NFL Nation: Maurkice Pouncey



PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers dominated time of possession in the first two quarters of their AFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Yet they trailed 10-9 at halftime, and their inability to finish conjured up memories of their most recent loss, a 35-32 defeat the visiting New Orleans Saints laid on the Steelers three days after Thanksgiving.

Sure enough, the Steelers are home for the rest of the playoffs, in part because they relied too much on Shaun Suisham's right leg, accurate as it is, early in the game.

Suisham booted three field goals before the Steelers found the end zone on a damp night at Heinz Field, and that proved to be costly in a 30-17 loss to the Ravens. After the Ravens advanced to the divisional round, it was fair to wonder if the outcome would have been different, had star running back Le'Veon Bell been able to play in the third meeting between the AFC North rivals this season.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe inability of Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to find the end zone early proved costly against their AFC North rival.
Bell, who led the AFC with 1,361 rushing yards, did not play against the Ravens because of a hyperextended right knee.

Not that coach Mike Tomlin would be party to anything that went near that notion, even though a player as dynamic as Bell could have been the difference between the Steelers' scoring touchdowns and settling for field goals.

"We're not going to let that be the story of the game," Tomlin said after the Steelers' first loss in four playoff games against the Ravens. "Somebody goes down, the next man steps up. You move on, and there will be no excuses. We're not going to allow you to push us in that direction. We're not going to lean on that."

Nor should they because the reality is this: The Steelers lost their third consecutive postseason game dating to the 2010 Super Bowl because they beat themselves as much as the Ravens beat them.

Reliable tight end Heath Miller dropped a pass on the Steelers' opening possession that forced a punt when a field goal could've been attempted.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put a little too much air under a pass to a wide-open Antonio Brown early in the second quarter. That gave free safety Darian Stewart just enough time to push Brown out of bounds before he could get both feet down in the end zone, and the Steelers eventually settled for a short field goal.

Then there were the penalties.

The Steelers had eight of them for 114 yards. To give those figures the kind of context that won't go down well with Steelers fans' Sunday breakfast, consider Pittsburgh had seven penalties for 104 yards in their previous four games combined.

The penalties Saturday ranged from untimely to flat-out stupid.

Shamarko Thomas belted kickoff returner Jacoby Jones, who was going out of bounds early in the fourth quarter after the Steelers had cut the Ravens' lead to five. The unnecessary roughness penalty gave Baltimore the ball at its own 37 instead of its 22-yard line.

A holding penalty against left tackle Kelvin Beachum later in the quarter nullified a 19-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by Dri Archer.

The fans at Heinz Field howled when Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake got called for pass interference after tight coverage in the second quarter -- and when officials did not throw a flag later in the quarter when Lardarius Webb tripped Martavis Bryant.

Officials ruled the two had gotten their legs tangled, even though Bryant had gotten a step on Webb in the middle of the field.

But just like Tomlin on the Steelers not having Bell, All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey did not want to hear anything about the discrepancy in penalties, even though the Ravens were penalized just twice for 14 yards.

"Officiating happens. We're not blaming officials," Pouncey said. "We just didn't execute. You've got to give [the Ravens] credit, but it sucks, man."

What magnified that feeling even more is the Steelers thought they had the kind of team that could make a run at the Super Bowl, after they won their final four regular-season games to capture the AFC North title.

"This team's not going to be the same next year," Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said, "and it breaks my heart."
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not say much about the stomach virus that prevented him from warming up before a 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

And the 11th-year veteran flat-out ignored a question of how close he came to not playing Sunday night.

Roethlisberger
But several of his teammates attested that Roethlisberger had more than just a touch of the flu after getting sick on Sunday.

“I appreciate him because a lot of guys would have sat down in that situation,” left guard Ramon Foster said. “Tough dude. He didn’t bat an eye. Shocking that he played his butt off.”

Roethlisberger shook off the virus to throw for 317 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He achieved a slew of milestones in leading the Steelers to their fifth AFC North title since he became the starting quarterback in 2004. Among them:
  • Roethlisberger shared the NFL passing title with New Orleans’ Drew Brees (4,952 yards), becoming the first quarterback in Steelers history to accomplish that feat.
  • Roethlisberger became the 18th player in NFL history with at least 250 passing touchdowns after a 21-yard catch and run for a score by rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant.
  • Roethlisberger established franchise records for yards, completions (408), completion percentage (67.1) and 300-yard games (nine) in a season.

His performance against the Bengals won’t go down as one of Roethlisberger’s best games this season. But that is how high the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback has set the bar, and when you factor in the circumstances…

“He’s a true soldier to fight through that,” Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey said.

Roethlisberger led the Steelers to victories in their final four regular-season games. It is the first time they Steelers have done that since 2005, when they won four more games in the postseason to capture the franchise’s fifth Lombardi Trophy.

“Hopefully the journey’s not over,” Roethlisberger said when asked if he has been on a team that has made the strides that the Steelers have following an uneven 3-3 start. “I think that we are getting better, and that was always the goal. We said that we have to get hot at the right time. I don’t think we’re hot, but we’re playing pretty good football and we just have to keep getting better.”
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Ben Roethlisberger, QB, third Pro Bowl selection: Roethlisberger has been one of the NFL’s most prolific passers. He threw six touchdown passes in back-to-back games and the 11th-year veteran has 4,635 passing yards, trailing only New Orleans’ Drew Brees (4,671 yards) going into the final week of the season. Roethlisberger can break his own Steelers record for touchdown passes in a season (32) if he tosses three scoring passes Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. Opponents have picked off Roethlisberger just eight times and he has a current streak of 132 passes without an interception.

Who he beat out: Brees is the first alternate at quarterback even though the perennial Pro Bowler leads the NFL in passing yards. The Saints’ decline cost Brees a chance of making the Pro Bowl -- for now.

Le'Veon Bell, RB, first Pro Bowl selection: The second-year man made the first of what should be many Pro Bowls on the same day his teammates voted him Steelers MVP. Bell’s emergence is one of the main reasons why the Steelers are second in the NFL in total offense (415.4 yards per game). Bell leads the AFC with 1,341 yards rushing and the 6-1, 225-pounder has established a Steelers single-season record in yards from scrimmage (2,115). There is not a more complete back in the NFL.

Who he beat out: The back with whom Bell most favorably compares, Chicago’s Matt Forte, is a startling omission. Forte leads all NFL running backs in catches (94) and receiving yards (785). He is also third in yards from scrimmage with 1,772 yards.

Antonio Brown, WR, third Pro Bowl selection: The former sixth-round draft pick leads the NFL in catches (122) and receiving yards (1,570). Brown needs just two catches against the Bengals to pass Herman Moore and Wes Welker for the second-most receptions in a season in NFL history. Brown has caught at least five passes in 31 consecutive games. There were questions about whether Brown could approach his production in 2013, when he caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards. The fifth-year veteran has been even better this season even though opposing teams have tried all manner of coverages to take him out of the game.

Who he beat out: Wow, a tough group to crack. Rookie sensation Odell Beckham Jr., Golden Tate and Jeremy Maclin are among the wideouts who made the Pro Bowl only as alternates. Former Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has caught 95 passes for 1,337 yards and nine touchdowns, is also an alternate after a breakout season.

Maurkice Pouncey, C, fourth Pro Bowl selection: The fifth-year veteran has had a heck of a bounce-back season after missing most of 2013 because of a torn ACL. Pouncey has re-established himself as one of the premier centers in the NFL while playing in every game. Stout and athletic, Pouncey is effective pulling in the run game and his return is a big reason why the Steelers are tied with the Green Bay Packers in yards per play (6.2) and second in the NFL with 24.1 first downs per game.

Who he beat out: Chris Myers is an alternate despite anchoring a line that has the Houston Texans among the top rushing teams in the NFL. The Texans are fourth in the NFL with 135.9 rushing yards per game despite cycling through quarterbacks because of injuries and ineffectiveness.

Lawrence Timmons, LB, first Pro Bowl selection: Consistency finally earned the eighth-year veteran a Pro Bowl nod. Timmons, who has missed just two games in his career, is third in the AFC with 121 tackles and he has been a stabilizing force on a defense that has been besieged by injuries. The 6-1, 234-pounder has regularly played both inside linebacker positions in the same game this season and he has recorded at least 10 tackles in six of the Steelers’ 15 games. Timmons recorded 13 tackles last Sunday in a 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. One of those stops came on a fourth-and-1 at the end of the first half with the Chiefs on the verge of scoring.

Who he beat out: Detroit's DeAndre Levy is third in the NFL with 140 tackles, and he is one of the best players on a defense that is second in the NFL in scoring (16.8 points allowed per game) and total yards (295.9 yards per game).
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PITTSBURGH -- If James Harrison re-retires after this season and doesn’t return to the Pittsburgh Steelers as a 37-year-old, he won’t be able to blame the young man sitting next to him in the home locker room at Heinz Field on Sunday.

After turning in another age-defying performance in helping the Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 20-12 to return to the playoffs, Harrison said the decision to return next season was out of his hands.

“My little dude told me I can’t come back for another year,” he said.

“No, I did not!” was his son's response.

After what might have been the Steelers’ finest defensive performance of the season, Harrison admitted that the idea to keep playing might pop up.

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison
AP Photo/Tom PuskarSteelers outside linebacker James Harrison, shown walking out of Heinz Field with his son Sunday, hasn't closed the door on a return next season.
“The way I feel it may drift into my head a little bit,” Harrison said. “I’ve got to keep it blocked out.”

Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft, had trouble keeping Harrison blocked out, and quarterback Alex Smith paid the price.

The Steelers sacked Smith six times, their most in a game in two years, and Harrison led the charge. He sacked Smith 1.5 times and also recorded a pair of quarterback hits and two tackles for loss. Harrison’s teammates fed off his energy, and the Steelers did not need to blitz relentlessly to get to Smith.

All six of their sacks, in fact, came when they rushed four or fewer players, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The flexing of the muscles by a defense that has been maligned this season couldn’t have come at a better time. The Steelers appear to be putting everything together, and they will secure the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs if they beat the visiting Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday.

“We’re starting to mesh together, and guys are doing their job more consistently,” Harrison said. "Not too many lapses. That’s just really showed today, and that’s something we’ve got to continue to do.”

Harrison has given his younger teammates someone to follow as the 12th-year veteran has extensive postseason experience and keeps proving he can play at a high level.

“He was beast mode,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said after Harrison tied Jason Gildon for the most multisack games (17) in franchise history. “You all don’t watch the ins and outs of practice, but that happens at practice all the time.”

“He’s ageless and timeless and continues to be big for us,” Steelers linebacker Vince Williams said.

Harrison never had any intention of playing again after he announced his retirement on Sept. 5 at Steelers headquarters. The Steelers talked the five-time Pro-Bowl linebacker into playing one more season after right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones dislocated his wrist a couple of weeks into the season. But Harrison made it clear that he returned more out of a sense of obligation to his former teammates than a passion to play.

He also maintained that he would have never rejoined the Steelers had his two young sons been against the idea.

It looks like one of them would not have a problem with him playing next season as well.

So, James, any chance you will play in 2015?

“I'm worried about Cincinnati, man,” he said.

Harrison then laughed and turned around.
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-12 win over the Kansas City Chiefs:
  • Pouncey
    The Steelers clinched their first playoff berth since 2011 after holding the Chiefs without a touchdown, and the sense of satisfaction was noticeable, especially among the players who endured consecutive 8-8 seasons. “It feels good. Heck yeah. I can’t even lie about it,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “We’ve been through a lot the last couple of years.” Not like the Steelers were in all-out celebration mode after improving to 10-5. They still have to beat the visiting Cincinnati Bengals next Sunday to win the AFC North and secure a No. 3 or No. 4 seed, which would give the Steelers a home game in the wild-card round of the playoffs. If the Steelers lose to the Bengals, they will be the No. 5 seed in the playoffs and travel for their first game. Several players said the Steelers are peaking at the right time as they chase a seventh Super Bowl title. “You want to be in the dance so you have a chance,” cornerback William Gay said of making the playoffs.
  • The Steelers privately fumed over a taunting penalty that was called against Gay early in the fourth quarter. Gay was flagged following a third-down stop by the Steelers after he folded his arms and preened in front of his own sideline. The penalty gave the Chiefs a first down -- they would have faced a fourth-and-14 from their own 25-yard line -- and six plays later, Cairo Santos kicked a 43-yard field goal to cut the Steelers’ lead to 17-9. “I don’t even want to get into that,” coach Mike Tomlin said when asked whether he got an explanation for the call. “Ridiculous. We’re not going to apologize for caring. We’re not.” Gay took a diplomatic approach and said he should not have put the referees in a position where they had to make a judgment call. “I respect anything they call, and you’ve just got to roll with it,” Gay said.
  • Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he is fine after hurting his right knee late in the third quarter. Roethlisberger limped off the field after throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. Steelers doctors checked Roethlisberger’s knee in the locker room as a precaution, but he quickly returned to the field and did not miss a snap. “You always get scared when your franchise quarterback goes down, but he’s tough,” Pouncey said. Roethlisberger got drilled by Chiefs defensive tackle Jaye Howard as he threw the only touchdown pass of the game but said afterward that he didn’t know what exactly happened. “I knew that it just hurt,” Roethlisberger said, “but I’m fine.”
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Thursday that linebacker Lawrence Timmons is deserving of a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Timmons
DeCastro
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley essentially said the same thing about right guard David DeCastro.

DeCastro has emerged as one of the better guards in the NFL, and the 2012 first-round draft pick was a big reason why Le'Veon Bell gashed the Cincinnati Bengals for 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 42-21 win last Sunday.

Bell ran behind a pulling DeCastro early and often, and Haley said DeCastro would have been the first one he singled out for praise after the Steelers’ eighth win of the season.

"The Bengals’ guys were tired of seeing him coming around by the end of the game," Haley said.

DeCastro might face a numbers crunch as far as making the Pro Bowl.

Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown are locks to make the team. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey are strong candidates to earn Pro Bowl nods.

Will the Steelers place more than four offensive players on the team?

Timmons faces a different problem.

The Steelers’ defense has struggled this season and might not send any players to the Pro Bowl.

Timmons, however, has been a stabilizing force on a unit that has been scrambled by injuries.

The eighth-year veteran started his 66th-consecutive regular-season game last Sunday and leads the Steelers with 104 tackles.

Timmons has recorded at least 10 tackles in six games this season.

"I’ve said the last several years that he plays at a Pro Bowl-level, and I feel that he’s doing that again," LeBeau said. "He’s a very, very good player. He does a lot of things for us. I think he can go and play with any group of athletes and hold his own, whether it’s across the ocean over there in Hawaii or this Sunday where we’re going to need him."
PITTSBURGH -- A play that went largely unnoticed in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 42-21 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday is a big reason why I think running back Le'Veon Bell has emerged as a legitimate NFL MVP candidate.

It came on a first down with a little less than three minutes left in the first half.

Bell took a handoff from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry was in perfect position to drop him in the backfield. But Bell spun away from Gilberry, leaving him clutching for air and turning what should have been a loss into a 9-yard run.

Why was the run so significant?

The Steelers' defense had started leaking some serious oil after a strong first quarter. The Bengals put together a pair of 80-yard touchdown drives in the second quarter and they took a 14-7 lead after their second score.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLe'Veon Bell has 1,231 rushing yards this season, but also has come up with key plays at key moments for the Steelers.
Markus Wheaton brought the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone and was dropped at the Steelers' 14-yard line. Had Gilberry thrown Bell for a loss on the next play the Steelers might have gotten conservative and gone three-and-out -- leaving Cincinnati enough time to get its offense back on the field for one more drive before halftime.

The Steelers instead built on Bell's run and drove inside the Bengals' 5-yard line before settling for a Shaun Suisham field goal before the half.

A 14-10 halftime deficit could have easily been 17-7 or even 21-7 had the Steelers given the Bengals the ball right back late in the second quarter.

Bell's run did not allow that to happen and the Steelers later erupted for 25 fourth-quarter points to blow past the Bengals in a game they had to win.

That wasn't the first time that Bell turned in the kind of play on which games turn.

The Steelers were trailing the Houston Texans by 10 points late in the second quarter a week after getting embarrassed in Cleveland. Their fans, none too happy with the Steelers' 3-3 record and a slow start against the Texans, let them hear about it.

Then Bell turned a reception on a short crossing route into a 28-yard gain. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant on the next play and the Steelers added two more touchdowns after the two-minute warning.

That outburst propelled them to a 30-23 win and launched a three-game winning streak that included victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers' best stretch of the season might not have happened without Bell's catch-and-run late in the first half against the Texans.

Plays such as that and the run Bell made late in the first half against the Bengals are the ones that build MVP arguments every bit as much as numbers such as 1,231 rushing yards in 13 games and 71 receptions for 693 yards.

And testimonials such as that one that center Maurkice Pouncey offered after Bell piled up 235 all-purpose yards in Cincinnati.

"I keep telling you guys all the time as an offensive line you can really appreciate a running back like that," Pouncey said. "He sets up the blocks good. Some plays you can't hit it as fast as others. He gets the gist of that. He has great vision. He cuts on you real quick and makes guys look stupid. He makes it easy. Trust me."

No arguments here.

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward has too much youth and too much of a pleasant disposition when he isn't chasing quarterbacks to look as weary as he did late Sunday afternoon.

Then again, it has become all too common for one of the better talkers in the Steelers' locker room to have to answer questions about a loss as confounding as it is deflating.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsBen Roethlisberger and the Steelers are hoping to keep control of their destiny for the last four games.
Another inexcusable loss on coach Mike Tomlin's watch happened after the Steelers played like a 4-7 team coming off a short week instead of a 7-4 team coming off a bye week and playing at home.

A 35-32 loss marked the seventh time, dating to the past season, that the Steelers have lost to a team with a losing record. Three times this season, the Steelers have lost to a team that was at least three games under .500.

True, the loss to the Saints wasn't quite as embarrassing as earlier ones to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets, but it continued a disturbing pattern for the Steelers of losing games they should win.

"It's got to stop," Heyward said. "We've got too many good guys, too many good players to not win these games. Top to bottom, we've got to stop doing this."

Blame for the Steelers' inconsistent playing has to start with Tomlin.

He did not coach one of his better games Sunday. He failed to use his timeouts at the end of the first half before the Saints scored a touchdown, something that cost the Steelers 30 seconds and at least three points.

The Steelers drove into field-goal range in 31 seconds, but they had to attempt a 53-yard field goal that fell short because the Saints left the offense with just 36 seconds in the second quarter after scoring their second touchdown of the game.

The biggest indictment of Tomlin, however, had nothing to do with game strategy and everything to do with the reality that the Saints lost to every other team in the AFC North but managed to beat the one that was better rested than they were and playing at home.

Tomlin said now is not the time to search for any common denominators in the seven losses to teams with losing records. Pressed for an answer as to how the Steelers that lost to New Orleans were the same team as the one that dominated Indianapolis and Baltimore in successive weeks at Heinz Field, Tomlin's frustration betrayed him.

"How many ways do I need to tell you in terms of my interpretation of how the game has unfolded? It's not going to change," Tomlin said while tapping the podium several times for emphasis. "I'd be happy to professionally answer any question you have, but I'm trying here."

So are the Steelers, a handful of players insisted before the home locker room at Heinz Field quickly emptied.

"We're in control of what happens from here on out, and we have four games left. What type of love do we have for each other? What type of brotherhood do we have?" free safety Mike Mitchell said. "In the short time I've been here, I know it's strong, so we've got to all rally together. It's not as much about talking about it -- it's about doing it."

The questions Mitchell posed also represented the message Tomlin delivered behind closed doors after the Steelers fell to 7-5 with two games against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals left on the schedule.

Tomlin made it clear to his players there is still time for the Steelers to define themselves as something other than what they are 12 games into the season: an unpredictable, underachieving team that cannot be trusted.

"If we win these next four, we'll put ourselves in great position," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "If we don't, we're going to have to sit around and hope somebody else does it for us again. I just wish we would stop losing to teams that don't have great records, but I think we're fine."
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Running back Le'Veon Bell has now saved the Pittsburgh Steelers twice on "Monday Night Football," and the second-year man was a little less subtle about it this time.

Bell's 43-yard catch-and-run against the Houston Texans in Week 7 served as the catalyst for 24 unanswered points that propelled the Steelers to their first of three consecutive wins.

On Monday, Bell simply pounded the upstart Tennessee Titans into submission when the Steelers again found themselves on the precipice.

The Steelers were trailing by 11 points in the third quarter when offensive coordinator Todd Haley finally got out of his own way and called one run after another for Bell.

Recommitting to the run, which the Steelers got away from when they blew an early 10-point lead, allowed them to rally for a 27-24 win and avert what would have been a disastrous loss.

[+] EnlargeBell
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsLe'Veon Bell rushed 33 times for 204 yards and a touchdown on Monday against the Titans.
The timing of Bell's 204-yard outburst, which came courtesy of the block party the Steelers' offensive line threw at frosty LP Field, couldn't have been better, for several reasons.

The Steelers go into their bye week with a 7-4 record and in pretty decent position in both the AFC North and AFC playoff picture, despite their maddening propensity to play down to their competition.

They did that again against the Titans, before Bell and the offensive line grabbed control of the game, while Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak watched with what had to be a most satisfied smile.

Munchak spent more than 30 years with the Oilers/Titans as a player and a coach before he was fired as the team's head coach this past January.

The play of the line, after a shaky stretch in which they could not keep the Titans off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, showed why the hiring of Munchak was considered one of the Steelers' most significant offseason acquisitions.

The Steelers turned to the run after falling behind 24-13, and the Titans couldn't stop them, even though they knew it was coming.

That proved to be the case when the Steelers drove 72 yards in eight plays and scored a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter to cut the Titans' lead to four points. That proved to be the case midway through the final quarter, when the Steelers got the ball back while nursing a three-point lead.

They ran 10 plays, eight of them runs by Bell, before Roethlisberger took a couple knees to end the game.

"Maybe two or three different plays we were running, but we were executing at a high level," Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. "I heard a couple of guys say, ‘They keep running the ball over here. We've got to stop it.'"

They couldn't because Bell and the offensive line worked so well together that they produced the football equivalent of finishing each other's sentences. The line provided a consistent push and openings for Bell, even when Tennessee started stacking players close to the line of scrimmage.

Bell, meanwhile, exploited any cracks that surfaced in the Titans' defense.

The 196 yards he gained between the tackles were the most by any NFL back this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I love running the ball, but those guys love running the ball more than me -- that's the craziest part," Bell said of the Steelers' offensive line. "Those guys kept moving guys off the ball and making my job easy."

Rushing yards had not come easy for Bell recently, even during the three-game win streak. He rushed for a combined 169 yards in those games. Add in the 36 yards he managed in a 20-13 loss to the New York Jets, and Bell averaged 51.3 rushing yards in his previous four games.

That stretch seemed like a distant memory when right guard David DeCastro talked about what a "blast" it was for the Steelers to impose their will on the Titans -- just when it seemed their season would get away from them.

Bell couldn't stop smiling as he talked about an offensive line that allowed him to record just the fifth 200-yard rushing game in Steelers history. That was one of many superlatives the 2013 second-round draft pick produced on a night when the Steelers had to win any way possible but ultimately did so on their terms.

"We don't have enough time to talk about what [Bell] did tonight," Roethlisberger said. "I'm so proud of the way he bounces back. Catches the ball, runs the ball, power, finesse. When he runs, it's like poetry in motion."

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PITTSBURGH -- The question triggered something that helped Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey make sense of how his quarterback laid waste to a defense that had not given up a single point the previous Sunday.

That is why Pouncey's face broke into a knowing smile a couple of moments after he was asked if he had seen anything behind closed doors that portended the kind of record-setting performance Ben Roethlisberger put together when the Steelers needed it to secure a signature win.

"I'm glad you mentioned that," Pouncey said in an upbeat, but hardly euphoric, postgame locker room following the Steelers' 51-34 win against the Indianapolis Colts. "Usually, he's a little more relaxed before [games], but he was zoned in today. He didn't really say much."

His actions spoke volumes during a wild shootout Sunday that is more commonly associated with the Big 12 than it is the NFL.

Roethlisberger made a powerful statement by outplaying Andrew Luck and showing how good the Steelers' offense can be when he is at the top of his game.

In retrospect, we should have seen this coming.

OK, maybe not the 522 yards and six touchdowns and such sublime play that Roethlisberger fit the ball into tight windows when the situation dictated it -- or simply found the open man the multiple times the Colts generously offered up chunks of passing yards to Big Ben with broken coverages.

But the best game of Roethlisberger's career has its roots in back-to-back subpar performances in a close win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and then an embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Roethlisberger has a competitive streak longer than the three rivers that meet in Pittsburgh, not far from Heinz Field. You knew with his résumé and competitive snarl that somebody was going to pay for that loss to the Browns, a team he usually owns.

What brought everything together for Roethlisberger and an offense that is good enough for the Steelers to contend in the AFC: the challenge of matching the prolific Colts offense.

It probably also didn't hurt that Roethlisberger had to have heard all of the questions last week about Luck's greatness and how the Steelers could possibly stop him and the Colts.

"He won't admit it, but I'm sure," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said when asked if all of the Luck chatter motivated Roethlisberger. "You don't ascend to the position that he is professionally without that competitive fire burning. There was a lot written and said about their offense and their quarterback, and rightfully so. Some of it by me."

That had to fire up Roethlisberger even though he downplayed the Luck dynamic after becoming the first quarterback in NFL history with multiple 500-yard passing games.

"I don't know anyone who's more competitive than [No.] 7," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said, "and I've met a lot of dudes that have played in this league, and I've never met anyone who wants to win more than him."

Keisel is one of Roethlisberger's closest friends on the Steelers and has seen that competitive side everywhere from a football field to a fishing hole.

That is why it didn't surprise him Roethlisberger outplayed Luck.

Keisel, though, had such respect for Luck -- and the way he kept getting up after being knocked down like a bowling pin -- that he made a point to seek out the third-year man after the game and compliment him.

Keisel gushed about Luck in the Steelers' locker room.

But he also added: "I say all of that about Andrew, but Ben was the top dog, no doubt. He stood in the pocket, made big throws, big plays, flipped the field. It was amazing watching Ben."
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room after a 30-23 win over the Houston Texans Monday night at Heinz Field.
  • Timmons
    Linebacker Lawrence Timmons starred, registering a game-high 12 tackles as well as a sack. The eighth-year veteran also turned into an Internet sensation as he was leading one of the Steelers' better defensive efforts of the season. Timmons vomited several times during the game -- video of it quickly made its way to the internet -- though he said he wasn't sick afterward. Timmons said his stomach problems first started after Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick inadvertently kicked him in the stomach. He later vomited after over-hydrating to replace the fluids he had lost after Fitzpatrick kicked him. "Just a little bloated," Timmons said, "but I'm good now."
  • The Steelers scored 24 unanswered points with three minutes left in the second quarter to turn a 13-point deficit into an 11-point halftime lead. Coach Mike Tomlin said the play that led to that barrage of points happened when the Steelers, down 13-0, were facing third-and-10 from their own 14-yard line. Le'Veon Bell caught a short pass over the middle and turned it into a 43-yard catch and run. The Steelers' longest play of the season allowed them to flip the field and get on the scoreboard after a 44-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham. "They were in man-to-man. He won versus a linebacker," Tomlin said of Bell's 43-yard catch. "I think that provided the type of emotion that the group needed."
  • A short week won't help right tackle Marcus Gilbert as he tries to come back from a concussion. Gilbert left the second quarter and did not return. The fourth-year veteran will have to pass a battery of tests before he is cleared to play Sunday against the visiting Indianapolis Colts. Gilbert sustained the only injury of note against the Texans, Tomlin said. Mike Adams replaced Gilbert and played his first extended snaps of the season. The Steelers almost had to replace their starting left tackle, too, during the game. Kelvin Beachum went down with a shoulder injury late in the third quarter but he didn't have to miss any snaps because of the change in quarters. "It was touchy there for awhile," Tomlin said. "We were about to see (center Maurkice Pouncey) at left tackle."
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the NFL in rushing and yards per carry. That means little to nothing to center Maurkice Pouncey.

"It's only three games but it's a good start for us," the three-time Pro Bowler said. "Hopefully we can say by the end of the year that we're the No. 1 rushing team."

Pouncey knows better than to get ahead of himself.

Pouncey
The fifth-year veteran strongly hinted that's what happened after the Steelers rushed for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 16 carries while rolling to a 27-3 halftime lead against the Cleveland Browns in the season opener.

"We came into halftime of the first game and we were all happy and kind of pumped up about ourselves and then we came out in the second half flat," Pouncey said.

The Steelers managed just 35 rushing yards on 14 carries in the second half, and they needed a Shaun Suisham field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter to win 30-27 and avert an epic collapse.

The line did not play particularly well in a 26-6 loss at the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 11 but it dominated the Carolina Panthers' vaunted front seven last Sunday night.

The Steelers piled up 264 rushing yards and their success running the ball is why they lead the NFL with 163.3 rushing yards per game and 6.0 yards per carry.

"They took a lot of hurt [from] the Baltimore game and so I think they kind of put all that into a little ball of rage and took it out on Carolina," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

The linemen felt so guilty about a shot that Roethlisberger took early in the Baltimore game -- Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw drilled Big Ben in the chest on the third play of the game -- that Pouncey apologized to his quarterback on the plane ride back to Pittsburgh.

And this was after the 37-19 win at Carolina where the line played its best game in years.

"For him to take a big-time hit like that, knowing we could have done a little better, that's how you should feel as a lineman," Pouncey said. "If you don't then something's wrong."

Such accountability is only part of the reason why the Steelers are so happy to have Pouncey back after he went down just eight snaps into last season with a torn ACL.

"He is one of the best at his position if not the best," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "The more good players and great players you have the better you are. But he's such an energy bringer. He brings so much with him every day. You know when he is in the room. You know when he is in the hallway. You know, obviously, when he's out here. There is no substitute for that."
PITTSBURGH -- Maurkice Pouncey corrected a reporter when asked if the Pittsburgh Steelers are poised for a bounce back season.

Pouncey
“The bounce back should have been last year,” the Pro Bowl center said.

Pouncey could only watch helplessly last season as the Steelers lost their first four games for the first time since 1968 on the way to a second consecutive 8-8 season.

Pouncey tore his ACL eight snaps into the season, and there initially was so much swelling that he couldn’t even travel with the team. Despite that -- and Pouncey having to watch home games on the sidelines -- the fifth-year veteran was around the team enough to know that he doesn’t want to experience another somber September at Steelers headquarters.

“You lose four in a row, everything’s different at work,” Pouncey said. “You come in and everybody’s on the edge and nobody really has a smile on their face.”

Nothing would do more to wipe the collective smiles off the Steelers’ faces than a loss Sunday against the visiting Browns.

The Steelers haven’t lost to the Browns in Pittsburgh since 2003 and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has never lost to Cleveland at Heinz Field. An end to both trends would be particularly disheartening to the Steelers considering their next two games are on the road and the specter of last year’s start hangs over the team.

“Everybody’s talked about it,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “If you were here last year that’s all that’s on your mind. It’s almost [talked about] too much.”

The best way the Steelers can end such talk is to beat an AFC North foe that is almost a touchdown underdog on Sunday.

“It’s one of those things where you can go back down that avenue,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said of the 0-4 start in 2013. “That has to be the mentality.”

Steelers might be done with signings

August, 29, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- Finalizing the 53-man roster before 4 p.m. ET Saturday is the Pittsburgh Steelers' top priority.

It might also be their last major order of business before the start of the regular season.

Worilds
Team president Art Rooney II told ESPN.com that there is a good chance that the Steelers won’t sign any more of their players to long-term deals before next year.

The Steelers have signed center Maurkice Pouncey, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and kicker Shaun Suisham to new long-term contracts since June.

Outside linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Cortez Allen remain the only starters who are candidates to receive new deals. The Steelers don't negotiate player contracts during the regular season, so it would be an understatement to say that the clock is ticking.

"There’s probably a chance we’ll do one more contract," Rooney said. "I don’t know if we will get it done or not, but we’re pretty much done with the signing process as we’re heading into the season."

Worilds is probably the odd man out even if the Steelers sign one more player to a new long-term contract before Sept. 7.

The fifth-year veteran will make $9.754 million in 2014 after signing the one-year contract the Steelers offered him when they used a transition tag on him in March, and the Steelers might not be willing to offer the kind of multi-year deal to make it worth it for Worilds to pass up making nearly $10 million this season.

The Steelers will still have some measure of control when it comes to Worilds’ rights even if they don’t sign him to a new contract before the start of the regular season.

They can tag Worilds again next year, which would prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent when the 2015 NFL year starts.

The Steelers appear to be content to see if Worilds can build on his strong second half from last season and then decide whether they are ready to commit to the former second-round draft pick long term.

Allen is the more likely of the two to sign a new contract becausee it might be more feasible -- and palatable -- for the Steelers from a financial standpoint.

Allen, whose cap hit is $1.529 million this season, is a promising young cornerback who has yet to put it together for an entire season. His signing a long-term contract would provide security for both Allen and the Steelers, who are thin at cornerback.

Given where the respective sides are coming from, it seems a lot more likely that Allen, not Worilds, and the Steelers find common ground on a new deal before the organization shuts down contract negotiations until next year.

Pouncey, Polamalu crack top 100

August, 25, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- Two more Pittsburgh Steelers surfaced on ESPN.com’s list of the top 100 NFL players for both offense and defense.

Pouncey
Polamalu
Center Maurkice Pouncey is No. 42 on offense and strong safety Troy Polamalu is No. 46 on defense.

Polamalu dropped 13 spots from his 2013 ESPN.com ranking after the Steelers slipped to No. 13 in total defense last season, when they had trouble stopping the run and were vulnerable to big plays. Polamalu still made his eighth Pro Bowl in 2013 after finishing third on the Steelers with 85 tackles, forcing a career-high five fumbles and tying for the team lead with two interceptions.

Polamalu, who is entering his 12th season, played every snap last season.

Pouncey, was on the other end of the spectrum in 2013, missing all but eight snaps after tearing several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL.

The three-time Pro Bowler was hurt when teammate David DeCastro crashed into his lower leg after missing a cut block in the Steelers’ season opener against the visiting Tennessee Titans.

Pouncey has since made a full recovery, and the Steelers signed the fifth-year veteran to a five-year, $44 million contract in June, making him one of the highest paid players at his position.

Pouncey, who moved up 12 spots from his 2013 ranking, is ahead of centers such as Carolina's Ryan Kalil (No. 47) and the the Jets' Nick Mangold (No. 49).

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