Steelers on cue for stretch run

PITTSBURGH – With nine minutes to play, the outcome had long been decided.

At this point, the idea is getting every player safely back to the lockerroom in one piece.

But on a third and 12 call, Steelers’ backup quarterback Charlie Batch unloaded down the right side for second-year wideout Antonio Brown.

The Central Michigan product went high and was off balance as the ball arrived. Unfortunately, so did Bengals’ safety Reggie Nelson who delivered a vicious blow.

Brown crumbled to the turf, attempted to regain his feet, but collapsed on the sideline.

“That shot definitely knocked the wind out of me,” Brown revealed later at his locker. “Was it a clean hit? I’d like to see it again, but (they) didn’t call anything, so good for him (Nelson).”

There are a number key personnel Mike Tomlin can ill-afford to lose for a playoff stretch run his club began in dazzling fashion Sunday.

Brown is on that list and certainly proved so Sunday, making two catches for 67 yards in addition to staging a spectacular lights-out 60-yard punt return to the house.

It’s apparent Mike Wallace is Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to guy, reflected by his team-high receiving totals of 58 catches for 977 yards and eight scores.

Brown, though, primarily an unheralded player out of the MAC, has become one of (offensive coordinator) Bruce Arians’ weapons of choice. Brown, obviously doubles as a return specialist.

“This is the time of year we need all our guys healthy as possible,”Roethlisberger described. Do the Steelers turn up their intensity level in December? “We’d better,” Big Ben responded.

Pittsburgh twice plays Cleveland (4-8) and hosts St. Louis (2-10) in three of its final four starts. A Monday night visit to San Francisco (10-2) may determine whether the Black & Gold can overtake Baltimore (9-3) in the AFC North.

“We can only control what we can control,” linebacker James Farrior said. “If we play the way we’re capable, everything falls into place. In my opinion, the most important thing is we avoid a key injuries. That means more than anything else.”

Brown may have been fortunate coming away unscathed from Nelson’s brutal blow. “We’re the Steelers,” Brown smiled. “We’re tough guys. We can take it.”


CREDIT rookie Cam Heyward for making an early statement Sunday. The ex-Buckeye blocked a Mike Nugent (OSU) 33-yard field goal attempt which would have enabled Cincy to forge an early lead.

“You never know. You always try to extend and get a hand up (on kick attempts),” Heyward disclosed. “Anything I can do to help this team, I’m thrilled…”

BENGALS’ rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, just 11-of-24 for 135 yards, chalked up Sunday’s setback to lessons learned.

“I thought we prepared well and had a nice game plan coming in,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what stadium you’re playing in. You have to execute and we didn’t do that today. The good thing is (this) game counts for one loss and one loss only. We can still accomplish our goals.”

Cincinnati welcomes 9-3 Houston this Sunday then visits the Rams before hosting Arizona and Baltimore the final two weeks….

HINES Ward, who eclipsed the 12,000-yard mark for career reception yards, saluted the Steelers’ organization. “To reach this milestone with the same team I came in with is really special to me,” Ward declared. “To do it (today) in front of our fans…it couldn’t have worked out better. Hopefully, I have a few more (receptions) in the play book….”

TOMLIN indicated linebacker Lamarr Woodley tweaked an injured hamstring and was removed for precautionary measures. “We’re not ruling out Lamarr could play Thursday,” Tomlin advised…

FOLLOWING Thursday night’s NFL Network game vs. Cleveland, the Steelers have 10 days to prepare for their Dec. 19 Monday nighter at San Francisco….

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