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Scorp
12-12-2010, 06:45 PM
For a city that averages approximately 60 cloudless days a year, dark skies on the horizon are nothing out of the ordinary. But it is when leaden clouds are hovering above the Steelers.

A storm was brewing long before they would even get to training camp in late July, and at its center was a four-game suspension handed to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for violating the National Football League's personal conduct policy. But also swirling among the debris was the release of their top receiver and former Super Bowl XLIII MVP, Santonio Holmes, and a season-ending injury to their best offensive lineman, Willie Colon.

It was not the ideal way to begin after a season in which the Steelers not only failed to defend their Super Bowl XLIII title, they missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record that was largely attributable to a five-game losing streak.

"Everyone was picking the Bengals and Ravens," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "Not having our quarterback, losing Santonio, losing Willie Colon and stuff like that, it didn't look good. I wouldn't have picked us, either."

That, though, was just the beginning.

In the final preseason game, the Steelers lost quarterback Byron Leftwich (sprained knee), the player they signed specifically to replace Roethlisberger during his suspension. Leftwich's replacement, Dennis Dixon, started the first two games but was injured in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans and eventually was placed on injured reserve.

And it just went from there.

The Steelers lost left tackle Max Starks for the season with a neck injury; lost both defensive ends, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, for extended periods of time; and last week lost punter Daniel Sepulveda with a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament. On top of that, they released kicker Jeff Reed, one of the longest tenured players on the team and the NFL's most accurate kicker the previous three seasons.

"It could have destroyed the whole season," said inside linebacker and defensive captain James Farrior, one of the oldest players on the team. "We had numerous things happen to this team that probably would have brought another team down."

And yet, despite the summer gloom, despite all the turbulence that would have rocked just about any other NFL franchise, the Steelers are heading into the final quarter of the season with an outlook rosier than a 10-day forecast in Maui.

They have won three in a row, are tied for the second-best record in the league (9-3) and are in prime position to get one of the two first-round byes in the American Football Conference playoffs. What's more, they play their next three games at home, beginning at 1 p.m. today against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-10) at Heinz Field.

Amazing might not be a strong enough word.

"We're a close-knit family," said Ward, who, in his 13th NFL season, is the longest tenured player on the team along with Smith. "This team has been battle-tested more than any team this year. We're winning the games we're supposed to win and finding ways to win. The resiliency of the past three weeks, never giving up, speaks volume to the character of our team, the players we have on our team."

The Bengals wish they could find the same resiliency.

Scorp
12-12-2010, 06:47 PM
The Steelers' ability to avoid such colossal meltdowns comes as no surprise to Lewis, the Bengals coach who spent four years with the Steelers as an assistant coach, all as a playoff participant.

"The system has stayed in place, year after year," said Lewis, who is in the final year of his contract with the Bengals. "I think that is important. If you look at the backup players and take a look at the defensive line, [John] Mitchell has coached those guys for a long time and they have one new guy [Ziggy Hood] who was drafted a year ago.

"But I think that makes a huge difference, so when you lose a fine player in Aaron Smith for an extended period of time, the other guys are there. Charlie Batch has stayed in the mix throughout and Byron [Leftwich] was there a couple of years ago, so you've got guys. And Kevin [Colbert] and Mike [Tomlin] have done a nice job of keeping guys in the family. I think when you can do that and if you choose the right ones and they are productive, that makes a big difference.

"Because the system stays the same, you are changing one, maybe two, pieces but the other nine pieces continue to roll forward."

Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El left the Steelers after back-to-back appearances in the AFC championship game and a Super Bowl victory in 2005. Now he is back, after four years with the Redskins in which they made the playoffs just once, and not much has seemed to change.

The Steelers remain on the same course as when he departed, even with all the injuries, suspensions and departures.

"It's a combination of the organization and the way they run things, the hires they make with Mike Tomlin and the staff, and the players," Randle El said. "They have players who have been here and won; they know what to expect. Everyone is on the same page of what we're trying to do to win. Everybody puts their self aside and just focuses on the team. I don't think we have any selfish guys in here and, if we did, you would hear the players talk about them and they'd be trying to get them out of here."

Amazing, really.

LatrobePA
12-12-2010, 06:47 PM
Odds, maybe...But the league YES, it's f'n sick how many NO CALLS each week!!

Moondog
12-12-2010, 06:49 PM
Sounds like the right attitude to put it simply.

Scorp
12-12-2010, 06:51 PM
Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer(notes) calls Troy Polamalu(notes) the NFL’s best defensive player. This must be why.

Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley(notes) returned interceptions for Pittsburgh’s only touchdowns and the Steelers sent Cincinnati to a franchise record-tying 10th consecutive defeat, winning 23-7 on Sunday.

The Steelers (10-3) couldn’t get into the end zone on offense despite dominating the time of possession—a 9 1/2 -minute drive in the second half produced no scoring—but it didn’t matter as they closed in on a playoff spot by playing just well enough to beat the Bengals (2-11).

Palmer threw three interceptions, two to former college teammate Polamalu, as Cincinnati matched the David Shula-coached 1993 Bengals by losing 10 consecutive games in the same season. The overall franchise record is 11 consecutive defeats from 1992-93.

For the second week in a row, it was Polamalu who made the Steelers’ pivotal play. Last week, he forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that led to Ben Roethlisberger’s(notes) decisive TD pass to running back Isaac Redman(notes) and a 13-10 victory in Baltimore that gave Pittsburgh the AFC North lead.

This time, Polamalu cut in front of intended receiver Terrell Owens(notes) to intercept Palmer’s sideline pass and return it 45 yards for a touchdown, tying it at 7 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the first half. Both of Polamalu’s career regular-season interception return touchdowns are against Palmer, who roomed with Polamalu while at Southern Cal. Polamalu had the other in 2004.

Along the bench, Palmer and Owens talked briefly about an apparently incorrectly run pass route. An unhappy Palmer walked away from Owens after apparently not being happy with the explanation.

The Steelers, up 13-7 after the long but unproductive drive that extended over much of the third quarter, sealed it when Woodley scored on a 14-yard interception return early in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers hadn’t had two interception return touchdowns in a game since Dewayne Washington scored twice against Jacksonville in 1998.

Polamalu also made an interception with two minutes remaining, his sixth of the season, after Cincinnati had driven to the Steelers 16.

That pass also was intended for Owens, who came in needing only 39 yards to become only the third receiver in NFL history with 10 1,000-yard seasons but made only one catch for 22 yards.

Long before that, Palmer drove the Bengals 69 yards on an opening possession that ended with his 1-yard scoring pass to Andrew Whitworth(notes) on a tackle-eligible play that made it 7-0. Whitworth is the first Bengals offensive lineman to score a touchdown in 15 seasons.

Cincinnati’s offense spent much of the rest of the game huddling along the sideline as Pittsburgh held the ball for 13:15 of the third quarter, even though leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall(notes) ended with a nondescript 66 yards on 18 carries.

The Steelers didn’t get much out of all these drives, only three field goals by the perfect-so-far Shaun Suisham(notes), but still won their fourth in a row overall and swept the season series. Hines Ward(notes) made eight catches for 115 yards.

Suisham, signed last month after longtime kicker Jeff Reed(notes) was cut, converted from the 23, 35 and 41 and is 9 for 9 with Pittsburgh.

Roethlisberger had an active if not entirely productive afternoon in a game played mostly in rain, although pregame forecasts of in-game snow and whipping winds did not occur. The dire forecast apparently led nearly 8,000 fans to stay away from 65,050-seat Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger, playing on a gimpy right foot and wearing a visor in the first half to protect his broken nose, took hits from three different defenders on one play before getting loose to complete a 9-yard pass to Mendenhall. He also improvised after a shotgun snap sailed high, scrambling for 13 yards to the 5 to set up Suisham’s 23-yarder, which put Pittsburgh up 10-7 at the half.

coach
12-12-2010, 08:02 PM
D was awesome. The much over-rated Palmer gets the big assist as he gave up some easy interceptions and the refs did their best to impact the game by making a number of no-calls and a bevy of questionable calls. Not sure if BA or the refs are more upsetting right now.