the preseason. He practiced last Tuesday in the lone workout of the week. Hunt was banged up in the Week 3 game, but appears likely to participate in Week 5.

Along with those two, running back Rex Burkhead and linebacker Sean Porter also practiced for only the second time since the preseason. Burkhead said Monday that he wasn't sure what his exact role would be in the running back rotation as a reserve behind Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.

"Whatever role the coaches want me to have and whatever they want to use me for, I'm up for that," Burkhead said. "Whatever way I can get out on the field."
PITTSBURGH -- It doesn’t surprise me how much criticism is directed at a high-profile offensive coordinator, whether it is from the rich and famous (and profane) like Snoop Dogg or the average, fed-up Pittsburgh Steelers fan who thinks Todd Haley doesn’t have the acumen to call plays in a Pop Warner game much less the NFL.

Still, I was a little taken aback at the vitriol spewed at Haley via social media after the Steelers’ 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

[+] EnlargeTodd Haley
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsBehind offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the Steelers are averaging 412 yards per game in 2014.
The fans should be mad as heck after the Steelers lost to another opponent that had no business beating them. And I get that such frustration is often directed at the offensive coordinator. What is, after all, easier to second guess than a play call that doesn’t work?

A significant portion of fans always seemed to want to fire Haley’s predecessor when things didn’t go well for the Steelers until the organization actually did part ways with Bruce Arians.

Since the Steelers “retired” Arians in 2012 he has parlayed an offensive coordinator job in Indianapolis into a head coaching gig in Arizona.

Arians led the Cardinals to 10 wins in 2013 in the NFL’s most rugged division -- the NFC West -- and he has the Cardinals off to a 3-0 start this season.

As high of a standing as Arians enjoys in the desert he may be even more popular in Pittsburgh. That is how disenchanted Steelers fans seem to be with Haley.

I get that and have questions of my own after the galling loss to the Buccaneers. Some of the play calling left me scratching my head.

Even the first one.

After quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed a short lateral to fullback Will Johnson that netted zero yards I found myself asking, “They had all week to put together a game plan and they came up with that?”

The Steelers also seemed to go sideways too often against a defense that had the speed at linebacker to snuff out such plays.

But when I look at the offense’s body of work against the Buccaneers I have to conclude that criticism of Haley after this loss is simply misguided.

The Steelers piled up 390 yards of total offense and put together touchdown drives of 60, 93 and 80 yards.

They would have scored a fourth touchdown -- and likely put away the Buccaneers -- had a perfectly thrown pass by Roethlisberger not clanged off Antonio Brown’s hands early in the fourth quarter.

Brown flashed open after the Steelers ran a flea flicker and he would have scored a 68-yard touchdown had he caught the ball, something the two-time Pro Bowler probably does 99 out of 100 times.

Add those 68 lost yards to the Steelers’ total and that puts them at 458 yards of total offense.

Indianapolis and Atlanta lead the NFL in total offense. They average 444 yards per game.

And people are calling for Haley’s job after the Steelers should have exceeded that average and scored four touchdowns?

The Steelers are fifth in the NFL in total offense (412 yards per game) and this is the guy fans want to scapegoat after a disappointing 2-2 start?

Haley is an easy target because of his job and how it lends itself to second-guessing from the comfort of a bleacher seat or a couch.

But blaming him after the loss to the Buccaneers looks more like a function of habit for angry Steelers fans -- and something that is rooted in emotion more than it is in reality.
After one of their first offseason workouts together, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith commented on the type of ball quarterback Joe Flacco throws.

“He throws a lot of good, easy balls that you can snag," Smith said in late May.

It was obvious Smith and Flacco hit it off right away, and you could see that connection build throughout training camp and the preseason games. Now, a quarter of the way through the regular season, Smith and Flacco have formed one of the best tandems in the league.

Asked what's the most important thing Smith has brought to the Ravens, Flacco didn't have a profound response.

“The most important thing is that he can catch footballs and score touchdowns and keep us on the field," Flacco said. "It’s really simple."

Here's a look at their production by the numbers:

1 -- Number of multi-touchdown games for Smith with Flacco as his quarterback. It happened Sunday and marked Smith's first since Cam Newton's debut in Week 1 of 2011.

2 -- Touchdown catches of at least 60 yards by Smith this season. Flacco hasn't thrown that number of touchdown passes of at least 60 yards since 2009 with Derrick Mason, who also had two.

8 -- Smith's catches over 20 yards this season. Only Julio Jones has more with 11.

9 -- Fourth-quarter catches by Smith. Only Jimmy Graham has more with 10.

120.9 -- Flacco's passer rating when throwing to Smith. It's the fifth highest in the NFL.

122 -- Smith's receiving yards at halftime Sunday against his former team. The Panthers' receivers had 112 yards combined at the half.

127 -- Flacco's passing yards to Smith when he is under duress. That's the most to one receiver in such situations this season.

204 -- Smith's receiving yards on third downs this season, which leads the NFL.

429 -- Smith's receiving yards this season, which ranks third in the league. Only Jordy Nelson (459) and Julio Jones (447) have more.

Ravens report card vs. the Panthers

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 38-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers:

Quarterback: This was Joe Flacco's second career game with over 300 yards passing, three touchdown passes and no interceptions (the other was Week 3 of 2011). He completed 71 percent of his throws as well as posting season highs in average yards per attempt (10.5) and passer rating (137.4). Some will say Flacco was lucky, but he was in a zone, knowing where he wanted to go with each throw especially on third down (10 of 13 conversions). Grade: A-plus.

[+] EnlargeJustin Forsett
Patrick Semansky/AP PhotoRavens running back Justin Forsett averaged 4.7 yards per carry against the Panthers on Sunday.
Running backs: Veteran journeyman Justin Forsett ran hard on every carry and broke a total of four tackles. His 11-yard touchdown run, which he broke through Luke Kuechly's arm tackle, was pure effort. Forsett gained 20 of his 66 yards after contact. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro was the closer with 32 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk nearly had a touchdown for the second straight week and had a strong game as a lead blocker. Grade: A.

Wide receivers/tight ends: Steve Smith was the headliner once again with seven catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Nearly half of his yards came after the catch. Not bad for a 35-year-old receiver. There was a Torrey Smith sighting. He had two catches for 53 yards (including a 24-yard touchdown) and drew two pass interference penalties that totaled 29 yards. Marlon Brown caught all three passes thrown his way for 31 yards. Jacoby Jones dropped his fourth pass of the season. Grade: A-minus.

Offensive line: The Ravens didn't give up a sack for a third straight game, and guard Marshal Yanda allowed the only hit on Flacco. The line was just as impressive in opening holes for a running game that gained 127 yards. Running backs gained 79 of those yards (or 62 percent) before getting touched. Yanda and center Jeremy Zuttah were dominant in run blocking. Rookie left tackle James Hurst held up well in his first career start, but he didn't get his blocks and got turned around at times in the run game. He didn't allow a quarterback hurry or hit. Grade: A-minus.

Defensive line: The Panthers weren't at full strength at running back, but it wouldn't have mattered based on the play of Haloti Ngata and Brandon Williams up front. Their play was a big reason why the Panthers averaged 2.6 yards per carry. Chris Canty had his best game despite being questionable for the game with a knee injury. He was part of an inspired pass rush, recording a quarterback hurry and knocking down a pass. Grade: B-plus.

Linebackers: Rookie first-round pick C.J. Mosley was all over the field, stopping the run, playing coverage and rushing the passer. He finished with a season-high 11 tackles and broke up two passes. The Ravens crashed the edges with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, both of whom combined for two sacks. Suggs had two quarterback hits. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee delivered five quarterback hurries with an inside pass rush. Daryl Smith was strong in run support with eight tackles. Grade: B-plus.

Secondary: Jimmy Smith gets an "A" while the starting safeties get a "D." Smith shadowed Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' top receiver, and gave up two catches for 25 yards. He even drew an offensive pass interference penalty. But he didn't get much support. Free safety Darian Stewart didn't provide deep help, which allowed Benjamin to get open for Carolina's only touchdown. He just lacks instincts in pass coverage. Cam Newton did make some excellent throws, but strong safety Matt Elam has to get a better feel on when the ball is coming. He doesn't turn in time. Grade: C.

Special teams: Sam Koch had only one punt, and it should have pinned Carolina at its own 2-yard line. But Albert McClellan's personal foul gave the Panthers some breathing room. Justin Tucker had six touchbacks, although he missed a 57-yard field goal. Jacoby Jones is pressing so much to make a play that he fielded a punt at his own 2-yard line in the first quarter. That's not playing smart. Grade: C-plus.

Lack of pass rush holding back Steelers

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said he felt “sick” after a come-from-ahead 27-24 loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

It wouldn’t make Mitchell feel any better to know that there was an undeniable symmetry between the resplendent day that the Steelers insisted on marring with penalty after penalty and the last time a journeyman wide receiver named Louis Murphy ruined a lot of Sundays in the greater Pittsburgh area.

[+] EnlargeMike Glennon
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsThe Steelers got little pressure on Bucs QB Mike Glennon, who passed for 302 yards.
Murphy burned the Steelers for 128 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Oakland Raiders’ 27-24 upset of Pittsburgh in 2009 at Heinz Field. Murphy’s 41-yard catch-and-run late in a game that the Steelers were determined to blow led to the same final score on Sunday -- and ultimately the same questions that dogged the 2009 team as well as the other Mike Tomlin-coached teams that have failed to make the playoffs.

The overriding one is why have the Steelers developed a habit of losing to lesser teams they should beat when they have a chance of stringing victories together.

It happened too often in 2012 and 2013.

It happened again on Sunday -- and against a team that had lost its previous game by 42 points.

Forget for a second that Mike Glennon’s easy throw to Murphy in the middle of the field, which set up his game-winning touchdown pass with seven seconds to play, appeared to be the result of linebacker Lawrence Timmons not taking a deep enough drop with the Steelers in a zone.

That pitch-and-catch between a quarterback who had been a backup through the Buccaneers’ first three games and a wide receiver who had been on the street until last week was a symptom of something larger that ails the Steelers.

They simply cannot generate enough pressure on the quarterback to cover for a suspect secondary.

Not even close.

While the Buccaneers were dumping Ben Roethlisberger five times, including one that led to a key turnover early, the Steelers rarely got to Glennon or even made the second-year man uncomfortable in the pocket.

The Steelers sacked Glennon just one time and hit the slender 6-foot-6 signal-caller only four times.

The Steelers got all of two quarterback pressures from their outside linebackers, which was a main reason why Glennon looked like a seasoned pro in throwing for 301 yards and a pair of touchdowns and needed just 33 seconds to march the Buccaneers 46 yards for the winning score.

The reality, a quarter into the season, is that the Steelers are probably going to have to outscore a lot of teams to win 10 games and avoid sinking into a cycle of mediocrity.

They almost did that Sunday after spotting the Buccaneers an early 10-0 lead.

Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were magnificent, and the Steelers win the game if Brown doesn’t drop a perfectly thrown deep ball off a flea flicker in the fourth quarter – or if Big Ben doesn’t overthrow the two-time Pro Bowler on a key third down later in the drive.

“I think every man in that locker [room] feels like we could have done something different to affect the outcome of the game,” Brown said.

The shame of it for the Steelers if they would have held on to beat the Buccaneers is their schedule set up nicely for them to go on a run. Now they are back to wondering which team will show up on a weekly basis.

“We’ve got to get off this up-and-down roller coaster ride,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “It’s unpleasant for everybody. We’ve got to be a straight line. We’ve got to get better.”
BALTIMORE -- In becoming the latest player to see his name put in the Baltimore Ravens' Ring of Honor on Sunday, former tight end Todd Heap was overcome by nostalgia when he heard the crowd chant his name once more.

[+] EnlargeTodd Heap
AP Photo/Matt SlocumTodd Heap racked up 467 catches and 5,492 receiving yards during 10 seasons with the Ravens.
"It was emotional," Heap said after his induction. "I was here for 10 years -- pretty much all of my adult life was spent here in Baltimore and this organization. I look up and see my name up there, and I'm like, 'Wow, there are a lot of people behind that name. There are a lot of people that made it possible.' That's what I think of. I think of all those guys over the years, so many of them that were just inspirational to me, that gave me words of wisdom or that I was able to just watch and appreciate how they did things."

Four former teammates were on the field for Heap's ceremony: offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, defensive end Michael McCrary, outside linebacker Peter Boulware and kicker Matt Stover. It would've been a bigger gathering if the Ravens had lined up all the quarterbacks who threw passes to Heap during his time in Baltimore.

As the Ravens put up 38 points on the Carolina Panthers Sunday, I wonder how many people thought about how Heap would've fared in an offense like this one. During his time with the Ravens from 2001-10, Heap's 467 catches and 5,492 receiving yards ranked as the fifth most among NFL tight ends over that span.

Those numbers are more impressive when you put them in context. Only twice during Heap's 10 seasons did the Ravens rank in the top half of the NFL in passing, and they never ranked higher than 11th. That shows how few legitimate targets they had around Heap.

Heap never had the luxury of stability at the quarterback position until the end of his career with Joe Flacco. During Heap's 10 seasons, the Ravens started nine quarterbacks: Elvis Grbac, Randall Cunningham, Chris Redman, Jeff Blake, Kyle Boller, Anthony Wright, Steve McNair, Troy Smith and Flacco.

Heap currently ranks 10th all time in NFL career receptions for tight ends with 499. But he came into the league as the Ravens' first-round draft pick in 2001 with simple goals.

"I wanted to be the best I could be, but at the same time I was just trying to make a name for myself [and] become a starter in the NFL," Heap said. "When I came into that veteran team in 2001, with all of those Hall of Fame guys, I was like, 'If I can come in here and compete with those guys, I'll be doing all right.'"
On Sunday, Tennessee lost 41-17 to Indianapolis.

Pittsburgh lost to Tampa Bay 27-24. At home.

Jacksonville lost 33-14.

Oakland lost 38-14.

And Tampa Bay ... well it beat Pittsburgh, because either Pittsburgh or Tampa Bay had to win. The game prior to beating the Steelers, Tampa Bay lost 56-14 to Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniThe next five weeks could determine if Brian Hoyer and the Browns will be playoff contenders in 2014.
The common denominator between Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay? They are the next five teams the Cleveland Browns play, with three of the games at home.

Two of the teams are winless. Two have one win. Pittsburgh has two wins, one over the Browns on a last-play field goal.

If the Browns ever are going to get something accomplished this season, this is the time and these are the teams to do it against. The Browns' defense has struggled, especially against the run, but facing this non-gauntlet of teams presents the defense an excellent chance to find itself. The numbers for the five present a challenge, but also an opportunity.

Combined, these five teams are 4-16, winning just 20 percent of their games. On Sunday, the five gave up 24, 27, 38, 33 and 41 points -- an average of 32.6.

Heading into Monday night, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Oakland are the league’s three worst-ranked offenses. Tennessee is 17th, but it's without starting quarterback Jake Locker. Pittsburgh has talent, but struggled to beat the Browns in Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Oakland are the league’s four worst scoring offenses. None average more than 15 points per game.

The Browns are 1-2, but coach Mike Pettine said before sending the team away for the bye that it is about as confident a 1-2 team could be.

“I think we’ve proved over the first three weeks that we can win football games in this league, that we’re close,” Pettine said. “As I said, pass-fail league, we failed two out of three, but there’s a different feel to it just because I know our guys have confidence coming out of it and that if we go out and execute a game plan that we can beat any team in this league.”

If that’s true, the Browns have a prime opportunity in the next five weeks to establish themselves as more than just another team trying to win, more than the pretenders they have been the past six seasons.

A year ago, the Browns talked about playing a meaningful game in a trip to Cincinnati and fell flat. The rest of the season went south in a hurry.

But the circumstances a year ago were different. The team had no running game whatsoever. Brian Hoyer was hurt; Jason Campbell was at quarterback. The team was so fragile that it couldn’t withstand one really bad quarter against the Bengals.

This season the Browns came back from 24 down at halftime to tie Pittsburgh, before eventually losing 30-27. They have two difficult losses, but much to build on. The running game could be a strength and Hoyer has played well. The defense has struggled, but Pettine and the assistant coaches believe in their scheme and promise it can and will work if the players trust it.

The one player missing this season is Josh Gordon, who remains suspended for the first 10 games of the season. But if the Browns can get something accomplished in the next five games against teams that are 4-16, it can build something positive for when Gordon returns.

The Browns have an opportunity the next five games.

If they are going to make something of this season, it has to start with these five games.
videoPITTSBURGH – The smile that comes easily to Maurkice Pouncey was nowhere to be found as the Pittsburgh Steelers center sat in a hushed locker room late Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.

“This one hits you,” Pouncey said after the Steelers couldn’t protect a fourth-quarter lead in a 27-24 loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The loss particularly weighed on Pouncey, as he committed a costly penalty with the Steelers needing just a lone first down to close out the Bucs.

It came with the Steelers nursing a 24-20 lead with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the game and facing a second-and-8 at their own 16-yard line.

Pouncey was flagged for an illegal snap, and the 5-yard penalty resulted in a punt two plays later and placed the onus for closing out the Buccaneers on the defense. It couldn’t do it.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said he never received an explanation for why Pouncey was hit with the Steelers’ 13th and final penalty of the game. Pouncey said he was told he had moved the ball too much before snapping it to Ben Roethlisberger.

“That’s on me,” the three-time Pro Bowl center said. “As a center you can’t have that, and I take full responsibility.”

Pouncey’s accountability was refreshing.

And it had better resonate with his teammates if the Steelers want to avoid a third consecutive 8-8 season.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesLe'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown each were flagged for post-play penalties in the Steelers' loss to Tampa Bay.
No one, it seems, is taking enough accountability for the penalties that have plagued the Steelers. It cost them dearly in a game they should have won.

The Steelers piled up 125 penalty yards, and six of their flags were of the 15-yard variety. Two of those penalties were for taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct by running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, respectively.

Another unsportsmanlike penalty was called on defensive end Cameron Heyward, who took issue with a missed holding call on Doug Martin’s 3-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.

The Steelers are averaging 11 penalties per game, and Tomlin acknowledged after a 37-19 win at Carolina last Sunday that the rash of flags would become “problematic” if his team didn’t start playing smarter.

That explained why Tomlin was so upset and called his players “undisciplined.”

“The defining factor in determining the outcome of that football game is that we were way too highly penalized,” Tomlin said. “It’s ridiculous.”

His players largely agreed with him.

But they also said the usual after a loss, that they have to watch the film from the game and make the necessary corrections.

That translates to blah, blah, blah, blah for frustrated Steelers fans, because some penalties don't need film to correct.

“Post-play penalties are ridiculous,” Tomlin said. “That we have full control over.”

The players would do well to follow the lead of Pouncey and hold themselves more accountable for penalties.

“It’s all on the players,” Pouncey said, “It’s not like [coaches] are calling like, ‘Hey, hold on this play’ or 'hit the guy late.’ They coach us the right way. We’ve got to play the right way.”
BALTIMORE -- Whether running back Justin Forsett starts for a third straight week is up to the Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff. There's just no argument that the veteran journeyman has done everything he can to keep hold of the job.

Forsett totaled 97 yards and one touchdown in Sunday's 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. The impressive part isn't that he's the only Ravens running back to gain at least 70 yards total yards in every game this season. It's how he's gained those yards.

Known more his speed and catching ability, Forsett is showing he can grind out yards inside and break tackles downfield. For the 5-foot-8 Forsett, it's more about determination than size.

"After all the experiences I had in my career, being hurt [and] being on the bottom of the depth chart last year, I didn't know if I was ever going to play the game again," Forsett said. "So every game I go out and play, I play it like it's my last."

It's become a weekly guessing game with the Ravens running backs because there's not much logic to it.

Forsett led the team in rushing in the season opener, and the Ravens started Bernard Pierce in Week 2. Pierce was active for Sunday's game, but Forsett got the start against Carolina.

After the game, coach John Harbaugh said Pierce wasn't at full strength and won't get out on the field until he's 100 percent. Pierce was listed as probable with a thigh injury.

Still, you have to wonder whether the Ravens will stick with Forsett because he's more durable than Pierce and more experienced than Lorenzo Taliaferro. Harbaugh was complimentary of Forsett after the game.

"He's making yards after the hit on his own. That's kind of how you measure a back," Harbaugh said. "I remember reading Woody Hayes' book when I was a kid, and he called it 'a string of pearls.' How many tacklers can you leave in your wake? That kind of is a measurement of a great back. And Justin is playing that way.”

Forsett clearly tops the list of biggest surprises so far. This is his fourth team in four seasons. He had a grand total of six carries for a bad Jaguars team last year.

It's difficult to believe that's the same back who broke arm tackles from linebackers Luke Kuechly (last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year) and A.J. Klein and then bounced off safety Roman Harper for an 11-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

"He's very low to the ground," Flacco said. "He should have pretty good balance, and that's kind of what he has. When people hit him, he's very good about keeping his feet underneath of him. I feel like he spins a lot while he's getting contact, guys fall off of him. The touchdown run -- a couple of guys hit him, and he made sure he got in the end zone."

Flacco added, "That's huge. To get the ball into the end zone from the 10-yard line, and not have to go in there and pound it one, two, three times, that's huge for us; that's huge for down the road in the game. He's been able to do that all year so far.”

Whether that means Forsett is the starter for Sunday's game at the Indianapolis Colts remains to be seen.
BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh walked past Steve Smith in the training room before the wide receiver took on his former team on Sunday and asked him, "How are you doing? You doing OK?"

"Nope," the mercurial Smith replied.

From Harbaugh's viewpoint, that meant Smith understood the gravity of the situation and he recognized that he needed to get control of his emotions. That businesslike approach, as well as a little luck, proved to be the difference as Smith delivered the critical plays in the Ravens' 38-10 rout of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

Smith didn't shake hands with his former Panthers teammates before the coin toss. He didn't even use his trademark spinning of the ball after a big catch.

Instead of living up to the promise of "blood and guts" with this reunion, Smith delivered his payback with two big plays and a parting shot in his final answer of his postgame media session.

"I'll give you a one-liner: That film was a coaching session," said Smith, who caught seven passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. "They're going to be coaching how, at 35 years old, a man ran around boys like they were schoolyard kids."

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said Smith didn't make a big deal about the game throughout the week. Everyone, though, knew how important it was to him.

That's why the Ravens targeted Smith on three of their first five passes. Strangely enough, Smith's most memorable play of the game came on a pass not intended for him.

His 61-yard touchdown in the second quarter first deflected off the right hand of tight end Owen Daniels and fell into Smith's arms at the Carolina 45-yard line. Smith raced past safety Thomas DeCoud, then took a bow in the end zone.

At the start of that play, Smith ran 10 yards out to the left sideline, but he thought Flacco was going to scramble. That called for Smith to run downfield, like he did in the season opener on an 80-yard touchdown. As he took off and Flacco threw the pass, he noticed the nose of the ball was up, so he kept running. The pass then tipped off Daniels and went right to Smith in stride.

"One of the craziest plays you'll see, one of the craziest touchdown passes you'll see," Flacco said. "But I'll take it."

Smith now has 29 career catches of 50 or more yards, the most among active players. This was his second for the Ravens.

In total, Smith's 429 yards receiving are the most by an NFL player over age 35 in the first four games of a season. Harbaugh was hoping Smith would be productive when the Ravens signed him in March. He saw Smith on tape making tacklers miss and covering a lot of ground with that long stride.

"But, the kind of production he's had, it would be pretty hard to predict that," Harbaugh said.

Smith's second touchdown catch involved some good fortune as well. Later in the second quarter, Flacco dropped the snap from center, picked up the ball off the ground and immediately heaved it to the left side of the end zone. Even with a cornerback grabbing his right arm, Smith was able to make the 21-yard catch to put the Ravens up 21-7.

The reason Flacco threw it so quickly was based on his pre-snap read. He saw the Panthers pressing Smith at the line of scrimmage, and Smith was running a go-route. So Flacco had already made up his mind that his best option was throwing Smith's way.

"I knew I was going there with the ball right away, so when I dropped the snap, I tried to pick it up as cleanly as I could and give him a chance -- kind of lucky, but it worked out," Flacco said.

Smith threw his first touchdown pass into the crowd. His second one is being saved. It's going in his son's room.

"I know so many people were saying this over and over: I'd get ejected, I fight, I talk mess," Smith said. "I just went in there and played, not have anything good, bad or indifferent to say. I just played, and at the end of the day, honestly, they didn't deserve anything I had to say that would be derogatory, and I had no need to. It was all business."
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  • Tomlint
    Coach Mike Tomlin took the blame after the Steelers fell to 2-2 with a last-second loss to the 1-3 Buccaneers. “The bottom line is we are an undisciplined group,” Tomlin said. “We are too highly penalized. Obviously we are not coaching it. We are allowing it to happen.” The Steelers were penalized 13 times for 125 yards, and they are averaging 11 penalties per game. “We kicked our own butt today with penalties,” Tomlin said. “We have to fix it. I have to fix it, and I will.”
  • Mike Mitchell summed up the overwhelming feeling in a gloomy locker room after the Steelers couldn’t protect a late lead against a previously winless team at Heinz Field. “I feel sick,” the Steelers free safety said late Sunday afternoon. The Steelers allowed quarterback Mike Glennon to march the Buccaneers 46 yards in 33 seconds for the winning touchdown. Glennon made his first start of the season Sunday, but Mitchell played against him in 2013 while with the Carolina Panthers. “He is who we thought he was,” Mitchell said. “Golly, that will be a sound bite.”
  • James Harrison played a handful of snaps in his first game back with the Steelers and was the same old Harrison -- at least in the locker room. As a group of reporters stood in front of Cameron Heyward’s locker waiting for the defensive end to talk, Harrison growled to a cameraman, “Get your feet off my bag.” Harrison wasn’t credited with any tackles or quarterback hits in the loss to the Buccaneers. But Harrison, who has been back with the Steelers for less than a week, didn’t give himself a pass after practicing for the first time in more than nine months on Wednesday. “I’m part of the mental errors,” Harrison said of the mistakes the Steelers committed.