AFC North: fine

Ravens-Steelers III: Ben on Harbaugh

January, 11, 2011
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shrugged Tuesday at recent comments made by Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

When Harbaugh was asked this week about Roethlisberger playing with a broken nose in the teams' previous meeting on Dec. 5, Harbaugh responded: "He's a tough guy. He had the broken nose. I was glad we broke his nose and then I was very impressed that he played through it. Obviously, you can throw very effectively with a broken nose -- he proved that."

It sounded like Harbaugh was complimenting Roethlisberger for his toughness. But some ran with the "glad we broke his nose" part of the quote.

In the Steelers' locker room Tuesday, Roethlisberger said he knows Harbaugh and wasn't bothered by the comments. Like Roethlisberger, Harbaugh is a Miami (Ohio) alum.

"I think it was taken out of context, if you ask me," Roethlisberger said. "I know Coach Harbaugh. He's a Miami guy and us Miami guys stick together; there’s so few of us. Actually, on the field before every game we talk to each other and ask how everything is going. So I don't think it was intended maliciously at all."

Morning take: Repeat of '08 Bengals?

December, 31, 2010
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:

  • Is the Cincinnati Bengals' strong finish a repeat of 2008, where they finished the season with three straight wins?
Morning take: Cincinnati would have to win Sunday to win three straight. But late momentum in 2008 did lead to a playoff run the following year.
Morning take: Fellow 2008 draft mate Matt Ryan is stealing the national spotlight, but Flacco has had similar growth. Outside of one bad game against Cincinnati, Flacco has been very good this year.

  • Cleveland Browns backup quarterback Seneca Wallace believes president Mike Holmgren still has the itch to coach.
Morning take: Wallace is right. Holmgren has admitted this several times. We will know his plan for Cleveland within the next week or two.

  • After appealing, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison had his fine reduced from $75,000 to $50,000 for his hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.
Morning take: Harrison had the stiffest penalty of all big hits this year because of timing and the NFL's trying to make a statement. You can still debate $50,000 is too much, but at least Harrison got some money back.
Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata is appealing his $15,000 fine for his hit to the face of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last Sunday.

The hit, which appeared unintentional, broke Roethlisberger's nose. Ngata was not flagged on the play.
"Of course, I think it's not right," Ngata told the Baltimore Sun. "I feel like there was no other way I could have played that play because I'm swimming the guard, he starts to duck, and my arm is coming down over the guard. But I'm going to appeal it and see if, hopefully, I can get some money back."

Ngata doesn't expect a decision from the NFL for at least two weeks, according to the report. Does he have a legitimate gripe?

Morning take: Who punts for Steelers?

December, 7, 2010
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North: Morning take: The Steelers have changed a new kicker and punter this season. Yet they continue to plug along with a 9-3 record.
Morning take: The hit looked unintentional, but the fine is in line with the way the NFL is protecting its quarterbacks. Roethlisberger also had surgery to fix his broken nose.
Morning take: Delhomme was really lucky a fourth-quarter pass was dropped by Miami defensive back Nolan Carroll. That could have been the difference for the Dolphins.
Morning take: Scott is a young player who makes things happen. With nothing left to play for, Cincinnati should give Scott more touches on offense.

Morning take: Bengals blackout

December, 2, 2010
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
  • The Cincinnati Bengals likely will have their second blackout at home this season against the New Orleans Saints.
Morning take: At 2-9, Bengals fans just aren’t interested in paying to see this team late in the season. People in Cincinnati will have to figure out other ways to catch the game.
Morning take: Harrison has 125,000 reasons to feel this way. He's the most heavily fined player this season.
  • Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin isn't worried about his opportunities.
Morning take: Boldin is getting a lot of coverage and the Ravens like to spread the ball around. But there will be big spots this season -- perhaps on Sunday -- when Boldin will be called to have a big game.
Morning take: That's been the biggest issue with Delhomme. Big turnovers change games and could be the difference in winning and losing.

James Harrison's fines adding up

December, 1, 2010
It doesn't matter how rich an athlete is, $125,000 is a lot of money to pay in fines.

That's the tally (for now) with Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison. He was docked another $25,000 this week for a hit on Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. NFL deemed the helmet contact to the chest was the reason for the fine.

Looking at the play, I'm not sure what Harrison could have done better short of not hitting the quarterback in the first place. Perhaps he could have moved his head to the side and led with his shoulder, but the play is happening so fast it's hard to adjust.

Unlike fines given to Andre Johnson and Richard Seymour, all of Harrison's infractions this season have occurred in between the whistles. Harrison is one of the NFL's most ferocious hitters, and unless he becomes less ferocious, which is hard to do, the fines may continue to add up.

Walker's weekend mailbag

November, 27, 2010
I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday weekend.

Now let's dig into the mailbag.

Theo from Raleigh, N.C., writes: I hate to beat the proverbial "Steelers being targeted" dead horse here. But do you think Ben Roethlisberger's public opinion of him had anything to do with Richard Seymour only getting a fine?

James Walker: Theo, I've seen the argument that if Tom Brady or Peyton Manning were hit in the face, it would have been a bigger deal. Although I agree the penalty could have been stiffer, I don't believe Roethlisberger's reputation had anything to do with the ruling.

Peter from St Andrews, Scotland, writes: I was wondering what you think was supposed to happen on the Antwaan Randle-El/Roethlisberger flea-flicker last week.

Walker: Interesting question, Peter. The play never had time to develop and wasn't well-executed so I can't say for sure. But I think Roethlisberger ran out as one option. Maybe the Steelers will come back to that play this season.

Patrick Charles from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Who is the fastest player in the AFC North?

Walker: Steelers receiver Mike Wallace is the fastest player I've seen, Patrick. Wallace is probably top five in the league. But we will never know for certain unless the NFL decides to hold a competition like it did back in the day.

Matthew Falkler from Daytona Beach, Florida, writes: What is your take on the argument between Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and receiver Derrick Mason?

Walker: Sideline blowups happen, Matthew. I'm actually surprised it took this long for the Ravens, because there are a lot of vocal players on offense this year who want the football. I think winning helps a ton and is part of the reason nothing boiled over until Week 11. But if the Ravens ever have a significant losing streak this season, you would probably hear more bickering from players who feel they could do more to help the team.

Marcus from Baltimore writes: Do you think the Ravens and Steelers will make the playoffs?

Walker: Yes, Marcus, I believe this division gets two playoff teams. One wild card likely will be the loser of Dec. 5 matchup between Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The winner of that game obviously has the inside track to win the AFC North.

Patrick Ryan from San Antonio, Texas, writes: This year pretty much solidifies that Ed Reed is better than Troy Polamalu.

Walker: You didn't get the memo, Patrick? The correct answer is "Troy Reed" on all matters relating to Ed Reed vs. Troy Polamalu.

E.J. from Pomona, CA, writes: Who has the better commercials: Ray Lewis or Troy Polamalu?

Walker: "Ray Polamalu." Just kidding, E.J. I like Polamalu's commercials better.

Josh from Cleveland writes: The Browns are obviously a lot better than the record shows. So will we see a playoff or even a Super Bowl Browns team next season?

Walker: Sloooow down on the Super Bowl talk with Cleveland, Josh. Browns fans tend to get overexcited when they see signs of progress. I take things one year at a time, and this year the Browns aren't going to the playoffs. Their best-case scenario is to try to get seven or eight wins and build in the offseason.

Joe Marzano from West Middlesex, Pa., writes: Do you think Browns coach Eric Mangini is safe this year, no matter the record?

Walker: Browns president Mike Holmgren hasn't made his decision, Joe. So it's still to be determined. The record won't be everything, but it will be a factor. Mangini can't lose the rest of his games, go 3-13, and keep his post. The Browns have to finish strong and show improvement over last year's 5-11 record.

Bryan Roberts from Philadelphia writes: With the recent firing of Brad Childress in Minnesota and Wade Phillips in Dallas, when will Mike Brown fire Bengals coach Marvin Lewis?

Walker: Don't look for it, Bryan. Lewis is in his last year and only has five games remaining on his contract. The Bengals are expected to let him coach out the season and probably won't renew his deal.

Dave from Cincinnati writes: The Bengals have so many needs to be addressed in the upcoming draft. What position should their first pick be on?

Walker: This really depends on what direction the team takes in the offseason, Dave. Do the Bengals keep quarterback Carson Palmer, for instance? If so, then quarterback is not the biggest need, although Cincinnati may want to draft one in the second or third round to mold for the future. If the Bengals release Palmer, it would make sense to use their first-round pick on a quarterback. But one need that's going to be there regardless is an elite pass-rusher. This could come at outside linebacker (move Rey Maualuga inside) or a defensive end. Cincinnati needs to improve that part of the defense in the early rounds.

Comments and complaints department

Here are some comments and complaints this week from our AFC North community.

Rick from Pittsburgh writes: Every time you put up a "look back" blog such as the Cincinnati fans comments about them being awesome, it's probably my favorite reading material ever now that they are terrible this season.

Cupp from Hebron, Ohio, writes: It's been 21 years as a Bengals fan and only three winning seasons. Mike Brown has no idea what he is doing. If they expand the season to 18 games, I will most likely not be a fan of the NFL anymore and just stick to the Buckeyes. Why would I want to see the BUNGALS lose more games next season.

Walker: Rick, everyone liked that post except Bengals fans, who voiced their displeasure in our division inbox. But when we did the same blogs last year when everyone was ripping the Bengals and they won the division, Cincy fans loved it. You can't have it both ways. Cupp, stay strong in your fandom and support your team. Two more games also would be a chance to collect two more wins.

Noelle from Los Angeles writes: What needs to be clearly defined is what is "roughing" the passer? These football players are not unnecessarily hitting or using violence against the quarterbacks. They are simply doing their jobs as football players and tackling the passer. NFL speak your ground: Let's hear how you define these terms.

Walker: I agree, Noelle. In talking to players throughout the division, I'm not sure there is universal clarity on the subject. Some hits are harder than others, but many of them are being flagged. It's clear the NFL wants to protect its quarterbacks. But how far they're going is what's being questioned.

Pconti from Colorado (by way of Akron, OH) writes: What do you think about starting the Cleveland Clowns movement? Fans can wear clown outfits to the games until they are over .500.

Walker: Pconti, you would be wearing that suit for the rest of the year, because the Browns probably won't finish 8-8 this season.

AFC North Homer of the Week

We saved this special comment for a while and now it's time to unveil it. Keep in mind, this was written last month by one of our favorite bloggers in our AFC North community.

Zach aka Sportsfan2305 from Columbus, OH, writes: CHALLLENGE FOR JW. I feel special that I was one of your posters on "Remember the offseason" Bengals edition. However, you gotta admit, with the weak first-half schedule there was no reason why the Bengals SHOULDN'T have started off hot and then sputtered against the tougher second-half opponents. Therefore, I have a wager to make you my friend: If the Bengals finish 10-6 or better I would like a retraction that, while I was a bit outspoken with my comment, it wasn't necessarily a homer comment. If they do not then I will never challenge your ruling again and will change my user name to "JW is a Sports Genius" for the entire offseason. What do you think?

Walker: Zach, not only was your offseason comment a homer statement, but you're officially our "Homer of the Week." Wear it proud.

If you have any questions, comments or complaints, feel free to send them to our division inbox or AFC North Twitter.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC North:

  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Terrell Owens called Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger "soft" for his reaction after getting hit in the face last week.
Morning take: Owens is on quite a run this week. In the past few days he's called his team "terrible," Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis "average" and Roethlisberger "soft."

  • Speaking of the Steelers, head coach Mike Tomlin took the high road in reaction to the $25,000 fine levied to Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
Morning take: I agree with Tomlin. That's in the past, the verdict is in and it's time to move on to the next game.

  • Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh says quarterback Joe Flacco has a competitive fire.
Morning take: Lost in the sideline altercation with veteran receiver Derrick Mason is that Flacco didn't back down. I'm not sure Flacco, who is growing into a leader, would have done that two years ago as a rookie.

  • Should the Cleveland Browns (3-7) be wary of the Carolina Panthers (1-9)?
Morning take: The Browns can't afford to overlook anyone. The bar has been raised after a pair of signature wins, and they need to get hot now by pouncing on teams like Carolina.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:
  • The agent for James Harrison says he expects to hear from the NFL soon on whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker will get fined this week.
Morning take: The hit on Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell looked clean from our perspective. If the NFL fines Harrison, expect a quick appeal.
  • Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh says he's not concerned with the recent sideline altercation between quarterback Joe Flacco and receiver Derrick Mason.
Morning take: Sideline confrontations happen more than people think, but this is interesting. With so many talented skill players, the AFC North blog predicted in April there will be a few rough spots keeping everyone happy.
Morning take: I always enjoy Thornton's perspective on the Bengals -- and not just because I agree with his point.
  • Veteran quarterback Jake Delhomme is healthy again and has a chance to play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, his former team.
Morning take: With rookie quarterback Colt McCoy's status in question, the Browns may have to choose between Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. Whom would you start?

Morning take: Rob vs. Rex Ryan

November, 13, 2010
Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC North:

  • According to Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, he will beat his brother, Rex Ryan, and the New York Jets Sunday.
Morning take: Cleveland is playing well, so this should be a good game. The Browns (3-5) have a chance to get one-step closer to .500.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward says the team won't look ahead after a 6-2 start.
Morning take: Pittsburgh was 6-2 last year and crumbled to a 9-7 finish. Barring injuries, this year's team won't do the same.

  • Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White admits he "pushed down" Baltimore Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson for Thursday's game-winning touchdown.
Morning take: The Ravens got the short end but it's time to move on. I don't like to get too deep into officiating in the AFC North blog.
Morning take: Ochocinco thought the cleats would change his fortune, but it turned out he had his worst game (one catch, 15 yards) of the season. Not only that, he's out of $20,000.

Is Troy Polamalu on to something?

November, 5, 2010

Troy Polamalu is not a big talker. But when the Pittsburgh Steelers' do-it-all safety speaks it's usually with a purpose, as Polamalu is one of the NFL's most thoughtful players.

Furthermore, Polamalu's suggestion this week of adding a governing body to regulate fines is one of the most intelligent ideas I've heard all year.

Many will highlight Polamalu "ripping" NFL commissioner Roger Goodell by saying he has too much power. But Polamalu didn't take a jab without offering a solution, which should be the focal point.

"There needs to be some type of separation of power, like our government," Polamalu said. "I don't think it should be based totally on what two or three people may say that are totally away from the game. It should be some of the players that are currently playing."

There's a select few that impact the lives of many in the NFL. That's not how democracy works in America. Why should it be different for America's most popular sport?

Polamalu was sticking up for Steelers teammate James Harrison, who was fined another $20,000 for his hit on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Harrison has been fined a total of $100,000 this year, proving it's much cheaper to play offense in the NFL.

The league is handing out excessive fines this season because a small, yet powerful group -- led by Goodell and NFL vice president Ray Anderson -- decided as much for more than 1,600 players.

Will Goodell relent some of that power by creating an independent governing body to monitor fines in the future? I don't see it. But it doesn't mean Polamalu's idea isn't a good one.

AFC North update: Harrison fined again

November, 4, 2010
Here are the latest happenings Thursday afternoon in the AFC North:
  • Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison was fined another $20,000 for his hit last weekend on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
  • The Baltimore Ravens are preparing for the passing game of the Miami Dolphins.
  • Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph says his injured ankle is about "90 percent."
  • Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy is in line to make his third consecutive start after veterans Seneca Wallace (ankle) and Jake Delhomme (ankle) missed Thursday's practice.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 22, 2010
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

Ben Roethlisberger
Jason Bridge/US PresswireSteelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will get his first exposure to a road crowd this season in Miami.
Ben Roethlisberger hits the road: The Pittsburgh Steelers' franchise quarterback, coming off a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, made his 2010 debut in Week 6 in the comfort of his home stadium. Roethlisberger described the ovation he received from Steeler Nation at Heinz Field as "amazing." But he will get the opposite treatment on the road, starting Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Will Roethlisberger get heckled and, if so, how will he handle it? Will it affect his play? Roethlisberger has to hear the criticism for an extended period, because the Steelers will be away from home the next three weeks and don't return to Heinz Field until Nov. 14 against the New England Patriots.

Upset linebacker: Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison was so disgruntled by his $75,000 fine this week that he was excused from practice Wednesday and briefly contemplated retirement. Now he's back and vows not to change his aggressive playing style despite increased scrutiny by the NFL on big hits. We will see how much or how little Harrison adjusts Sunday against Miami. Any big hit the league deems illegal could cost him a lot of money, as the NFL already set the bar for Harrison this week at $75,000. Or he could be suspended. The Week 6 big hits by Harrison gave Cleveland Browns receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi concussions.

Bye-week blues: For many teams, the bye week is an opportunity to regroup and then play their best football. But that hasn't been the case recently for the Cincinnati Bengals. During the Marvin Lewis era, Cincinnati is only 2-4-1 in games following the bye. The Bengals have several issues that need to be addressed heading into Sunday's important game against the Atlanta Falcons. Cincinnati cannot afford to fall to 2-4 in a deep AFC.

Quarterback dilemma: Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy will get his second career start Sunday, against the New Orleans Saints. Coming off a relatively good debut against Pittsburgh, McCoy could make it tough on Browns coach Eric Mangini with another good performance. The plan was not to play the third-round pick at all this season. But a pair of severe ankle sprains to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace forced McCoy into action last week. If McCoy pulls off the major upset and beats the Saints, the job is his. Otherwise, the Browns will have to evaluate their quarterback situation during the bye.

Finish strong: The Baltimore Ravens are disappointed in their overtime loss to the New England Patriots. But the Ravens have a golden opportunity to head into the bye week 5-2 with a win Sunday against the lowly Buffalo Bills (0-5). There is some pressure at home on Baltimore, as it cannot have a letdown against arguably the NFL's worst team. There is already conversation this week of whether the Bills could beat an UFL team, which is embarrassing, but also could inspire Buffalo to bring its best effort at M&T Bank Stadium.

LB James Harrison rejoins Steelers

October, 21, 2010
The retirement talk lasted all but one day for Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Harrison was back at the team's practice facility in Pittsburgh Thursday morning.

Harrison was excused from practice Wednesday and said he was mulling retirement after a $75,000 fine for his hit on Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. Harrison was both confused and upset by the fine. But as the AFC North blog predicted, cooler heads eventually prevailed.

The Steelers (4-1) will play the Miami Dolphins (3-2) on



Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22