AFC North: Bill Belichick

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel criticized the New England Patriots' approach on Friday and did not just reserve his scorn for the AFC champions.

Keisel also took aim at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the wake of the controversy that has raised new questions about the lengths to which the Patriots will go to win.

"It's a damn shame what's going on right now in the league," Keisel said on WDVE Radio in Pittsburgh. "To me the one place you look is Goodell."

Goodell and the league have to sort through reports that most of the footballs supplied by the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last Sunday were not inflated to NFL standards. The Patriots thumped the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, in Foxborough, Massachusetts, but the shine from that victory quickly faded when New England came under scrutiny for what has been dubbed "Deflate-gate."

Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady each denied they had anything to do with what happened last Sunday at Gillette Stadium, and that the air pressure level in footballs would not have mushroomed into a national story if it was an isolated incident.

But in 2007, the Patriots were fined heavily and stripped of a first-round draft pick after Goodell ruled the team had illegally videotaped opponents.

"They are looking to win at all costs," Keisel said of the Patriots. "That's why they've been to the Super Bowl six times. There are rules and you're supposed to follow the rules, but sometimes the rules don't get followed and it's a shame."

Steelers president Art Rooney II said earlier this week that taking air out of footballs would not rise to the level of a major rules breach.

When asked if the NFL has to take a hard line if the Patriots tried to gain an advantage because of past transgressions, he said, "I think the league will have to impose some discipline if they determine what's being reported as fact. I have no idea what is reality and what is not at this point. But if it happened, it's a violation of the rules, and I'm sure the league will impose some kind of discipline."
PITTSBURGH -- Art Rooney II weighed in on two subjects that are outside of Pittsburgh but have roiled Steelers' fans nonetheless: reports, including one from ESPN, that the New England Patriots may have illegally gained an advantage over an opponent and running back LeGarrette Blount's reward for abandoning the Steelers.

The Patriots' 45-7 drubbing of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game -- and another crack for quarterback Tom Brady at an elusive fourth Super Bowl title -- has been clouded by lingering suspicion hanging over an organization that has already been busted for cheating.

The Patriots, who were punished for illegally videotaping opponents by the NFL in 2007, face less serious accusations as far as manipulating the air pressure in footballs used in their blowout win over the Colts.

But the Patriots have never been able to completely wash away the stench from Spygate, and the mounting evidence that they may have cheated again could lead to some significant repercussions and at least tarnish coach Bill Belichick's legacy.

Here is what Rooney, the Steelers' president, said when I asked him if the NFL needs to come down hard on the Patriots, if it is determined they cheated, because of past behavior: "Let's put it this way: I think the league will have to impose some discipline if they determine what's being reported as fact. I haven't talked to anybody up there myself so I have no idea what is reality and what is not at this point. But if it happened, it's a violation of the rules and I'm sure the league will impose some kind of discipline."

Blount, who signed a two-year contract with the Steelers almost a year ago, violated one of the basic codes among teammates when he left the sidelines before a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans last November.

Blount, unhappy about his diminishing role in the offense, went to the Steelers' locker room before they had beaten Tennessee after he did not receive a carry against the Titans.

Never mind that Le'Veon Bell rushed for a career-high 204 yards against the Titans and that Bell was Blount's best friend on the team.

The Steelers wasted little time in waiving the discontented Blount and the Patriots re-signed the fifth-year veteran in late November.

Blount emerged as the Patriots' best back late in the season -- just as he did in 2013 -- and is one victory away from winning a Super Bowl title.

Despite the success of Blount -- and the Steelers' need for a quality backup after Bell hyperextended his right knee in the regular-season finale -- Rooney has no regrets with how Pittsburgh handled the Blount situation.

"Obviously we don't want to have those kind things happen in the middle of the season but it is what it is and I think we made the decision [to release Blount] for the right reasons," Rooney said. "Not going to worry about it too much. We just have to make sure that we make a better decision this year and fill that position with someone we're comfortable with and who will be a good fit."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- John Harbaugh said "it meant everything" that Patriots coach Bill Belichick called owner Steve Bisciotti and suggested that he interview Harbaugh for the Baltimore Ravens' head coaching opening in 2008.

"The fact that he was willing to do that at the time, I was stunned when I heard the story much later," Harbaugh said Thursday. "I would describe the relationship as very good. [I have] great admiration for coach and consider him ... I’ve never worked with him, specifically, but for whatever reason he has been always willing to kind of take me under his wing in a way and give me time and insight and things like that."

When the Ravens and Patriots met near the end of last season, Belichick said he wished he was better friends with Harbaugh, but it's tough when they're always competing against each other.

"I have a lot of respect for John," Belichick said. "John, obviously again had a great background -- football family. He grew up with it, as I did. He’s really paid his dues. He’s been a good coach in this league, whether it was on special teams or defense or obviously as a head coach."

Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game marks the third time in four seasons that the teams will face each other in the playoffs. The Ravens have ended the Patriots' season in 2009 and 2012.

Should Belichick now regret referring Harbaugh for Ravens job?

"I don't think I'm going to get into that," Harbaugh said with a smile.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh made a humorous reference to Bill Belichick's "On to Cincinnati" mantra when asked about his team's success on the road this season.

The Ravens, who are now 2-1 on the road, matched their win total away from home from a year ago on Sunday when they won at Tampa Bay, but they can't improve upon that this week because they're at home against the Atlanta Falcons.

"We've got plenty of chances after this week," Harbaugh said. "We're not moving on to Cincinnati yet, though."

That's right, the Ravens' next chance for a road victory comes the following week at Cincinnati. It wasn't a coincidental choice of words, either.

Harbaugh smiled as soon as he said it, which drew laughter during his Monday news conference.

"I think he'll appreciate that," Harbaugh said.

Earlier this month, Belichick famously refused to answer any questions about the struggles of quarterback Tom Brady by responding no fewer than six times with the line: "We're on to Cincinnati."

And, when the Ravens do officially move on to Cincinnati, it'll likely be for first place in the AFC North.
CINCINNATI -- Each week, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson charges his Cincinnati Bengals ball carriers to pick up enough yards on the ground that they will match or exceed his target of 4.5 yards per carry.

Through three games, the Bengals aren't gaining enough yards to suit Jackson's liking, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. It's a low average mostly brought down by second-year back Giovani Bernard, who is averaging 3.4 yards per attempt. On 55 carries, he has gained just 185 yards.

His sidekick, rookie Jeremy Hill, is averaging 5.1 yards on about half the rushes. But that number isn't good enough for Hill. Mainly because he is desperate to start breaking loose on bigger gains. To this point, his longest rush is 13 yards.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriJeremy Hill, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, is determined to break more big runs.
"Yeah, I got to bust one," Hill said. "I got to hit one on the second level. That's what Coach Hue has been saying will help the running backs' average."

Among other factors, better blocking downfield could provide a spark in getting backs like Hill and Bernard to the next level of the defense.

"It's a key. It's an emphasis," Jackson said ahead of Sunday night's game at New England. "It's something we have to continue to harp on to do better, because that's where the big runs are. You have 11 guys playing as hard as they can play, and that's what uplifts your team and gets them to play even better.

"We've talked about it. It's been brought to their attention, but at the end of the day, it's an attitude and a mindset. You've got to want to do it [block downfield], and I think our guys do."

Downfield blocking specifically refers to what receivers like A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu are doing eight, 10, 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. It also refers to what takes place when guards pull off the line and tackles get going upfield by pushing into a defense's secondary.

Last season, the Bengals' downfield blocking was among their best attributes. One of the more memorable plays that showcased it was Green's 54-yard reception at Buffalo off a screen at the line of scrimmage. Just as Green turned to run following his catch, he sprinted through holes supplied by left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Sanu. After opening the alley, Whitworth wasn't done. He sprinted ahead of Green and pushed back another defensive back about 25 yards downfield, giving Green additional space to wiggle free for the big first-down gain.

When it comes to the ground attack, blocking isn't the only issue for Jackson. He would like to see his backs plow through defenders even better than they have.

"The finish part of blocks and runs and attitude, you've just got to come out the other side sometimes. Sometimes you have to just make those plays and make them happen," Jackson said. "The runners understand that, and they've watched the tape. The linemen watch the tape, so collectively we understand what we need to do to create that kind of opportunity for our backs, and sometimes they have to create it for themselves."

If you ask New England coach Bill Belichick, both running backs can do just that.

"The yardage they get, they get on their own," Belichick said. "They're able to create extra yards on their own by breaking tackles or running through arm tackles or using vision and patience to set up blocks, get a block from a slot receiver or tight end, somebody on the second level. Their receivers do block well. They're aggressive and big. They do a good job of helping the running game with their blocking, which sets up opportunities for them on play-action passes.

"You have to deal with all of that. So it's all those things [that the backs do well]."

Cowher dismisses impact of 'Spygate'

January, 15, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Bill Cowher has a message for Pittsburgh Steelers fans who think their team was cheated out of a trip to the Super Bowl 10 years ago: Get over it.

The Steelers were drummed by New England, 41-27, in the 2004 AFC Championship Game at Heinz field, a loss that came under suspicion a couple of years later when the Patriots were caught trying to steal signals and formations by illegally videotaping opposing teams.

“We didn’t lose the game because of any 'Spygate,' because of them having any additional things,” Cowher told 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday. “[If] they’re guilty of anything they’re guilty of arrogance because they were told not to do something but it was something everybody does. They got caught doing it with a camera.”

Cowher, who coached the Steelers from 1992-2006, said what the Patriots did happened regularly in the NFL before the league allowed coordinators to relay plays to their quarterback and defensive signal-caller via a helmet radio.

“Stealing someone’s signals was a part of the game and everybody attempted to do that. We had people that always tried to steal signals,” said Cowher, whose 2004 team won 16 consecutive games before losing to the Patriots in the AFC title game. “What happened when we lost that game is they outplayed us. It had nothing to do with stealing signals or cheating or anything else.”

Cowher, an NFL studio analyst for CBS, interviewed Patriots coach Bill Belichick last week, and he said the two talked extensively afterward, the first time they had done so since they were both NFL assistant coaches.

Cowher professed his admiration for Belichick and the sustained success he has enjoyed in the salary-cap era.

The Pittsburgh native also made it clear on Wednesday that he won’t be matching wits against Belichick -- or any other NFL head coach -- anytime soon.

Cowher reiterated that he has “no interest” in returning to the sideline even though his name has been linked to head-coaching vacancies every year since he retired from the Steelers in January 2007.

Cowher, who went 149-90-1 and won a Super Bowl in 15 seasons with the Steelers, acknowledged that he has received his share of inquiries about returning to coaching.

“It’s flattering but it never gets very far,” Cowher said. “If I ever want to get back into coaching I should be calling teams they shouldn’t be calling me. That’s when you know you really want to do it.”

Sanders to face team he nearly joined

November, 1, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Patriots liked Emmanuel Sanders enough that they were willing to part with a third-round draft pick for a wide receiver who has never had a 100-yard game in the NFL.

Bill Belichick explained why the Patriots signed Sanders to a one-year, $2.5 million deal last April (the Steelers matched it and thus kept the player who was a restricted free agent.)

“He’s an outstanding player,” Belichick said of Sanders. “He’s fast, he runs well with the ball in his hands, he gets open, he’s a hard guy to cover, a hard guy to tackle and has value in the kicking game. I think he’s got a lot of things going for him.”

Sanders could very well end up in New England in 2014.

He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season as the Steelers didn’t see enough from the fourth-year veteran to sign him to a multi-year deal. That is something they typically do with core players who are going into the final year of their contract.

Sanders acknowledged that it was flattering to have a team as accomplished as the Patriots covet him last offseason.

“It was pretty cool what took place not only the New England Patriots wanting me but the other teams that were also involved with the deal,” Sanders said. “I work extremely hard and when Mike [Wallace] and Antonio [Brown] were here I was the No. 3. I felt like I was hidden a little bit, but it felt good to know that other teams recognized my talents.”

Sanders’ talent is undeniable, but the Steelers need him to do more than just flash it from time to time -- as he did in catching a 55-yard touchdown pass against the Jets or nearly breaking a 107-yard kickoff return against the Ravens.

The increased opportunities that were supposed to come with Sanders moving into the starting lineup have not translated into consistent production from the former third-round pick.

Sanders has caught 31 passes – 25 less than Antonio Brown – for 396 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The Steelers need Sanders to step up more in the second half of the season, particularly with teams paying more attention to Brown.

What happens with Sanders in the future remains to be seen. And Sanders said he won’t be thinking about how close he came to playing for the Patriots this season when he lines up against them on Sunday.

“Right now I’m playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and we’re searching for win No. 3,” Sanders said. “That’s all that’s on my mind.”
John HarbaughMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsNo coach in NFL history has won more playoff games than the Baltimore Ravens' John Harbaugh in the first five seasons of a career.
When John Harbaugh was introduced as the Baltimore Ravens' head coach, a reporter brought up the fact that owner Steve Bisciotti mentioned he was searching for the next Hall of Fame coach.

"By the way, did you know I said that?" Bisciotti said with a smile, patting Harbaugh on the back.

Five years and one Super Bowl championship later, no one is laughing anymore. While it's too early to start talking about making a bust of Harbaugh for Canton, his ability to consistently win -- and win at a high level -- in a league that prides itself on parity underscores an unprecedented path of success.

No NFL coach has won more games (including playoffs) than Harbaugh since he became the Ravens' coach in 2008. No coach in NFL history has won more playoff games than Harbaugh in the first five seasons of a career. He is the only coach to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, and he is the only coach to advance to three conference title games in his first five years.

Harbaugh, 50, didn't make the cut in's countdown of the 20 greatest coaches of all time. He would, however, rank at the top of the list for the NFL's next great coach.

Some may dispute that by saying he's a good coach with great players. It's true that the Ravens have had at least five players make the Pro Bowl each season under Harbaugh, including six in 2012. What often goes overlooked is Harbaugh's knack for overcoming challenge after challenge. His teams have always survived serious injuries to star players, unpopular divorces with fan favorites, offensive inconsistency and a near-annual turnover at defensive coordinator (four in five seasons).

In 2008, his first season, Harbaugh went with a rookie starting quarterback (Joe Flacco) and guided the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game. In 2011, the Ravens parted ways with the top two receivers in franchise history (Derrick Mason and Todd Heap) before the start of training camp, but Harbaugh got Baltimore to within one failed catch of the Super Bowl. And last season, reigning defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs and linebacker Ray Lewis missed a combined 18 games, yet Harbaugh captured another division title and won the Super Bowl.

While many documented what winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy meant for Flacco, it represented validation for Harbaugh, as well. It was only six years ago that Harbaugh, an accomplished special-teams coach in the NFL, couldn't get an interview for the head-coaching job at Boston College (the job went to Jeff Jagodzinski). Today, he is shaking hands with President Barack Obama as part of the Super Bowl champions' visit to the White House.

"For me, there was no question in my mind that I could do it or would do it," Harbaugh said. "There wasn't any doubt personally about that. It was just a matter of where is it going to happen."

What you'll read now about Harbaugh is how this is his team since Lewis has retired. That's the perception on the outside. Those at Ravens headquarters know this has always been Harbaugh's team.

His attention to detail was key in turning the Ravens from underachievers to a perennial playoff team. His commitment to discipline changed the bad-boy culture in Baltimore. Last season's Super Bowl team featured just six players (Lewis, Suggs, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Marshal Yanda and Sam Koch) who were on the team before Harbaugh. For the most part, these were his guys.

[+] EnlargeSteve Bisciotti, John Harbaugh
AP Photo/Rob CarrExpectations for John Harbaugh have always been high, starting when Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, left, hired him in 2008.
When you sign up for Harbaugh's program, you're required to follow the rules at practice. Run full speed. Tuck in your shirts. Buckle your chinstrap. And don't ever think of sitting down. The signs posted throughout Ravens headquarters -- like W.I.N. (What's Important Now) and Team, Team, Team -- seem more suited for a college setting, but Harbaugh is all about professionalism. If you're not playing the best at that position, Harbaugh won't put you on the field, and it doesn't matter if you're a former Pro Bowl player. Chris McAlister and Bryant McKinnie learned that the hard way.

Harbaugh's tough love isn't for everyone. Bart Scott sounded off on him a few years ago, and Bernard Pollard said he wouldn't join the Ravens at the White House today or for the ring ceremony after insinuating there was a problem with Harbaugh. The Ravens released Pollard in March.

Harbaugh emphasized that he doesn't hold grudges and has respected every player who has been with the Ravens. In fact, Harbaugh believes one of the biggest factors in being a great coach is building relationships.

"The word I would use is you got to love your players," Harbaugh said, "and I believe Vince Lombardi loved his players. He was tough on them. He pushed them. They probably didn't love him back at the time. But they sure love him now."

Those who've remained have grown with Harbaugh.

"It was a lot different his first year," Yanda told The Baltimore Sun before the Super Bowl. "He didn't have his guys here, and some guys gave him fits and ticked him off. He didn't have his relationships built. But some of us have been together for five years now and we're more comfortable with him. We've had some great wins and tough losses together. We know him. We trust him, and he knows when it is time to work, we will work."

Harbaugh doesn't generate memorable quotes like Rex Ryan. He doesn't attract the same attention as his brother Jim. What Harbaugh stands for is a sum of the coaches that he learned under. From his father Jack, a longtime college coach, he understood the importance of connecting with players. From Bo Schembechler, he picked up the importance of physicality and the team concept. From Andy Reid, he developed the same meticulous nature.

Another fair comparison is Bill Belichick, who is considered the best head coach of this generation. Belichick and Harbaugh both got their start in the NFL coaching special teams, and each grew up with a father who was a football coach. And, in some respect, Harbaugh has Belichick to thank for where he is today. When the Ravens were looking at coaching candidates in 2008, Belichick called Bisciotti to suggest Harbaugh for the job.

"Take personalities completely out of it, they're both attention to detail, they're both schematically strong, and they're both great evaluators of talent," said Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who also coached under Belichick. "They know how to handle players and they know how to hire coaching staffs."

Since 2008, Harbaugh has won 63 games, tied for the most in the NFL with Belichick. His .692 winning percentage in the playoffs is tied for fifth-best in NFL history with Belichick. Now, Harbaugh is looking to become the first coach to repeat as Super Bowl champion since Belichick.

But Harbaugh will have to win this one without Lewis and Reed, two future Hall of Fame players. If Harbaugh has proved anything in his five seasons with the Ravens, it's how he attacks challenges.

"The greatest opportunity is in the biggest adversity. That's what it always is," Harbaugh said. "Every year, you can look at what was said before the season about what kind of team we were going to have and then you saw what we were able to accomplish. I'm really excited about the challenges we get to face."

Being the dutiful AFC North blogger, I waited until midnight to write on any breaking news that occurred with the start of the NFL's brand-new three-day negotiation period.

So, what did we get? Just more speculation about a potential Browns' trade for Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett. Yawn.

This isn't really news. It's basically another round of mixed signals on this subject. With two potential quarterback targets off the market for the Browns (Matt Moore re-signed with the Dolphins and Brian Hoyer received a second-round restricted free-agent tender from the Cardinals), The Plain Dealer reported that one source expects the Browns to try to trade for Mallett. But, in the next sentence, the newspaper adds that another source says Patriots coach Bill Belichick won't let go of Mallett.

Working against a trade is the fact that the Browns would prefer not to give up a draft pick after using a second-round one on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. The Browns' best option in free agency at this point is looking like Saints backup Chase Daniel. He's 26 (three years younger than Brandon Weeden) and has spent the past four seasons behind Drew Brees. Daniel is intriguing because there has to be some reason why Saints coach Sean Payton has kept him around this long. Plus, adding Daniel won't cost the Browns a draft pick.

Hopefully the weekend provides better bits of information than this.

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs should still be celebrating. It was only 24 days ago that he won his first Super Bowl. Along the way, he even beat the team he despises most in the Patriots. But for some reason, Suggs can't get past his animosity for the Patriots even though he got his revenge on them.

Speaking on WEEI-AM, a Boston radio station, Suggs said he "guarantees the other 31 [NFL] teams hate the New England Patriots."

"The NFL is not very big," Suggs said on WEEI. "You think we don't talk to guys that have played for the New England Patriots, that have been on the New England Patriots that have been like, 'Oh, it's been like this.'

"It ain't just me. Why did Bart Scott say the same thing? You think it's just us? You think it's just got something to do with us? No. This is because we have inside information. We know."

[+] EnlargeTerrell Suggs
Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun/MCT/Getty ImagesWhile Terrell Suggs has a point that not everyone is a Patriots fan, all 31 other teams might go too far.
Suggs is both right and wrong on this. Yes, it's an opinionated cop-out, but let me explain.

Here is where Suggs is right: The Patriots are hated. It goes back to Spygate scandal in 2007 and the perception that the Patriots cheated to win their three Super Bowls. It stems from the "Tom Brady rule" (it's a penalty to lunge at a quarterback's knees if you're on the ground), which caused many to think the NFL goes out of its way to protect the Patriots quarterback. It also has something to do with the arrogance of coach Bill Belichick, which explains why he was voted as the second-most overrated coach in a players poll conducted by the Sporting News three months ago.

Here is where Suggs is wrong: It's an overstatement to say the Patriots are hated by the 31 other teams. I find it hard to believe that the Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers loathe the Patriots. The Ravens? Yes. The Steelers? Sure. The Jets and the rest of the AFC East? Absolutely. It's funny that Suggs is certain that everyone hates the Patriots when his own teammate admires them. Safety Ed Reed always speaks glowingly of Belichick and Brady and he could sign with New England as a free agent next month (I even joked about his bromance with Belichick).

Suggs was making the radio rounds Wednesday to promote "The Coalition," a movie he co-wrote. It's a romantic comedy about "four women who band together to get revenge on four young, successful players because the guys mistreated them in some way." My guess is the villain in the movie wears Uggs, but I digress.

On his radio tour, Suggs also took a shot at a 49ers offensive tackle Anthony Davis on a San Francisco station. After saying San Francisco had "one fake tough guy" on the offensive line, he complimented every starter except Davis. On Twitter, Davis fired back, calling Suggs an (expletive) "loser" and (expletive) "puppet."

By my count, Suggs has made enemies of the Patriots and 49ers. So while he thinks the Patriots are the NFL's most hated team, it looks like Suggs is gaining momentum to become the league's most hated player.

Video: Reed, Belichick on same team?

January, 31, 2013

Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless discuss Ed Reed comments about possibly playing for Bill Belichick someday.
NEW ORLEANS -- It appears that Patriots coach Bill Belichick's bromance with Ravens safety Ed Reed is not a one-sided affair.

Reed, who has deflected questions about his future this month, couldn't help himself when a Boston Herald reporter asked if he could see himself playing for Belichick next season.

"Yeah, oh yeah, man, I could definitely play for Coach Belichick," said Reed, who is an unrestricted free agent in March. "He is a great coach. I'm sure he can help me to expand my football knowledge even more as a player and as a coach, so if I'm ever able to be around him, just like I was at the Pro Bowl, it's huge."

I speculated two weeks ago that Reed could find a new home in New England next season. A couple of years ago, Tom Brady joked that Belichick wanted to adopt Ed Reed and change his name to "Ed Belichick."

Now, it appears that Reed is taking fashion tips from Belichick. I couldn't make this next quote up if I tried.

"It's the reason why I wear my sweater cut off a little bit," Reed said. "He's the first guy I saw like, 'That's cool.' You know, that's cool. He cuts those sweater sleeves, and he'll be comfortable. So there's a reason why. Most people will tell you around the facility that's how I look. It's just a blessing to even have met, to know Coach Belichick."

What's next for Reed and Belichick? Secret handshakes? Late-night texting BFFs?

There is a chance that the Super Bowl will be Ed Reed's final game for Baltimore. I guess we'll have to wait a few months before we find out if Reed is swapping a Ravens jersey for a Patriots hoodie.
Ed Reed could be playing in his final game with the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. But this might not be his last one in New England.

Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowl safety, is an unrestricted free agent in March, and there have not been any contract talks with the Ravens since before the 2011 season. If Reed leaves the Ravens after this season, my money is going to be for New England.

I can see Reed playing for the New England Patriots for two reasons: the Patriots need a playmaker in the back end of the defense after giving up the most passes over 20 yards in the NFL this season and coach Bill Belichick loves Reed. It's a full-blown man crush. A couple of years ago, Tom Brady joked that Belichick wanted to adopt Ed Reed and change his name to "Ed Belichick."

Just listen to how Belichick talks about Reed:

In January 2012, Belichick said Reed "probably covers more field back there as a single safety than most teams can cover with two." This week, Belichick sounded like he was gushing when talking about Reed's legacy, saying, "He just does things that nobody else at that position does or I don’t know if they’ve ever done it. He’s special. He's really special."

Coming from Reed's vantage point, I can only see him going to a team with championship aspirations. Reed, who turns 35 at the start of the 2013 season, doesn't want to end his career on a rebuilding team.

So, if Reed comes available, I would expect Belichick to personally make the call to Reed. Of course, this is assuming that Reed will be available in March. While I don't see the Ravens investing a long-term deal in Reed, the team could put the franchise tag on him if it can get a long-term deal reached with quarterback Joe Flacco.

On Sunday, Reed is looking for his first trip to the Super Bowl when the Ravens play at New England. But his destination this offseason will also be a major storyline.
It is really unfair to make players suit up for a Thursday night game, only four days removed from knocking helmets on Sunday. But, for someone who isn't playing, it's fun to know there's going to be an AFC North matchup tomorrow. As always, remember to set your fantasy lineups accordingly. Time for wake-up call ...

BENGALS: Nate Clements has proven to be versatile with the ability to move back and forth from cornerback to safety. Last Sunday, he proved his toughness. He hurt his leg in the first quarter, but ended up playing 96 percent of the snaps. According to the team's official website, Clements was seen leaving Paul Brown Stadium in a walking boot and it's unclear how serious the injury is. "He's very valuable, a very tough man," coach Marvin Lewis said. "Every football game he goes out there, every chance he gets to go out there, it means a lot to him and he takes it very seriously." Clements shows his commitment through his durability. In his previous 11 seasons, he's played at least 15 games in 10 of them.

BROWNS: Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden immediately regretted describing his performance Sunday as "good" and "solid" in the post-game press conference. He completed 62.8 percent of his passes against the Bills but he threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter. "I thought about it before I even walked out the room [on Sunday]," Weeden told The Plain Dealer. "First and foremost, the most important thing is winning the game. I didn't do enough to win the game so I didn't play well enough. I shouldn't have said I played well. I didn't play well. What I was referring to was I felt comfortable. I felt good; I just didn't do enough to win the game." Let's see how "comfortable" Weeden looks with Haloti Ngata rushing up the middle Thursday.

RAVENS: Head coach John Harbaugh won't be fined for making contact with an official in Sunday night's game against New England, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Harbaugh was penalized late in the fourth quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct. In his post-game press conference, Harbaugh acknowledged that he bumped an official, but he explained that it was done accidentally. He was trying to call for a timeout. The news wasn't as good for Washington Redskins offensive coodinator Kyle Shanahan, who was fined $25,000. Schefter also reports that Patriots coach Bill Belichick is expected to be fined for grabbing an official. At a time when the NFL is looking to protect these replacement officials as much as possible, Harbaugh should feel lucky that he didn't get disciplined.

STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger insisted there's no problem between him and offensive coordinator Todd Haley and clarified his statement that he used some plays from his old playbook on Sunday. He said he used hand signals that were part of the old offense. “I really didn’t think it would get blown up as much as it did, and I know some people are saying that I’ve been resistant to Todd,” Roethlisberger said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But it’s one of those things that we went to Todd, and it’s in the playbook now. It was simply a signal that I used with our receivers on two different occasions." Roethlisberger is smart enough to know that telling reporters that he pulled plays from his old playbook would generate a buzz. And Roethlisberger acknowledged that he's still close to former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who is now the offensive coordinator for the Colts. “We talk every week," Roethlisberger said.