Steelers Restricted Free Agent Tender to Chris Hubbard is a Low Risk No Brainer

When talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers group of upcoming free-agents, reserve offensive lineman Chris Hubbard probably doesn’t enter into most discussions among fans and the media.

But that’s the thing about backup offensive linemen in the National Football League:

  • You never know when you’re going to need them.

Such was the case for the Steelers and Hubbard early last season, when starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and veteran backup swing tackle Ryan Harris were both lost in a 43-14 Sunday night victory over the Chiefs at Heinz Field.

Chris Hubbard, Chris Hubbard restricted free agent, Chis Hubbard tight end

Chris Hubbard lines up as a tight end in the Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Capsule Profile of Chris Hubbard’s Steelers Career

Chris Hubbard, a 2013 undrafted rookie free-agent out of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), bounced back and forth between the team’s practice squad and active roster during 2013, 2014 and 2015 before finally finding a permanent job among the final 53 in 2016.

Its a bit ironic when you look back, as Mike Golic Jr. and Nik Embernate aka “Embernasty” got all the headlines when the Steelers 2013 undrafted rookie free agent class was announced, but four years later, it was Chris Hubbard who was suiting up for the AFC Championship game.

A versatile lineman who can play guard, center and tackle, Hubbard proved his worth against Kansas City in that aforementioned Week 4 match-up, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had perhaps his best game of the season, passing for 300 yards and five touchdowns.

With Marcus Gilbert and Ryan Harris both ruled out against the Jets seven days later, Chris Hubbard got his first career start at right tackle. The result: a more than satisfactory performance in a 31-13 Steelers victory over the Jets at Heinz Field.

  • A week later, Chris Hubbard struggled quite a bit in a 30-15 loss at Miami, as Pittsburgh also lost Ben Roethlisberger with a torn meniscus.

Chris Hubbard started two more games at right tackle before Marcus Gilbert finally returned from his ankle injury, and the young lineman would  remain the backup tackle the rest of the year, as Ryan Harris, who suffered a shin injury against the Chiefs, ultimately had to be placed on Injured Reserve.

Chris Hubbard also saw extensive spot-duty as a third tight end in the Steelers “Big Boy” package, helping David Johnson and Jesse James open holes for Le’Veon Bell.

Pro’s & Con’s of Steelers Decision to RFA Tender to Chris Hubbard

As the Steelers approach free-agency, Hubbard is of the restricted free agent, meaning the Steelers retain the right of first refusal should any other team offer Chris Hubbard a contract.

  • Will there be any offers for Hubbard, 25? Probably not. Should have tendered him a right of first refusal option (as they have) anyway?

If you were to say linemen of Hubbard’s pedigree are a dime a dozen, you would be correct. If you also were to say that Jerald Hawkins, Pittsburgh’s fourth round pick out of LSU in 2016, is someone the team probably is counting on to make strides in 2017, you are also surely correct.

  • Fact is, the Steelers seem set at both tackle positions for the near-future.

Marcus Gilbert is signed through 2019, while left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who only has two years of NFL experience and is an exclusive-rights free-agent, meaning he simply must take whatever offer Pittsburgh gives him.

A year ago Chris Hubbard was a “nice to have” type player to have on your depth chart, now he’s one play away from protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside.

Obviously, the Steelers could fill the backup tackle void with just about anyone, but why not with a player who has been in their system for some time now and also has had and will continue to have the privilege of being coached my Mike Munchak, perhaps the best in the business at what he does and certainly the most respected assistant coach on Pittsburgh’s staff.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Chis Hubbard

When you see the improvements of the likes of Marcus Gilbert and more notably Alejandro Villanueva in recent years, Chris Hubbard is certainly in good hands, and if any offensive line coach can get max out of his abilities, it’s Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

  • The Steelers have already offered Chris Hubbard a right of first refusal tender to Chris Hubbard.

Exact figures for 2017’s right of first refusal offers are suggested to be in the 1.85 million dollar range. So its doubtful that another team will try to sign Chris Hubbard away.

Its says here the Steelers made the right move in protecting Chris Hubbard. The Steelers have invested heavily in his development, and the truth is Chris Hubbard will be on someone’s roster in 2017. He he might as well be on the Steelers’ because you just never know when his services will be needed.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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Belated Thank You: Thanks Steelers for a Wonderful 2016 Season

[Editor’s note: Steel Curtain Rising has already shifted coverage to the Steelers 2017 off season, but author Tony Defeo pauses to offer some belated thanks to the men in Black and Gold.]

It’s been nearly a month since the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2016 quest for a Lombardi trophy went up in smoke at the hands of the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

  • During that time, the general feelings regarding the team’s accomplishments have been those of disappointment, along with bitterness and anger.

I must admit that I was quite depressed for a few days following the end of Pittsburgh’s campaign, and I even went so far as to  not want to acknowledge what a great ride 2016 really was. After all, the Steelers came within two victories of a seventh Super Bowl title.

Antonio Brown, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers Christmas win Ravens

Antonio Brown scores game winner in Steelers Christmas comeback vs Ravens. (Photo Credit: Steelers.com via Steel City Blitz)

Think about that for one moment. Just two more victories, and the perception among fans would have been much, much different.

  • And when you put the Steelers 2016 season into that kind of perceptive, it really does make you appreciate what a wonderful job they did.

As Steelers fans, we’re almost nauseating when it comes to our high-standards for the team, and how nothing short of a championship is acceptable in our eyes.

  • If that’s the case, why celebrate any moment, any victory, any advancement in the postseason, if it doesn’t all lead to a championship?

Why not just sit on your hands the entire season and reserve your real appreciation for when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is presenting Dan Rooney with that Lombardi trophy on a grand stage following a Super Bowl victory?

Fact is, Pittsburgh gave you and I many great moments in 2016 that included 11 wins, a division title and two postseason triumphs on the way to the AFC Championship game.

The Steelers 2016 season included a nine-game winning-streak, almost 1900 yards from scrimmage by Le’Veon Bell in just 12 games, a coming-of-age defense that includes many young defenders, such as Ryan ShazierArtie Burns, Javon Hargrave and Sean DavisThen there was the resurgence of veterans such as Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison.

And, of course, that glorious moment on Christmas night, when Antonio Brown essentially extended the season by extending his arm over the goal line, as three Ravens tacklers were trying to prevent him from doing so in the waning seconds of the de facto AFC North title game at Heinz Field.

So, while many fans (and even some of the Steelers, themselves–including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) have been screaming for change since that 36-17 beatdown at the hands of the Patriots, I just wanted to be one who offered my virtual hand and thanked you for a tremendous season.

  • It wasn’t long ago that just winning a playoff game was a monkey that needed to be extracted from the organization’s back.

Now, three in two years?

Again, sometimes it’s good to gain a little perceptive.

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Think Steelers Should Trade Antonio Brown? Then Follow Le’Veon Bell’s Example and Stop Smoking

Antonio Brown, the Steelers superstar receiver and social media celebrity, has come under fire recently for putting too much emphasis on his superstar status and for, well, being on social media too much.

Among Antonio Brown‘s many follies recently was his Facebook Live post in the Steelers’ locker room shortly after an exciting 18-16 victory over the Chiefs in the AFC divisional playoffs on January 15.

I can go on and on about Antonio Brown’s various transgressions that include your usual diva-like receiver tendencies of whining and complaining about not getting enough passes thrown his way, but if you’re reading this article, you probably know it all by now.

Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Browns

Antonio Brown leads Le’Veon Bell at Heinz Field in Steelers 2014 opener. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via PennLive.com

As is often the case in the Internet Age, fans have been quick to call for the Steelers to trade Antonio Brown to another team. Not all of the fans, mind you,  but, relative to his status as perhaps the game’s top wide-out, enough to make it noticeable.

  • “Trade him for two number one draft picks!” some fans have written or screamed in recent days.

Fans are just crazy about the NFL Draft and draft picks. And any scenario that could involve Pittsburgh having multiple first rounders in this spring’s draft would be akin to counting down the days until Christmas morning for so many out there.

But if you think Antonio Brown, who has one year left on his current contract, would garner two first round picks in a trade, you are crazy. Given Antonio Brown’s lame-duck status, fetching even one first rounder might be little more than a pipe-dream.

However, that begs an even bigger question: even if you can garner two first round picks for Antonio Brown, why would you want to?

Why Antonio Brown is Worth More than 2 First Round Picks

First of all, contrary to what you always think every February, March and most of April, first round picks don’t always pan out.

Secondly, how can a first round pick (or even two) possibly best what Antonio Brown has and will probably continue to produce on the football field week in and week out?

I know what you’re going to say. Yes, Antonio Brown’s stats declined last year. He made 30 fewer receptions in 2016 than he did the previous year (106) for 550 fewer yards (1,284).

  • But to point that out as a criticism of Antonio Brown while not also mentioning the probable reason is rather disingenuous.

Given that the Steelers were missing Martavis Bryant for all of 2016, Markus Wheaton for all but three games and tight end Ladarius Green for all but six, it makes perfect sense that Antonio Brown’s numbers would see a swift decline from the year before.

Remember that offense that everyone envisioned, the NFL’s equivalent of the Death Star, complete with a plethora of aerial weapons for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to pick and choose how to obliterate opposing defenses? That kind of went up in smoke (pun intended) when Martavis Bryant was suspended for testing positive for marijuana for the second time in as many seasons.

Sammie Coates, Sammie Coates drop, steelers trade antonio brown

Sammie Coates drops a pass in the Steelers 2016 win over the Jets. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

You throw in the aforementioned injuries to some other targets–Green was supposed to be the downfield threat at tight end that would compensate for Bryant’s absence as the number two receiver–as well as Sammie Coates swift decline following a promising start to his second year, and Antonio Brown was destined to produce less in 2016.

Let’s face it, when you have Demarcus AyersCobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers (no offense to those men as they appear to be developing into a fine NFL receivers) as complementary targets, who do you think defensive coordinators are going to focus on stopping, them or Antonio Brown?

  • This is why No. 84 often dealt with double and triple teams in 2016.

This might also explain why Antonio Brown’s yards after catch (YAC) dropped from 587 in 2015 to 387 last year. Sure, it only makes sense that Brown’s YAC would decrease along with his overall yards, but it also illustrates the lack of room he had to work in after making most of his 106 receptions.

And even if Antonio Brown had benefited from being complemented quite nicely by Martavis Bryant, Marcus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Ladarius Green in  2016, this does not mean his statistics wouldn’t have taken a dip. After all, Antonio Brown averaged 125 receptions a season between 2013-2015, a pretty historic run of productivity for a receiver from any generation–even one playing in the current era of pass-happy football.

Still Want Steelers to Trade Antonio Brown? Careful for What you Wish….

Again, fans are often quick to want to cut a player loose these days, even if his talents are all-world and his transgressions aren’t of the legal nature.

  • But, whether the fantasy football mentality or something else fuels this – careful what you wish for.

Let’s not forget, Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback hinted at retirement mere hours after the Steelers 36-17 loss to New England in the AFC Championship game. It is believed that Ben Roethlisberger’s hints were mostly out of frustration, that he was tired of the likes of Antonio Brown and his antics.

However, despite an apparent friction between No. 7 and Antonio Brown, does anyone really think that the best way to entice Ben Roethlisberger into playing longer would be to eliminate his number one target, arguably the very best in the game at his position?

Yes, Antonio Brown is apparently a high maintenance member of the locker room and maybe a little more self-centered than most receivers (and that’s saying something), but this is the man who essentially saved the Steelers season, when, despite three defenders vehemently trying to prevent him from doing so, extended his arm over the goal line with nine seconds left to give the Steelers a pulsating 31-27 victory over the Ravens on Christmas Day, which clinched the AFC North title.

Brown is also the same man who had the presence of mind to keep running across the field late in the divisional round against the Chiefs, got himself open and clinched the victory by reeling in Roethlisberger’s pass on third and three.

Steelers young money crew, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace

Steelers “Young Money” Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Photo Credit: Tribune Review Blog

Fans have also been quick to point out that since Pittsburgh has produced a seemingly endless string of receivers in recent years–let’s not forget Antonio Brown was once part of the Young  Money trio that included Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders–he could be replaced, if not totally, then approximately.

But with 632 receptions in just seven seasons–including four-straight with 100 or more– Antonio Brown is quickly ascending up the record books of Steelers receivers  and could quite literally ellipse all of the records set by Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Hines Ward while he’s still in his early-30s.

  • Despite what you think of him, and despite his apparent need to grow up just a tad, there is only one Antonio Brown.

Part ways with Antonio Brown, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are a lesser football team.

I don’t think anyone is ready for that.

 

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The Truth Hurts: King Tom Brady Reigns over Pittsburgh in Steelers Patriots Rivalry

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the latest edition of the Steelers Patriots rivalry (or simply tried to block it out of your mind), the Steelers are home for the rest of the postseason, after suffering a humiliating 36-17 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium this past Sunday night.

  • If the words “humbling” and “embarrassing” sound familiar to you with regards to Pittsburgh’s run-ins with the Patriots over the years, that’s because they’re pretty accurate and descriptive.

After Sunday’s loss, the Steelers are now 2-10 against New England in games in the Tom Brady era. Furthermore, after accruing another  three touchdown passes in the title game, Brady now has 22 to zero interceptions when facing the Steelers in the Mike Tomlin era, which started in 2007.

Steelers Patriots rivalry, Sammie Coates, Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe, Rob Ninkovich, Steelers vs Patriots

Sammie Coates doesn’t stand a chance as 4 Patriots gang-tackle him in the AFC Championship game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

And if you want to really be sick to your stomach, you may need a bucket after learning that the Steelers’  had zero passes defensed against Tom Brady on Sunday, this despite him dropping back to pass 42 times.

  • If there ever was a team that had another’s number, it’s the Patriots over the Steelers.

Obviously, if you are a die-hard Steelers fan, you were hoping against hope that they’d be able to exorcise the New England demons and walk out of Gillette Stadium with a postseason victory and a trip to Super Bowl LI.

  • Unfortunately, if you  really are a die-hard fan of the Black-and-Gold, you now realize the Patriots are clearly the superior franchise and have been for the past 15 years.

I mean, did Sunday’s loss look any different to you than the debacles that took place at Heinz Field in both January of 2002 and January of 2005, when Pittsburgh fell victim to the Patriots with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line?

Going into the game, this one had the feel that it might be different. After all, there were a lot of Steelers-Patriots playoff firsts in this one:

At the end of the day, it might has well have been Kordell Stewart under center handing off to Amos Zereoue and trying to hit Bobby Shaw in the slot, with Lee Flowers and Dewayne Washington tackling receivers as Brady picked apart the Steelers zones.

They seemed all-too familiar, and now, after clinching their seventh trip to the Super Bowl since 2001, it’s clear the Patriots, and not the Steelers, are the standard of this excellents modern era.

Steelers Patriots Rivalry Decidedly One-Sided

Oh sure, the Steelers, with 10 playoff appearances, eight division titles, six AFC title game appearances, three trips to the Super Bowl and two Lombardi Trophies since 2001, have been one of the stars of the NFL in the 21st century. But the Patriots, with 14 AFC East titles, seven trips to the Super Bowl and four Lombardi Trophies over that same time-frame, are rightfully the measuring stick for all NFL franchises.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. While Pittsburgh, with its four Super Bowl victories in six seasons, was the dynasty of dynasties of the 1970s, the Cowboys and Raiders, with their star-studded rosters and combined three Super Bowl titles, certainly carved their own places in NFL lore.

  • The only problem is, it appears that the Patriots’ dynasty, one that seemed destined to end years ago, will continue on for seasons to come.

Bill Belichick, for all his faults with regards to Spygate, is one whale of a head coach. Belichick took over as New England’s coach in 2000, stumbled upon  the greatness of Tom Brady due to injury and soon found a formula for success, one where he has discovered a knack for going after a specific type of player at a specific type of position (can you tell where Wes Welker began and where Julian Edelman ends?) and plugging that player into his system and having success.

Steelers Patriots rivalry, Ryan Clark, Wes Welker, Steelers vs Patriots

Ryan Clark tackles Wes Welker in the Steelers 2008 win over the Bradyless Patriots. Photo Credit: Stephan Savoia, AP via Post-Gazette

Sure, it helps to have Tom Brady at quarterback, but the scary thing about him is, at age 39, he shows no signs of slowing down. I mean, we’re not talking about Peyton Manning, who threw nine touchdowns to 17 interceptions in his last season in 2015; Brady threw 32 touchdowns to only two interceptions in 2016, while only being sacked 15 times in 432 passing attempts.

  • In other words, Brady looks like he can play another five years, and if you’re a Steelers fan who watched him carve their defense up in the AFC Championship game, that has to be kind of chilling.

In-addition to Belichick, Brady, the system the Patriots employ and their franchise-wide commitment to winning, New England has and apparently will continue to benefit from an overall weak AFC East Division.

Comparing Steelers Patriots Rivalry to Steelers Rivalries of Old

If you are old enough to remember the ’70s, you know that while the Steelers dominated the old AFC Central to the tune of seven division titles, they still had to stave off the Browns, Bengals and Oilers, who were determined to build their franchises up in-order to compete. Houston came close, challenging the Steelers two years in a row in the AFC Championship game, while the Bengals swept Pittsburgh in both 1980 and 1981 and actually advanced to Super Bowl XVI, following the ’81 season.

Joe Greene, Dan Pastorini, Steelers vs Oilers, Steelers Oilers AFC Championship, 1978 AFC Championship

Joe Greene closes in on Dan Pastorini in the 1978 AFC title game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Besides the Patriots, only two teams have won the AFC East since 2001–the Jets in ’02 and the Dolphins in ’08. The Bills haven’t been to the playoffs since before New England’s run started (1999), the Jets’ last postseason appearance was 2010, while Miami just made it back this year after an eight season absence.

With Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and a great defense, it looked as if the Jets would become a worth challenger to New England, and they were…for two seasons, before imploding into just another doormat in the division.

  • In other words, nobody in the Patriots’ division appears to be even close to challenging them now or over the next few years.

Say what you will about the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, but they’ve gone about trying to challenge Pittsburgh in the AFC North–particularly Baltimore, who has simply built its franchise to beat the Steelers over the years and with great success.

If you’re New England, and you know you’re all but guaranteed five or six wins within your own division every year, you just have to win another six or seven against the rest of the league in-order to capture no worse than a number two seed and a bye into the second round of the postseason.

  • If you do that every year–New England hasn’t had to play in the Wildcard round since 2009–the odds of getting to the Super Bowl increase that much more.
  • To summarize, the Steelers have been a major player in this era, but the Patriots are clearly the standard for success.

And it doesn’t look like New England’s dominant run either over the NFL or in the Steelers Patriots rivalry will end any time soon.

 

 

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Report card for Steelers divisional round victory over Chiefs

Quarterback 

Sunday night wasn’t one of the greatest performances for Ben Roethlisberger (he completed 20 of 31 passes for 224 yards, no touchdowns and one interception). However, he could have had a better fate, had Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers been able to hold on to touchdown passes. Of course, things could have been better for Roethlisberger, had he not checked out of a running play down at the goal line and had his subsequent pass deflected in the air and intercepted by Eric Berry in the second quarter. It wasn’t a suburb performance for No. 7, but he did find a way to make a spectacular play on the third and three pass to Brown late in the game that sealed the deal. Grade: C

Running Backs 

What more can be said about Le’Veon Bell? After breaking the franchise single-game postseason rushing mark a week earlier against the Dolphins in the wild card game, Bell broke his own record against the Chiefs, by rushing for 170 yards on 30 carries. If he isn’t the most explosive and dangerous offensive weapon in football right now, I don’t know who is. Grade: A+

Wide Receivers 

Aside from Brown’s 108 yards on six catches, there wasn’t much in the way of contributions from the wide-outs on Sunday. While Rogers netted 27 yards on five catches, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers combined for 10 yards on two catches. Still, though, it’s hard to expect much from secondary receivers with little pedigree and even less experience. Grade: B-

Tight Ends 

The Steelers may not have had the still recovering from a concussion Ladarius Green, but Jesse James sure did provide some big catches and yards. All-told, he had five catches for 83 yards–including one for 26. Grade: B

Offensive Line

When your star running back rushes for 170 yards, and your franchise quarterback only gets sacks one time in 31 pass-attempts, it’s hard to criticize the offensive line. I won’t criticize the line, but a suburb performance by the unit could have been even better, had the offense been able to trade a couple of field goals for touchdowns. Grade: A

Defensive Line 

It was mostly a stellar performance for the defense, including just 61 yards against the run. It wasn’t a stand-out night for anyone on the line, but it was workman-like. Grade: B

Linebackers

James Harrison led the team in tackles with six and also notched the only sack of Alex Smith on the night. Harrison also came through by getting himself held by Eric Fisher during the two-point conversion try that could have tied the game late in the game. Ryan Shazier had five sacks and an interception, while Bud Dupree had four and caused the interception by Shazier, but pressuring Smith and hitting him just as he threw the pass. Grade B+

Secondary 

The Chiefs had just 172 passing yards on the night. Not much more can be said about that. Grade: A

Special teams 

The Steelers limited dangerous return man Tyreek Hill to 72 yards on four kickoffs. Also, Chris Boswell netted all the points for the  team by kicking a postseason record six field goals. Grade: A

Coaching

The Steelers were the better team in all three phases of the game, out-gaining the Chiefs 389 yards to 22y and stifling Kansas City’s return game. Again, a few touchdowns would have been perfection, but when you come out of Kansas City’s Arrowhead with a playoff win, that’s saying a lot. Grade: B+

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Chris Boswell kicks the Steelers into the AFC Championship game

The Steelers outlasted the Chiefs, 18-16, in a divisional round match-up at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday night to advance to their first AFC Championship game since the 2010 season.

Kicker Chris Boswell booted a postseason-record six field goals, as he provided the only scoring for Pittsburgh and an offense that moved the ball effectively but could never once reach the end zone against the Chiefs’ very effective red zone defense.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 20 of 31 passes for 224 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

Receiver Antonio Brown caught six passes for 108 yards, while running back Le’Veon Bell was once again the star on offense, as he rushed 30 times for 170 yards, breaking the franchise’s single-game postseason mark he set one week earlier in the wild card game against the Dolphins at Heinz Field.

Pittsburgh’s defense was mostly stellar, holding the Chiefs to 227 total yards–including just 61 yards on the ground–and all but made Kansas City’s two most dangerous weapons–tight end Travis Kelce and receiver/running back Tyreek Hill–non-factors.

Kelce caught five passes for 77 yards, while Hill totaled 45 yards from scrimmage–including just 27 yards on four receptions.

Speaking of Hill, his skills as a return specialist were also a concern for the Steelers special teams, who had been struggling in kick coverage, but Hill averaged just 18 yards on four kickoff returns, and didn’t have a single punt return the entire night.

Holding a  9-7 lead in the second quarter, outside linebacker Bud Dupree hit Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith just as he was about to release a pass, and Ryan Shazier intercepted the ball at the Chiefs’ 44. However, after quickly marching to the Chiefs five-yard line, a quick Roethlisberger pass intended for Brown was deflected in the air and intercepted by safety Eric Berry in the end zone.

After yet another Kansas City punt, the Steelers added a field by Boswell–his fourth of the day (this time from 45 yards)–to make it 12-7 at the half.

Boswell added two more field goals in the second half, and Pittsburgh had an 18-10 lead midway in the fourth quarter, when the Chiefs went on a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and drew to within two points, thanks to a one-yard run by Spencer Ware with 2:43 left.

Kansas City went for two and appeared to tie the game on a pass from Smith to receiver Jeremy Maclin. However, a holding call on Eric Fisher, who was attempting to block the legendary James Harrison, and Smith’s next pass from 10 yards further back was knocked away by rookie safety Sean Davis.

Needing one first down to run out the game, the Steelers did just that, when Roethlisberger rolled to his left and found Brown for a seven-yard gain on third and three.

Next up for the Steelers is a trip Gillette Stadium to take on the Photo credit: chron.com  in the AFC Championship game next Sunday evening at 6:40 p.m. (ET).

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Steelers hours away from some unfinished business in divisional round

When the Steelers lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Broncos last year in a divisional round match-up in Denver, didn’t it seem like things should have gone the other way?

Maybe that’s why, literally hours after that game ended, and tears were shed–including some by head coach Mike Tomlin–Pittsburgh was being championed as, well, a Super Bowl champion of the future, meaning 2016.

The Steelers went into Denver last year, missing Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, and a few other key cogs. Yet, they kept on fighting until the very end, until third-string running back and important postseason contributor, Fitzgerald Toussaint, coughed up the football early in the fourth quarter, with his team up by a point and driving for more.

Pittsburgh couldn’t overcome this mistake, and they exited Sports Authority Field as 23-16 losers.

But the Steelers weren’t losers in 2015, they were simply compromised due to injuries; when those pile up, it’s hard to keep fighting through January and into February.

But 2016 is different. Actually, it’s now 2017; and while the Broncos, minus the retired Peyton Manning at quarterback, are home watching the postseason, Pittsburgh is back in the same position it was almost a year ago to the day: about to take on the AFC West champions at their home for the right to advance to the conference title game.

As I write this, the game should be mere minutes from kicking off, but thanks to an ugly ice storm that is or about to wreak havoc on the Kansas City-area, the game has been moved back to 8:20 p.m. (EST).

Is that good news or bad for the Steelers?

What did Bill Cowher often say about prime-time games at old Three Rivers Stadium and current Heinz Field? It gave the fans a few extra hours to “lube up” for the action.

In other words, a few extra hours to prepare might make Chiefs fans a little more “vocal.”

But on the other hand, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s first career start came on a Monday night in Week 3 of the 2004 season. The Steelers were supposed to play in Miami on Sunday afternoon, but a hurricane delayed the start of the game a mere 30 hours or so.

Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh won that game and kept on winning the rest, as they went on to finish with  a 15-1 regular season mark and the number one seed in the AFC.

Unfortunately, the rookie Roethlisberger proved to be not ready for postseason-play, and after barely escaping a divisional round match-up

Steelers, Chiefs, divisional round match-up

Photo credit: news3lv.com

against the Jets, Roethlisberger and the Steelers were no match for the Super Bowl-seasoned Patriots the following week in the AFC title game at Heinz Field.

But that was then and this is now; and last year was last year, and this year is this year.

The Steelers are battle-tested and actually drew a pretty decent divisional round match, this despite entering the playoffs as the number three seed and needing one extra victory to reach the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh blew the doors off the Chiefs, 43-14, when the two teams met at Heinz Field in Week 4.

So what does that have to do with tonight? Nothing, other than to say that, revenge factor aside, I’d much rather be the team who won by 29 points in the previous match-up than the one who lost by that many.

Fun fact: since the Steelers first started winning playoffs games in 1972, they’ve only managed to make it as far as the AFC title game once, when beginning the postseason in the wild card round. That one time, of course, was in 2005, when they entered the playoffs as the sixth seed and didn’t stop winning until they were Super Bowl XL champions.

It says here that the Steelers will change that number from one to two tonight. The last time these two teams met, Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, while Bell rushed for 144 yards in his regular season debut.

Those guys–along with Brown–will do a lot of  those same things tonight, and the Steelers will walk away with a 28-17 victory.

That’s my prediction; what’s yours?

 

 

 

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Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Terry Bradshaw Made Up with the Steelers. For Good…?

As you probably know, former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and four-time Super Bowl winner, Terry Bradshaw made news recently for criticisms levied against current head coach Mike Tomlin.

I won’t get into debating the merits the argument — this site has defended Tomlin against Bradshaw already and, besides, his record speaks for itself–but this latest setback in the relationship between Bradshaw and the Steelers, their fans and the City of Pittsburgh is just sad, annoying and above all unfortunate.

It also begs the question:

  • What happened to the halftime hatchet burying that happened in 2002 at the 50-yard line of Heinz Field during a Monday night game against the Colts?

The exact date in question was October 21, 2002, and in-case you missed it, it was perhaps the greatest “welcome home” in Pittsburgh sports history.  All seemed to be well then. Alas, it was just another zig zag in the up and down relationship between the Terry Bradshaw and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Terry Bradshaw, Chuck Noll, Andy Russell, Terry Bradshaw Heinz Field

Terry Bradshaw interviews Chuck Noll at Heinz Field as Andy Russell looks on in 2003. Photo Credit: Matt Fried, Post-Gazette

The Blonde Bomber’s Roller Coaster Ride Through Steelers Nation

It must be acknowledged that Steelers fans have had a love/hate relationship with Terry Bradshaw. During the early portion of his career, as Bradshaw’s struggled to make the transition from college to the NFL, fans could be particularly harsh.

By the time the Steelers started winning Super Bowls however, things turned mostly to love as the quarterback ascended to the heights of his profession and position (four-time Super Bowl-winner, two-time Super Bowl MVP, one-time NFL MVP). When Terry Bradshaw returned to Pittsburgh in 2002, the faithful at Heinz Field cheerfully embraced No. 12 after nearly two decades of distance and disdain following Terry Bradshaw’s retirement in 1984 (the distance and disdain coming mostly from the quarterback, himself).

Months after that Heinz Field homecoming, Terry Bradshaw was back in town to get inducted into the Dapper Dan Hall of Fame in February of 2003, and who did he ask to present him? None other than his old head coach, Chuck Noll, the guy Bradshaw spent so many years criticizing for what he felt was poor treatment during his playing days.

Terry Bradshaw, Chuck Noll

Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll on the sidelines. Photo Credit: Steelersuk.com

According to so many who were around during Terry Bradshaw’s time in Pittsburgh–including his teammates, former PR man Joe Gordon and even Chuck Noll, himself — the feud with his old coach was basically one-sided, with Bradshaw either unwilling or unable to let go of the past.

  • Terry Bradshaw spent most of his induction speech wooing the crowd with his charisma and storytelling, but most importantly, apologizing to his old coach for the rift between the two.

Here is a quote from Bradshaw’s speech, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If I could reach down in my heart, I would say I’m sorry for every unkind word and thought I ever had. I mean that. I’m ashamed about that. It was…my wrong, my childness, my selfishness. Having said that, it kind of cleanses me. I miss my coach. I love my coach. I miss Chuck Noll.

The late, great Steve Sabol of NFL Films sat down with Bradshaw later in 2003 to chronicle the quarterback’s struggles during his playing days and also the burying of the hatchet with both the fans and Noll in an interview that was featured on the DVD, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Complete History.

  • It was simply beautiful to watch Bradshaw re-live his pain and also apparently leave it behind for the love he now supposedly had for his old team, his old fans and his old coach.

What followed were a few great years of  Terry Bradshaw coming back to town to engage with the Steelers, the city and the reporters who were more than happy to interview him.

Bradshaw opened up about his loneliness and depression, but he also seemed like the old, charismatic Terry, often recalling many legendary tales with some of his teammates, including the late Dwight White and many, many others.

It was great to see this once rocky relationship seemingly repaired for good. So so we thought….

Terry Bradshaw Relationship with Steelers Regresses (Again)

However, over the past half-decade or so a number of events reopened those rifts betweeen Terry Bradshaw, the city of Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation.

Terry Bradshaw told Ben Roethlisberger to park the motorcycle, and then harshly criticized Ben Roethlisberger for his behavior in Midgeville. Terry Bradshaw failed to attend Chuck Noll’s funeral or even call Marianne Noll despite the fact he was in Western Pennsylvania when Noll passed away.

This latest snub reminded everyone Bradshaw’s decision to skip Art Rooney Sr.’s funeral in 1988 and endearingly apologized for his immaturity in that regard. And, of course, most recently he very publicly derided Mike Tomlin record and coaching ability.

Time Seemingly Doesn’t Heal All Wounds for Terry Bradshaw

When you read books like Their Life’s Work which include quotes from Terry Bradshaw in-which he stated that he didn’t want to talk about or revisit his time with the Steelers, you realize that those old wounds may never, in-fact, be healed.

  • Do they have to be healed, and does Terry Bradshaw have to embrace his old team, his old fans, his old professional football home, his old coach and those fond memories?

Of course not, but for Terry Bradshaw to constantly wonder why he has to revisit the past or doesn’t seem to get why so many people cherish him and those memories is just disingenuous.

Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Steelers 75th Anniversary game

Terry Bradshaw embraces Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier during the Steelers 75th Anniversary Game. Photo Credit: Black and Gold World

Obviously, fans are going to want their four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback to cherish those Super Bowl years just as much as they do; they’re going to want their old quarterback to come back to town far more often than he does; they’re going to want him to have a better relationship with the Steelers organization and his old teammates.

And, on the negative side, they’re going to lash out when the Blonde Bomber speaks ill of Big Ben; they’re going to show disappointment when Terry Bradshaw doesn’t show up to Chuck Noll’s funeral (even, if, in my opinion, that’s a personal and private matter); and they’ll ridicule him and call him a buffoon when he calls out the current head coach.

  • The people who don’t seem to get that this stuff is important to the fans — including Bradshaw, himself — are like the folks who acted surprised or indifferent about the old football feud between Pitt and Penn State.

Obviously, people wanted that rivalry to resume after it died out in 2000, and the only ones who didn’t were the decision-makers who were unable or unwilling to make it happen for far too many years.

In Terry Bradshaw’s case, if he hasn’t moved past, well, his past, some 35 years after his playing days ended, one has to wonder if he’s either unable or unwilling to do so.

  • Maybe the depression has made him unable to move on. Maybe something else has made him unwilling to do so.

It’s too hard to say for sure.

Obviously, Terry Bradshaw is in a different place in his life right now and is a highly successful motivational speaker and larger-than-life personality as part of Fox’s NFL coverage. He has every right to criticize the Steelers if he feels it’s warranted, and, as fans, we simply have to accept that. This would all be fine, if it didn’t come with all the other baggage that Bradshaw still carries around from his time with the organization.

In many ways, it is bizarre. Think about it, how many iconic sports figures who were as important to an organization as Terry Bradshaw was to the Steelers have this kind of on-going rift with their old team? You could probably count the number on one hand and have a few digits left over.

Terry Bradshaw, Puts Himself on the Outside Looking In

In many ways, Bradshaw was THE main cog in those four Steelers championships. Sure, Dan Rooney hiring Noll as  head coach was maybe the most significant moment in the franchise’s history (some in the organization have credited the great Emperor with showing them what many now call “The Steeler Way”).

Chuck Noll’s drafting of Mean Joe Greene was most important player acquisition in team history, mainly because Joe Greene was maybe the finest leader the franchise ever employed, someone who simply refused to accept losing and demanded accountability from every single one of his teammates.

Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Super Steelers

Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann in the heyday of the Super Steelers. Photo Credit: Getty Images via CBSSports.com

As for Terry Bradshaw, well, it’s like the story he often recalls involving a day in practice just before the glory days were ushered in. Dwight White supposedly hit Bradshaw a little too hard, and the quarterback jumped in the defensive end’s face and said, “You may lose with me, but you’ll never win without me.”

How true of a statement that was. Every NFL team needs a franchise quarterback in order to be a true Super Bowl contender (history has proven that time and time again). Regardless of Chuck Noll’s influence and Joe Greene’s leadership, the Steelers of the 1970s wouldn’t never have established themselves as a pro football’s greatest dynasty had Bradshaw not developed into a Hall of Fame quarterback.

Neither can anyone else.

In many ways, Terry Bradshaw’s career should be held in the same regard as Roberto Clemente’s time with the Pirates or Mario Lemieux’s transforming relationship with the Penguins, but it’s not.

  • And, that’s mostly on Terry Bradshaw.

So, again, does Terry Bradshaw have to embrace his playing days and all things Pittsburgh and the Steelers?

No, but it really would be if Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers made up and made up for good once and for all.

 

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Even Though Injury Not Serious, Ben Roethlisberger Shouldn’t Have Been in Late vs. Dolphins

I’m not usually one to second guess when it comes to football games (okay, I’m a writer, so you better believe I’m one to second guess), but in the case of head coach Mike Tomlin’s decision to leave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the game late into the fourth quarter of the Steelers thoroughly convincing 30-12 wild card victory over the Dolphins at Heinz Field on Sunday, I was actually first guessing things.

With Pittsburgh equipped with a 30-6 lead and possession of the football early in the fourth quarter, my uncle and I, enjoying the rare postseason blow-out at Primanti Bros. on Route 60, both agreed that pulling all key offensive personnel at that point was absolutely the right decision.

  • This didn’t happen, as Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger took the field for what soon became a quick three-and-out, followed by a punt.

No problem.

Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Ware, Steelers wild Card win Dophins, Roethlisberger injury dolphins

Ben Roethlisberber hit by Cameron Ware late in the Steelers Wild Card win over Dolphins. Photo Credit: James Lang, USA Today Sports

Miami then proceeded to march 70 yards on nine plays and closed to within 18 points on a short touchdown pass from Matt Moore to Damien Williams. The problem for the Dolphins, however, was that they burned 4:20 of game-clock and only 5:57 remained. What further decreased Miami’s chances of a miraculous comeback was a failed two-point conversion thanks to Ross Cockrell.

  • And what did the visitors in for good was an unsuccessful onside kick that Brown recovered with 5:55 remaining.

Sure, the score didn’t look like a blowout at that point, but it may as well have been. The Steelers had possession of the football, an 18-point lead and less than six minutes remaining to preserve things.

Therefore, not only did the Dolphins have to find a way to regain possession pretty quickly, they needed to score a touchdown and convert a two-point try, recover an onside kick, score a touchdown and convert a two-point try, recover another onside kicker and then make a game-winning field goal.

  • Maybe one of those things was going to happen over the final 5:55 of  the fourth quarter, but all of them?

Not a chance, given the way James Harrison, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree and Lawrence Timmons were corralling the Dolphins.

At that point, the Steelers Killer B’s (or Big Three, as they’re now being called in some circles) should have been excused to the sidelines. DeAngelo Williams was in for Le’Veon Bell was, but Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown remained in the lineup.

Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Steelers wild card win dolphins

Ben Roethlisberger never wants to come out of games. Mike Tomlin shouldn’t be so accommodating. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Unfortunately, not only did the Steelers not move the ball, they turned it over when Roethlisberger threw his second interception of the day with 4:23 remaining. No big deal, other than the franchise quarterback–the most indispensable member of the entire organization, as it pertains to competing the 2016 season with Lombardi in hand–suffered an ankle injury on the play and was seen wearing a walking boot after the game.

  • This started a firestorm of criticism directed at Mike Tomlin Sunday night and all day Monday…and rightfully so.

I’m a huge Mike Tomlin supporter, but he, like everyone else in Steelers Nation, was/is well-aware of how key injuries either wreck or compromised Pittsburgh’s postseasons in the very recent past.

In 2014, a hyper-extended knee suffered by Le’Veon Bell absolutely wrecked the Steelers season as they had no viable backup at running back after cutting LeGarrette Blount in November.

A season ago, the Steelers put up a good fight, but they went into the postseason without their top two running backs and lost Antonio Brown and almost lost Ben Roethlisberger as they progressed through the Wild Card round and into the divisional portion.

  • How might both 2014 and 2015 have turned out without those key injuries?

We’ll never know.

Remember the 2008 finale at Heinz Field when Mike Tomlin insisted on playing his starters in a meaningless game against the Browns? Pittsburgh had the number two seed locked up and nothing to gain or lose, yet many key players–including Roethlisberger–started the game.

Early in the first half of what would be a 31-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns, Roethlisberger suffered a concussion and had to be carted into the locker room.

  • Obviously, if you know how 2008 ended, you know that Big Ben was fine.

But that was quite the scare.

Sunday was quite the scare, as well, but it looks like Roethlisberger will be fine and ready to go against the Chiefs this Sunday in the divisional playoffs.

As far as I and just about everyone else are concerned, that was one scare that was far from necessary.

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The Steelers 2016 AFC North Title is More than Just a Stocking Suffer

Steelers fans like to brag about not cherishing playoff spots, division titles or even conference championships.

I guess the standard really is the standard, and after watching the Black and Bold capture six Super Bowls, well, not to sound too cliched (it’s like nails on the chalkboard, sometimes), fans expect nothing less.

However, there’s something to be said for winning a division title, which Pittsburgh did, Sunday night, thanks to a pulsating Christmas 31-27 victory over the Ravens at Heinz Field.

Mike Tomlin, steelers 2016 AFC north title

Mike Tomlin addresses the 2016 AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Did the win secure home-field advantage or even a bye? No, but a division championship is nothing to sneeze at and not just something that you look back on years later and say, “Oh yeah, they won the division that year.”

The AFC North is a pretty tough and bruising division, filled with hard-fought and often dirty battles. Sometimes, the best teams don’t always come out on top, and even when they do, like the Steelers did in 2014, it’s not always unscathed. (Le’Veon Bell suffered a hyper-extended knee against the Bengals in the regular season finale and was lost for the wild card game versus Baltimore a week later.)

The Steelers got out of Sunday’s game without any serious injuries, and the fact that they survived at all, heck, that’s better than the alternative.

  • Can you imagine how glum things would be this week, on the heels of a depressing home loss to Baltimore that would have seriously put the Steelers playoff hopes in jeopardy?

Believe me, the chances of the Bengals, the unstable and probably ready for the tropics Bengals, mustering up the enthusiasm to wreck Baltimore’s season in Week 17 on the way to the plane were probably slimmer than none.

Now, Pittsburgh, a team with a lock on the third playoff seed has a chance to rest players such as James Harrison, Stephon Tuitt, Ladarius Green and perhaps even Ben Roethlisberger. Likewise, players who’ve been injured such as Darrius Heyward-Bey, DeAngelo Williams and perhaps even Sammie Coates can get a chance to get their feet wet.

So, who do the Steelers match-up best against in the postseason? Who cares……for now. Just enjoy that division title for the next couple of weeks. Sure, it’s been done in Pittsburgh 22 times since 1972, but it’s still not that easy (if it was, everyone would do it).

Go out and buy that t-shirt. Go out and buy that cap.

The Steelers are in the playoffs, and that just never gets old.

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