NFL Nation: Ben Roethisberger
PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Steelers' 14-3 victory over the Browns:
What it means: It wasn't pretty. It wasn't easy. It was extremely physical -- both starting quarterbacks were knocked briefly out of the game. The Steelers gutted out the much-needed win with limping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) and sacks leader LaMarr Woodley (hamstring). The Steelers (10-3) became the first AFC team to reach 10 victories, winning for the eighth time in nine games. Pittsburgh increased its chances for a wild-card spot (and could clinch a berth this weekend) and would take the lead in the division if the Ravens get upset by the winless Colts on Sunday. The Browns (4-9) clinched last place in the AFC North as well as their 10th losing season in 12 years since rejoining the NFL.
Roethlisberger plays in pain ... again: In a season in which he has endured a foot injury and broken thumb, Roethlisberger pushed through an ankle injury to complete 17 of 22 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He hobbled off the field in the second quarter after getting sacked but returned for the start of the second half following X-rays that were negative. After the injury, Roethlisberger was 9-of-13 for 178 yards, despite not being able to put pressure on the left leg. He sealed the game with a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown connection to Antonio Brown in the fourth quarter.
McCoy makes costly mistake: Knocked briefly out of the game five plays earlier, Browns quarterback Colt McCoy threw a critical interception on third-and-goal in the end zone. Steelers cornerback William Gay easily picked off the underthrown pass that was intended for Mohamed Massaquoi.
Browns don't back down: The Cleveland defense kept the game close with an impressive goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. After stopping Rashard Mendenhall on three runs inside the Browns' 3-yard line, Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson and Mike Adams teamed up to stop Mendenhall on fourth down from the 1-yard line. The Steelers surprisingly went for the touchdown when a field goal would have given them a touchdown cushion.
Brown beats Browns: It seems like every week Antonio Brown makes the play when the Steelers need it the most. With the Steelers clutching a 7-3 lead in the fourth quarter, Brown caught a pass along the sideline against cornerback Joe Haden and then burst toward the end zone for a 79-yard touchdown. It's becoming more apparent that Brown is bypassing Mike Wallace as Roethlisberger's favorite receiver. He finished with five catches for 151 yards.
Harrison's costly hit: Steelers linebacker James Harrison put McCoy on the sideline for a couple of plays with a helmet-to-helmet hit in the fourth quarter. McCoy had pulled up before the original line of scrimmage prior to taking the shot from Harrison, who likely will receive a sizable fine.
What's next: The Steelers have an 11-day break before playing at NFC West champion San Francisco. The Browns head west for their next game, playing at Arizona on Dec. 18.
Doug Legursky, who started the Super Bowl for the injured Pouncey last season, moved to center. Recently benched Chris Kemoeatu took over for Legursky at left guard.
The Steelers have been dealing with injuries throughout the season. Pittsburgh was already playing without sacks leader LaMarr Woodley, who missed four out of the past five games.
- Ben Roethlisberger isn't at full strength with a sprained left foot but it's not showing in his play. The Steelers quarterback has been nearly perfect in the red zone, throwing three first-half touchdowns of 8, 7 and 1 yards. His last one was a rollout to his right where he hit fullback David Johnson, but he limped afterward to the sideline. Roethlisberger's biggest mistake was an interception in the final minute of the first half.
- Special teams is playing a big role for the Steelers. A 52-yard kickoff return from Antonio Brown set up the Steelers' first touchdown, and a 33-yard pass from punter Daniel Sepulveda on a fake at midfield led to Pittsburgh's second touchdown. The fake punt, which converted a fourth-and-5, was called at the right time -- Ryan Mundy was uncovered over the middle of the field because the Titans had dropped back to set up a return.
- Running back Rashard Mendenhall didn't start due to a hamstring injury, but the Steelers' running game had a strong effort. Isaac Redman ran hard (28 yards on nine carries), and Jonathan Dwyer broke a 76-yard run on his first carry of the season.
- The Steelers run defense has struggled mightily this year and looked shaky on the opening drive. But Pittsburgh quieted Titans running back Chris Johnson for the rest of the first half. Johnson had 42 yards in the first half but 21 came on one run.
- Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (left shoulder) left in the second quarter and is considered questionable. He was replaced by Jonathan Scott.
What it means: The Green Bay Packers won their fourth Super Bowl championship in five tries. It was their 13th world championship, dating back to 1929. Much as they did during the regular season, the Packers overcame a series of rapid-fire injuries to hold off a Pittsburgh Steelers team that roared back from a 21-3 second-quarter deficit.
RodgersWatch: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't have the game of his life, but he did throw for 304 yard and three touchdowns. Most important, he was at his best on the Packers' final drive of the game. The Packers consumed 5 minutes and 19 seconds after the Steelers had pulled within 28-25, capping with a 23-yard field goal from Mason Crosby. Rodgers completed 5 of 6 passes on the drive, including a 31-yard strike to receiver Greg Jennings on third-and-10. I'm sure the Packers would have preferred a touchdown on that drive, but Rodgers more than did his part in a winning effort.
InjuryWatch I: The Packers lost two of their top three defensive backs on consecutive plays near the end of the second quarter, creating a situation that seemed reminiscent of their undermanned performance against the Steelers in 2009. In that game, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards against a Packers defense that was forced to reach to the bottom of its depth chart. Sunday, nickel back Sam Shields injured his shoulder and cornerback Charles Woodson injured his collarbone. Although Shields returned briefly in the second half, the Packers played a significant chunk of the game with Pat Lee at cornerback and Jarrett Bush as their nickel back. The Packers were on the ropes for a while thereafter, giving up touchdowns on successive drives to allow the Steelers to move from a 21-3 deficit to 21-17.
InjuryWatch II: The Packers opened the game with an obvious intent to spread out the Steelers' defense with their four- and five-receivers set packages. It worked splendidly as the Packers took a 14-0 lead, but Donald Driver's ankle injury in the second quarter reduced the Packers' advantage considerably. Packers receivers unofficially dropped six passes as everyone but Jennings moved up a rung on the depth chart. Jennings caught two touchdown passes and Jordy Nelson caught one among his nine overall catches. But No. 5 receiver Brett Swain struggled when used as the No. 4 receiver.
What's next: An offseason of labor uncertainty for the entire NFL. Hope you enjoyed what you saw Sunday night. It's not clear when we'll see something like that again.
Receiver Donald Driver (ankle), cornerback Charles Woodson (shoulder/arm) and cornerback Sam Shields (shoulder) were all injured in the second quarter. Safety Nick Collins headed to the locker room early for an IV of fluids.
Woodson is out for the game. X-rays on Driver's ankle were negative, and he and Shields are questionable to return.
The Packers finished the half with Pat Lee playing in Woodson's place and Jarrett Bush serving as the nickel. The Steelers attacked both players on their final drive of the half, culminating when Bush lost track of receiver Hines Ward on an 8-yard touchdown reception.
Remember, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards against the Packers last season against a similarly undermanned Packers defense. Back to Super Bowl Countdown Live.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are hanging around in this rivalry game with the Baltimore Ravens, as a field goal from Jeff Reed cut Pittsburgh's deficit to 14-10 in the third quarter.
Baltimore is playing sloppy, giving up a fumble and a quarterback sack to end its first two drives of the second half. Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco was limping after getting sacked by Steelers defensive end Travis Kirschke but returned to the game.
The Ravens are trying to end a three-game losing streak against Pittsburgh.
|Jim Brown-US PRESSWIRE|
|Quarterback Kerry Collins' offseason has been a little different from last year as he is now the unquestioned starter for the Titans.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
For the Titans, the private, practice-field moments of the spring that are supposed to make a big difference in the fall are under way.
After weight-room workouts, quarterback Kerry Collins might have an easy catch with a receiver or two, he might work with specific receivers on specific routes, he might throw to guys working one-on-one against cornerbacks or he might even run through a seven-on-seven period with pass-catchers running route combinations against a secondary.
It's the sort of informal, impromptu work that goes on all around the league as offseason conditioning programs get under way.
Collins did it last year, but under different circumstances. He was around and he was available, and he got to throw to guys more than a lot of No. 2 quarterbacks because Vince Young was in Texas most of the time, working toward his degree.
But now, from the very beginning of the offseason, Collins is the team's unquestioned starter. And he and his top returning receiver, Justin Gage, said this week there is a lot to be gained from three low-pressure months in the facility in that capacity.
"The first thing is being here, just being around the guys," Collins said. "The second thing is showing that I am ready to put the work in, that I am going to do things a certain way. It's not necessarily any more than just being here and being out there working hard. That says more than anything. It's one of those things where they just get to know you and they feel like they can trust you and that goes both ways too."
That sort of plain, understated talk that is a big part of Collins' M.O. at 36. He's in Nashville full-time now with his wife Brooke and 5-year-old daughter Riley, and said with the possible exception of a couple getaways, he'll be around team headquarters.
"It's just knowing that you're going to be counted on to make plays," Gage said of what a full offseason as the starter will mean for Collins. "It's knowing that everybody on the team is looking forward to you to lead and make plays and be a producer. You get to relax and go out there and do what you do.
"Everybody looks to him for his leadership and his ability, sees that he's here already working out, that he's got guys coming in. We're getting our work together, our chemistry. You can definitely tell that this is a team that's going to grow behind him."
Some analysts debate chemistry, asking whether it actually begets winning or if that works in reverse. There is certainly no harm in believing chemistry needs to come first, because the work it takes to forge it also typically means the players involved play better football.
Collins' critics cite his numbers last year -- only 12 touchdown passes, an 80.2 passer rating. They wonder why he's popular with the team and how he got a two-year, $15 million contract from the Titans to reprise the role he took over last year. Collins became the No. 1 quarterback after Young tried to take himself out of the season opener, then got hurt a few plays after coach Jeff Fisher forced him to continue.
|Kerry Collins stepped in for the Titans and finished with 2,676 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2008.|
But Collins' supporters point to the calm leadership, the understanding of his role on a run-based, defensive team and his poise in the sort of key moments that determined a lot of games.
That passer rating was more than 10 points better in the fourth quarter, when he threw no interceptions. Without question, the Titans' coaches and players rallied around him when he took over, viewing him as an unquestioned system fit. And no NFL signal-caller fared better in the most important statistic: Like Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Jake Delhomme, Collins won 12 regular-season games as his team's starter.
Can he match or build on last year's success in 2009?
The Titans banked on it when they re-signed him, and while there is a question about what the team will do at the position in 2010 and beyond, it's something that it should be able to resolve while enjoying a quarterback who excels with the sort of high-quality protection Tennessee's offensive line provides.
Despite the NFL's best regular-season record, the Titans were ousted from the playoffs in their first game by Baltimore. When dynamic rookie running back Chris Johnson left the game with an ankle injury, the offense wasn't nearly as threatening and its lack of a fast, dangerous wideout became even more glaringly obvious.
Adding explosive skill players is a priority, and Tennessee started with Nate Washington, the speedy free-agent receiver from Pittsburgh.
Collins sat and talked with Washington when he visited the Titans in March. The quarterback perked up when asked about his new receiver, who is likely to line up opposite Gage in the starting lineup.
"The first thing that jumped out at me was his passion for the game, his passion for winning," Collins said. "He's excited about the opportunity to be the starter. He was a very effective three in Pittsburgh, but he's got all the skills to be a very good starting receiver in this league. I think he's just not had the opportunity ...
"He definitely brings some speed, brings a deep threat, can create separation, can run with the ball after the catch -- all of those things are things I think we can use and will help us in the passing game."
Gage said he, Washington, Lavelle Hawkins and the Titans' other receivers need to squeeze all they can out of the offseason work. The small scale of the work is easy to build on, he said.
"It's kind of like playing basketball, when you're playing two-on-two and then you end up getting into a game setti
ng," he said.
There will be at least one new receiver added to the mix in the draft and the team could still add a veteran such as Torry Holt.
Whoever finds his way into the huddle come opening day, the quarterback will have been in place since late the afternoon of Sept. 7, 2008. None of the guys running routes should be surprised by anything he does, nothing the guy taking the snap does should rank as unfamiliar.
"What you gain from [this work now] is just the timing of the things, Collins said. "The more you do it, the more the guys know what to expect from me. They get an idea of the timing that I am looking for and the rhythm that I think a good passing game has. I think the biggest thing in the offseason is just that they know what to expect from me. I learn what things they do well and they can get a feel for what I want from them."
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