AFC North: Deshea Townsend
- No matter how you cut it, this offseason will present a steep price tag for the Baltimore Ravens to keep Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata.
- Could Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer land with the San Francisco 49ers?
- Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend will join new Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
- Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur confirmed he will serve dual role as offensive coordinator next season.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DL Justin Bannan, DL Dwan Edwards, CB Corey Ivy, WR Derrick Mason, TE L.J. Smith, WR David Tyree, CB Frank Walker, WR Kelley Washington
Potential restricted free agents: OT Jared Gaither, K Billy Cundiff, S Dawan Landry, CB Fabian Washington, P Sam Koch, OG Chris Chester, QB John Beck, QB Troy Smith, OT Tony Moll, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Prescott Burgess, WR Mark Clayton, WR Demetrius Williams
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: The Ravens have a ton of quality free agents. It will be interesting because Baltimore is the only division team which has to abide by the "Final Eight Plan" for making the divisional playoffs. This will restrict Baltimore from making a lot of moves. Therefore, expect the team to keep most of its key restricted free agents while trying to explore the trade market. On the unrestricted side, the Ravens are negotiating with receiver Derrick Mason and are expected to keep him. But two players who could get some interest in the open market are defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan. Baltimore likes both players but could lose at least one.
Potential unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams, TE J.P. Foschi
Potential restricted free agents: LB Brandon Johnson, LB Rashad Jeanty, OL Evan Mathis, C Kyle Cook, DE Frostee Rucker, CB David Jones, LB Abdul Hodge, QB Jordan Palmer, TE Daniel Coats, DT Shaun Smith
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: The Bengals have yet to announce their tenders, so this list could change by Thursday evening. But traditionally they are not big spenders in free agency and will stay true to that even with an uncapped year. Cincinnati could make one or two decent outside signings that may help the team. Finding a receiver would be the most likely target. The most interesting in-house name is offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who likely will test the market. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also would like to keep veteran Roy Williams and Tank Johnson. But the team hasn't made a major push for either player before they're let loose Friday.
Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates
Potential restricted free agents: RB Jerome Harrison, LB D'Qwell Jackson, FB Lawrence Vickers, S Brodney Pool, S Abram Elam, DE Matt Roth
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: Cleveland has the money to spend and the biggest talent deficit. So look for the Browns to attempt to make up ground in free agency. Major names like defensive end Julius Peppers and tailback Thomas Jones have been mentioned as possibilities for Cleveland, but that remains to be seen. Internally, the Browns should be interested in keeping Harrison and Vickers in their backfield. Jackson also has value. None of their unrestricted players are priorities for the team and will be allowed to hit free agency.
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, CB Deshea Townsend , FB Carey Davis, OG Darnell Stapleton
Potential restricted free agents: OT Willie Colon, CB William Gay, P Daniel Sepulveda, TE Matt Spaeth
Franchise tag: K Jeff Reed
What to expect: The Steelers are pretty predictable. Pittsburgh intends to keep all of its restricted free agents, get a long-term deal complete with Reed, who has the franchise tag, and let nearly all of their unrestricted free agents test the market. The exception is Clark, who the Steelers targeted as a priority but has yet to reach a long-term extension before Friday's deadline. Negotiations have been ongoing and should go to the final hour to decide whether both sides can come to an agreement or allow Clark to test the market.
Michael Oher and Lardarius Webb appear to be two solid, young players for Baltimore.
- Could the New England Patriots be interested in Pittsburgh Steelers free-agent cornerback Deshea Townsend?
- Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer wants his fourth-ranked unit to get even better in 2010.
- How much would the Cleveland Browns, or any other team, be willing to invest in 30-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers?
An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC North.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Key figures: Derrick Mason is contemplating retirement. But if he wants to play, the Ravens have every intention of keeping their leading receiver. Look for Baltimore also to make a push for another significant addition at receiver to assist the development of budding quarterback Joe Flacco. Sleeper players on this list include the two defensive linemen: Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards. The Ravens like both players and will probably make a push to keep at least one on the roster. Baltimore also lacks cornerback depth and might elect to bring back Frank Walker, despite his penchant for giving up big plays and committing penalties.
Unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, DT Shaun Smith, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams
Key figures: Bobbie Williams is an interesting name. He’s one of Cincinnati’s most consistent offensive linemen over the last several years, but he turns 34 in September. Kicker Shayne Graham, who was franchised last season, had a solid career in Cincinnati. But he missed kicks in big spots, potentially ending his run with the Bengals. Running back Larry Johnson was third string in Cincinnati and should get more playing time elsewhere in 2010.
Unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates
Key figures: This is not an impressive list as most of Cleveland's key free agents -- such as Jerome Harrison, Lawrence Vickers and D'Qwell Jackson -- are restricted. Mike Furrey is a high-character player that coach Eric Mangini likes on his football team, and he might be retained. The remaining players on this list likely will hit the open market. The Browns have an interesting decision to make with Harrison, who led the team in rushing after a tremendous second half of the 2009 season. Harrison could garner some interest as a restricted free agent if the Browns do not offer a high enough tender.
Unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, NT Casey Hampton, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, K Jeff Reed, CB Deshea Townsend
Key figures: The Steelers are aiming to keep most of their key veterans, while infusing some youth through the draft. All indications are the team will offer extensions to safety Ryan Clark and kicker Jeff Reed. Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton is the biggest name on this list. But he's a strong candidate for the franchise tag, because there is no full-time replacement on the roster. This offseason probably will mark the end of tailback Willie Parker's tenure in Pittsburgh. Parker, 29, helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl wins during his career. But various ailments since initially breaking his leg in 2007 hampered his production.
On Monday the AFC North blog caught up with Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to get an early feel for Pittsburgh's needs in the first round.
Matt, the Steelers don't pick in the teens often. Do you think this is their chance to land an impact player who can help right away next season?
Matt Williamson: The Steelers don't miss often in the first round no matter what. They're pretty solid in that regard. They've have some issues in the second round at times. But I think they need to find an impact defensive back. That has to be priority No. 1. I don't know exactly what's going to be there yet at No. 18. We will have to see what juniors will declare.
What do you think about the cornerbacks in particular?
Williamson: If you look at all their corners right now, Ike Taylor, Deshea Townsend, the two guys they just drafted, they're all mid-round guys. None of them came into the league with a huge pedigree or blow-you-away athleticism and natural skills. If they can add a first-rounder it might go a long way.
Do the Steelers have enough confidence in 2009 draft picks Joe Burnett or Keenan Lewis to make strides and fill a big role next season?
Williamson: I can see one of those guys being a solid No. 3. That's sort of been their formula with these mid-round guys. Ike Taylor gave them nothing as a rookie. William Gay was a nickelback and did a nice job. But when he became a starter he struggled. So I think they want to bring in corners in the middle rounds, have them play special teams and earn their way, and then insert them in the lineup in year two or three. That formula can still hold true with Lewis and Burnett. I liked both players coming out of school, and I haven't seen enough of them to say they're not going to be able to help at this level. I think the jury is still out. But it's obvious, too, that neither has the pedigree or the ability to be a No. 1 corner. The ideal situation is to make Ike Taylor your No. 2 corner and bring in a No. 1-type corner. Then you’re really talking. The rest can play nickel and dime positions.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Team needs: Offensive linemen, defensive linemen, cornerback
|G Fiume/Getty Images|
|The Steelers could use California center Alex Mack if he drops to them at the end of the first round.|
Plan B: If the dream scenario fails to materialize, Pittsburgh can simply take the best available player. The Steelers have done it many times, drafting players they don't need right away but who will later develop into solid players. Pittsburgh could use help on the defensive line, which is aging but still has quality starters such as Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton. Cornerback also is a position of need after the loss of starter Bryant McFadden to Arizona in free agency. Pittsburgh is confident in William Gay but needs additional corners behind him and the aging Deshea Townsend to serve as backups and play in obvious passing situations.
Scouts Inc.'s take: "If I were a betting man, I would say the Steelers are going to go with an interior offensive lineman. But it certainly wouldn't shock me if they went with a defensive lineman. If you look at their defensive line, they're all 30-plus. And it takes those guys with the 'five technique' time to learn. None of them ever do it in college. So it takes a couple years of grooming. If you look at how successful they've been, Brett Keisel was a seventh-round pick and Aaron Smith was a fourth, and they didn't come in the league right away and handle that job. It's time to get young blood in to learn from the guys, rotate in and take snaps here and there. Two years ago, when Aaron Smith went down, their season completely crumbled. So that position might be their No. 1 need. If they can find a legit D-end to teach, that would be ideal. But those guys don't grow on trees.” -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: General manager Kevin Colbert makes the final calls on Pittsburgh's 53-man roster and will do so during the draft on April 25-26. But there will be group input from head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff as well.
|Laveranues Coles, Domonique Foxworth and Matt Birk headline this year's free-agent additions in the AFC North.|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
NFL free agency was created to improve the competitive balance and shake up rosters on an annual basis. This year is no different.
Therefore, meet the replacements -- AFC North style. There are no Shane Falcos in this group, although Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco developed that "The Replacements"-inspired nickname with his team last year.
Nonetheless, these players filling in will have a major impact on the success of their respective AFC North teams next season.
Replacing: Bryant McFadden
Reason for hope: Gay began to earn a decent amount of playing time during the second half of the Steelers' season, and there was no significant drop-off in production. He impressed the coaching staff so much that even when McFadden returned from a broken arm, the team still didn't want to keep Gay off the field. Now he gets to play full time.
Reason for concern: Sometimes the hardest adjustment for a cornerback is jumping from being a situational player to a full-time starter. Gay will no longer defend a team's No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. If he proves not to be ready for that jump, Pittsburgh will hope to get one more year out of aging veteran and longtime starter Deshea Townsend. It will be interesting to see how the Steelers replace McFadden, now with the Cardinals.
Domonique Foxworth, CB, Baltimore Ravens
Reason for hope: Combined with teammate Fabian Washington, Foxworth gives the Ravens one of the fastest cornerback tandems in the NFL. The Ravens run a lot of blitz packages from their 3-4 defense and need to make sure nothing gets behind them in case the call doesn't lead to a sack. Usually, safety Ed Reed will play deep centerfield to protect against the big play. But with two speedy corners, the coaching staff can move Reed around more next year and allow him even more flexibility, which is scary.
Reason for concern: Until last season in Atlanta, Foxworth had the label of "career backup." Sure, he was backing up two good corners in Champ Bailey and Dre Bly in Denver. But it is somewhat of a risk to pay a player $27 million after one season of starting with the Atlanta Falcons. Foxworth will have to answer those critics who will question his inexperience. Someone will have to step up since the Ravens waived McAlister and Rolle might see the same fate or be used as a nickelback.
Matt Birk, C, Baltimore Ravens
Replacing: Jason Brown
Reason for hope: The Ravens lost up-and-coming center Brown -- a free agent who signed with the Rams -- but signed a six-time Pro Bowler in Birk. He has been one of the best centers in the NFL for the past decade and will bring stability and more veteran leadership to the offensive line that already has tackle Willie Anderson. Birk also will help bring along a young signal-caller in second-year quarterback Flacco.
Reason for concern: In signing Birk, the team gained experience but also got six years older at the position. Birk will be 33 at the beginning of the 2009 season and has some wear and tear on his body after playing in the trenches for 12 seasons. He has started all 16 games the past three seasons. The Ravens are hoping that clean bill of heath continues for Birk in 2009.
Replacing: Bart Scott
Reason for hope: The Ravens have two potential replacements for Scott, now with the Jets. Therefore, they have twice as good a chance to find a suitable replacement in time for next season. Gooden was a third-round pick in 2008 from the University of Miami and a player who impressed fellow Hurricane Ray Lewis. The veteran Lewis has tutored many linebackers before, including Scott, and will have to teach another young player the position. McClain was an undrafted surprise from the University of Syracuse and registered 2.5 sacks in limited playing time. Sometimes he is compared to Scott in Baltimore because both players were undrafted.
Reason for concern: Scott is as physical a linebacker as there is in the NFL. He did a lot of the dirty work, such as blowing up fullbacks and offensive linemen at the point of attack to allow teammates like Lewis and Terrell Suggs to clean up and make plays. Both Gooden and McClain have ability. But it remains to be seen if either can bring that same type of physicality in what is essentially a "bodyguard” role for Lewis, Suggs, Reed and others.
Replacing: T.J. Houshmandzadeh
Reason for hope: Coles is a savvy veteran receiver who has meshed well with a lot of different quarterbacks. Last year, he developed good on-field chemistry with Brett Favre and should have no problems playing with Carson Palmer, who remains one of the league's best quarterbacks when healthy. Coles should fit in seamlessly.
Reason for concern: Coles is no longer a game-breaking receiver. He will be asked to replace current Seahawk Houshmandzadeh's tremendous production, but Coles is not the type of player who will record 90 to 100 receptions per season. Therefore, a combination of players will have to make up for those numbers, whether it is Chad Ocho Cinco having a monster year or Coles combining with one of the younger receivers to equal Houshmandzadeh's output.
Replacing: Kellen Winslow Jr.
Reason for hope: First-year Browns coach Eric Mangini is familiar with Royal after battling the former AFC East division rival Buffalo Bills during Mangini's days with the New York Jets. The signing is out of respect for Royal's ability and hopes that he can bring some stability to the position. There is also depth with teammates Steve Heiden and Martin Rucker.
Reason for concern: Current Buccaneer Winslow is a unique talent and a top-five player at his position when healthy. Browns fans have become accustomed to tremendous production from that position over the years with Ozzie Newsome in the 1980s and Winslow most recently, but Royal is simply not that caliber of player.
David Bowens, OLB/ILB, Cleveland Browns
Reason for hope: Bowens, who just signed Wednesday night, has the versatility to play inside or outside in a 3-4 defense. Mangini had Bowens for two seasons as coach of the New York Jets. Bowens will be able to start right away and help the younger players quickly adapt to the new scheme. With 32.5 career sacks, he should also bring a much-needed pass rush to Cleveland.
Reason for concern: Bowens was mostly a career backup who is now being asked to be a full-time starter in Cleveland. At 31, he is a stopgap player who will be able to teach the young players the position for a few seasons. Bowens never has had more than 41 tackles in a season. Bowens is talented enough to do his part, but he is not the difference-maker defensively that the Browns have long searched for. McGinest is not on the Browns' roster and Davis signed with the Broncos.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North:
- Take a look at potential cornerback prospects for the Baltimore Ravens, who have the No. 26 overall pick.
Morning take: The common thread is they are all slightly undersized. But the Ravens have never been afraid to take undersized players as long as they can perform.
- Could the Pittsburgh Steelers be looking for a cornerback as well?
Morning take: Potentially. The Steelers still have a chance to re-sign pending free agent Bryant McFadden but have a contingency plan (Deshea Townsend, William Gay, the draft) if it doesn't work out.
- While Pittsburgh and Baltimore are looking at corners, the Cincinnati Bengals are looking at offensive tackles.
Morning take: If 51 sacks last season and an elbow injury to Carson Palmer doesn't tell Cincinnati to get protection, nothing will.
- The Cleveland Browns hired linebackers coach Matt Eberflus from the University of Missouri.
Morning take: I'm not sure what to make of head coach Eric Mangini's constant hiring from the college ranks. There will be a lot of college coaches in Cleveland adjusting to dealing with pro players.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
|Donald Miralle/Getty Images|
|Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, right, is playing well at a critical time for the Steelers.|
"He was depressed. He was eating a lot and gaining a lot of weight," Polamalu said smiling.
The topic was the month-long slump of Woodley, who went the final four games during the regular season without registering a sack. The usually stout Woodley had 11.5 sacks in his first 12 games before suddenly hitting a dry spell.
Woodley responded well by coming up big in last week's 35-24 playoff victory over the San Diego Chargers. Woodley recorded five tackles and two sacks of quarterback Philip Rivers, including a key sack near San Diego's end zone in the second half that nearly knocked Rivers out of the game.
Known for his physical style and hard hitting, Woodley was in fine form again, just in time for Pittsburgh's AFC Championship Game Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
"I was aware but it wasn't a big thing for me," Woodley said of his sack drought. "We were winning, and when you're winning football games that's all that counts. There's plenty of guys around the league that have a lot of sacks and aren't where we are right now."
Woodley, who is in his second season but first as a starter, may have hit the wall at the 12-game mark. Coaches and teammates say that's debatable as Woodley has played consistent football in other areas -- stuffing the run and applying pressure to the quarterbacks -- despite the lack of sacks.
One of the biggest plays Woodley made this season came during his sack drought. Woodley forced an errant pass by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, which was intercepted by Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend and returned for the game-winning touchdown in Week 14.
"I think as a true rookie, [wearing down] might have been the case because you don't have to deal with this many games, but I don't think I saw that in his play this year," Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler said. "A lot of times guys are nicked up late in the year and they just get well."
Woodley proved that even younger players can benefit from a bye week. As Butler alluded to, Woodley was dealing with a calf muscle injury late in the season. Woodley never made excuses, but it did hinder his first step and explosiveness.
But the Steelers' earning a bye week allowed Woodley -- as well as several other key Steelers -- to get healthy. Now Woodley has his second wind for the stretch run.
As teammate and NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison continues to get double teamed on the other side, it will be important for Woodley to continue to produce from the other side. Pittsburgh's top-rated unit was at its best when both players were wreaking havoc on opposing offenses.
"He's played pretty good throughout the season," Butler said of Woodley. "Everybody goes through dry spells. James Harrison has 16 sacks and he didn't get sacks in every game. They came in bunches for him, too. So I don't think this was anything unusual for LaMarr. He plays hard."
An endearing quality of the Steelers' defense is that the unit has overcome individual slumps and injuries to continue to play high-quality football. It's one of the reasons Pittsburgh is one game away from its second Super Bowl appearance in four seasons.
"We always say if one guy makes the play, we all make the play," Polamalu said. "As long as we're successful, we all win championships together. We all get the same size Super Bowl ring."
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Let's see who's hot and who's not in the AFC North division:
1. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
Reed is not only giving Baltimore a spark on defense, he's giving the Ravens points and helping the offense, too. The Pro Bowl safety finds the end zone like no other defensive player in the NFL. Reed scored another touchdown on a 22-yard fumble return in Baltimore's 24-10 victory over the Washington Redskins. Reed made heady plays all game, forcing three turnovers (one fumble and two interceptions).
2. Deshea Townsend, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Give credit to Townsend. He's hung in there through injury and a demotion this season and never complained. Now Townsend plays mostly in sub packages but he plays hard with every opportunity. The latest opportunity came in Pittsburgh's 20-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys when his 25-yard interception return with 1:40 remaining proved to be the go-ahead touchdown. Townsend is the latest unsung player to be a hero for Pittsburgh in an important game.
3. D'Qwell Jackson, LB, Cleveland Browns
Jackson completes a clean sweep for defensive players this week in the division. Lost in a 4-9 season is Jackson's quiet production for the Browns. Sunday he recorded 15 tackles and two interceptions in a 28-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Jackson, who leads the NFL in tackles, could have been higher on this list if the Browns were not blown out Sunday.
1. The Cincinnati Bengals
Where do you start with the Bengals? Right now they can't stop anybody and they can't score, as evident by their 35-3 debacle to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday. The Bengals have lost the past two games by the score of 69-6 in what is a clear sign that the end of the season cannot come soon enough. Cincinnati (1-11-1) needs one more victory to avoid the worst season in franchise history, but it could be a tall task.
2. Ken Dorsey, QB, Cleveland Browns
The Ken Dorsey era didn't get off to a rousing start. He threw for 150 yards and one interception in Sunday's 28-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Dorsey knows the offense well, but his physical attributes left very little confidence that Cleveland can do any damage the rest of the season. His lack of arm strength limited what the Browns could do offensively, and once the team fell behind, Cleveland had no firepower with Dorsey to answer.
3. Jamal Lewis, RB, Cleveland Browns
Lewis has been stewing for weeks for not getting enough carries. He knows this is his time of year but his production and opportunities have been lacking lately. Lewis had just seven carries for seven yards against Tennessee. The problem was two sided. He needs more than seven carries to be effective, but at the same time averaging one yard per attempt will not instill confidence in the coaching staff for more chances.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
|AP Photo/Rob Carr|
|Pittsburgh cornerback Deshea Townsend scores on an interception return Sunday.|
PITTSBURGH -- Although the Steelers didn't officially clinch a postseason berth Sunday, it is safe to punch their playoff ticket following a 20-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Steelers improved to 16-5 in December games since 2004, which is the time of year the elite NFL teams position themselves for the final push.
The AFC North-leading Steelers (10-3) have mastered the art of winning ugly.
With three games remaining, the Steelers (10-3) are one game up on next week's division opponent, the Baltimore Ravens (9-4), and hold a two-game lead on the division-leading New York Jets (8-5) and Denver Broncos (8-5) for the No. 2 seed in the conference. Still at stake is an important first-round bye and home-field advantage up until to the AFC title.
With the exception of the turnover battle, the Steelers were outplayed throughout the game. Dallas finished with more passing yards (194-168), rushing yards (95-70) and first downs (15-13). But after trailing 13-3 midway through the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh tightened up and ran off 17 unanswered points in the final seven minutes, 15 seconds of the game.
"People get too preoccupied with style points," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "That was a beautiful football game because we displayed mettle and we hung together."
Tomlin is right. At this point, style points are pointless. The Steelers will go back to work and try to correct their mistakes and they feel a lot better about doing so with another victory in hand.
Here is what else we learned about Pittsburgh in its win over Dallas:
Part of Pittsburgh's theme this year has been a different hero stepping up every week, and against the Cowboys, it was Deshea Townsend's turn.
The veteran cornerback is in his 11th season and one of the oldest players (33) on the defense. But Townsend made a huge 25-yard interception return for a touchdown that produced the game-winning score for Pittsburgh with 1:40 remaining.
Deep in its own territory, Dallas took a chance late by throwing against the Steelers on second down, and Townsend picked off a pass intended for Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (six catches, 62 yards).
"It was a great pass -- right at eye level," Townsend said smiling. "I saw the tight end and nothing else was there."
Townsend's teammates were genuinely elated for him making the big play against Dallas.
He's had an up-and-down season. Townsend began the season as the starter, suffered an injury and and returned to the lineup as a backup.
But Townsend never complained and took advantage for one of the biggest plays of his career.
"He is a team guy," Tomlin said. "He doesn't care about anything but winning. ... It is great that he had an opportunity to make a significant play like that for us, because he is as deserving as anyone."
PITTSBURGH -- In a game full of Pro Bowl talent, an unlikely hero emerged in the final two minutes of Sunday's 20-13 Steelers' win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Call him "Big-play Deshea."
Pittsburgh cornerback Deshea Townsend returned a Tony Romo interception 25 yards late for the go-ahead touchdown to improve the Steelers to 10-3 on the season. The Steelers showed grit by overcoming a 13-3 fourth-quarter deficit to score 17 unanswered points in the final 7:15 of the game.
The win helps Pittsburgh tremendously in terms of securing the coveted No. 2 seed in the AFC. The New York Jets (8-5) lost Sunday to the San Francisco 49ers to put Pittsburgh two games up on the Jets with three games remaining. The Denver Broncos (8-5) also are in the running but are a long shot to catch Pittsburgh.
The Steelers also survived with a split in their series with the NFC East in four games. The Steelers have an important AFC North contest next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
PITTSBURGH -- I must admit, this saddens me a little.
It has nothing to do with my employer (whew!). It has everything to do with a lost bet Clark had with Steelers teammate and Alabama alum Deshea Townsend.
Clark, an LSU alum, has to hang a Crimson Tide t-shirt in front of his locker all week following their 27-21 win over the Tigers. And Clark is completely torn up about it.
"My heartache and my pain is so large right now," a disappointed Clark said, with a Tide emblem hanging in the background. "I can't even put on ESPN."
Don't worry about it, Ryan. Simply turn on your computer and read ESPN.com's AFC North blog in the meantime. We'll keep you updated.