Steel­ers get a break af­ter drilling Pan­thers

Centre Daily Times - - Sports - BY WILL GRAVES

Ben Roeth­lis­berger was pick­ing him­self up off the Heinz Field turf when the scrum started, one that sent a mes­sage that at the mo­ment it might be un­wise to mess with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers.

Steel­ers cen­ter Mau­r­kice Pouncey and right guard David DeCas­tro were not par­tic­u­larly pleased with how Carolina safety Eric Reid launched him­self at Pitts­burgh’s fran­chise quar­ter­back as Roeth­lis­berger fin­ished off an 18-yard scram­ble dur­ing the third quar­ter of a 52-21 dis­man­tling of the Pan­thers on Thurs­day night.

To­gether the two peren­nial Pro Bowlers – a com­bined 630 pounds, give or take a meal – let Reid and a hand­ful of his team­mates know they didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate Reid’s ap­proach to his job. What fol­lowed was 30 sec­onds of flex­ing, grab­bing and shov­ing be­fore Reid was ejected for tar­get­ing.

“You’ve got to be there for your guy,” DeCas­tro said. “Just try­ing to stand up for him and show him we’ve got his back.”

As the Steel­ers made their way back to the hud­dle, Roeth­lis­berger gave his line­men peace of mind should the NFL de­cide to hit their wal­lets af­ter stick­ing up for him.

“Ben came up af­ter and said, ‘If any fine gets handed out, I’ll han­dle that,’” Pouncey said with a laugh.

Pouncey, in the fourth year of a five-year con­tract that will pay him $44 mil­lion, can cer­tainly af­ford to write the check. He thinks the fact he won’t have to says a lot about Roeth­lis­berger – and a lot about the cur­rent cli­mate in the Pitts­burgh locker room.

“It’s cool, man,” Pouncey said. “I ap­pre­ci­ate all the guys rep­ping like that.”

Those guys have found their iden­tity over the last five weeks. Pitts­burgh (6-2-1) set a record for the most points by an NFL team in the 17-year his­tory of Heinz Field while rolling to a fifth straight vic­tory. The re­ward? Five days off to rest up be­fore start­ing a daunt­ing fi­nal stretch that be­gins on Nov. 18 in Jack­sonville in a play­off re­match that saw the Jaguars stun Pitts­burgh at home in Jan­uary.

“Last year is last year,” Steel­ers cor­ner­back Mike Hil­ton said. “We’re a dif­fer­ent team, just like they’re a dif­fer­ent team.”

If any­thing, Pitts­burgh looks much bet­ter than while get­ting pushed around by Leonard Four­nette and Blake Bor­tles in a con­fi­dence-shak­ing 45-42 set­back that led to an ex­o­dus in both the sec­ondary and por­tions of the coach­ing staff.

Randy Ficht­ner took over for Todd Ha­ley as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and, even with star run­ning back Le’Veon Bell sit­ting out due to con­cerns with his one-year con­tract, has put to­gether an at­tack that looks as dy­namic and var­ied as any­thing in the league.

James Con­ner, Bell’s re­place­ment, al­ready has 11 touch­downs through nine games, as many as Bell has scored in any full sea­son. Roeth­lis­berger spread the ball all over the place on a night he fin­ished with more scor­ing passes (five) than in­com­ple­tions (three).

“We’ve got a lot of weapons on this team and Ben showed it tonight get­ting the ball to all of them,” DeCas­tro said.

Roeth­lis­berger’s only com­plaint is that Ficht­ner may get a lit­tle too loud in the head­set be­cause he’s so pumped up about the next play call.

Pitts­burgh’s de­fense kept Carolina’s Cam New­ton un­der wraps, sack­ing him five times while lim­it­ing the Pan­thers to 242 yards, the fourth straight game an op­po­nent has fin­ished with 275 yards or less. Save for a cou­ple of early com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­downs that al­lowed Pan­thers run­ning back Chris­tian McCaf­frey to get loose, the Steel­ers kept things tight.

“I don’t think it’s a come-to-Je­sus mo­ment where some­thing mirac­u­lously just hap­pened,” de­fen­sive tackle Cam Hey­ward said. “I think every­body got back to work. It showed on the prac­tice field and it showed ever since. This is a big win, but it’s not like we don’t have games af­ter this. We’ll en­joy it for tonight and en­joy it for the week­end, but when we get back in we have to get back to work.”

JEFF SINER TNS

Pitts­burgh Steel­ers quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger slid af­ter a run as Carolina Pan­thers safety Eric Reid went for the tackle in the third quar­ter on Thurs­day.

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