Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is ready for a return to action. Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that they anticipate Ike being back “in some form or fashion.” Taylor already told us as much, and he was very entertaining in doing so, “The Doc gave me the green light. So it’s all good. I’ve been waiting on the green light. They’ve been revving me up at the yellow. The yellow was cool for a minute, so I got the green so no speed limit, no speed limit, so we’re on the racetrack.”
The Steelers are 7-4 and among a pack of AFC teams trying to make the playoffs. It’s certainly there for the taking, but the final stretch won’t be easy by any stretch. Their final five regular season games include Sunday’s home game with the New Orleans Saints, followed by road games at Cincinnati and Atlanta, and two more at Heinz Field against the Chiefs and Bengals. The Steelers say they’re focusing on each game as it comes, but they also understand the urgency. Mike Mitchell says this stretch will have a postseason feel, “I’m treating them all like playoff games. I’m thinking about…we got five of them, and we just have to go 1-0 every week. That’s the mentality.” Le’Veon Bell says they can’t be scoreboard-watching, “we just gotta do our part as a team. I mean, the only thing we can control is ourselves, and we can’t control what Cleveland or the Ravens are doing. We gotta do what we do.”
The talk of the Steelers locker room was the “Bennie Wiggle,” but this time, it wasn’t Antonio Brown doing the dance. Former Steelers RB LeGarrette Blount show off his former teammate’s moves after scoring a touchdown (one of two) for the New England Patriots on Sunday. It was Blount’s “tribute” to his good friend, and the Steelers took it all in stride. RB Le’Veon Bell said, “yeah that’s once of the celebrations he loved the most. He’d do it all the time in practice when he was here, so you know he went out there and did it.” Safety Mike Mitchell added, “I thought it was funny…talking to him, he made a mistake and he misses it and everything like that, so it’s like a little tribute.”
In television sports, if you happen to give a wrong score, or a wrong team, or mispronounce a name, it’s out there for everybody to see, and you never know who’s going to see it. I found out how true that is in the spring of 1993. I was with Mario Lemieux on an early Monday morning, approximately 12 hours after I had stumbled over his name while voicing the highlights in a Sunday night sportscast. Mario had some fun at my expense. He told me he had seen me doing the late sports the night before, and that I seemed a bit tongue-tied. I asked if he had ever experienced one of those nights when nothing seemed to go right. Without any hesitation, Lemieux answered, “NOPE” and followed it up with a smile. And that’s what happens when you interface with greatness.
Football is all about field position and turnovers. A lot of the rest of the analysis borders on “over-analysis.” Today’s loss had nothing to do with the Steelers taking the Jets lightly. It had everything to do with four turnovers. As a fan, you can’t get too excited with wins over the Colts and Ravens, and you can’t get too low after today’s loss. The Steelers are 6-4. The loss to the Jets was a wasted opportunity, but they’ll still the favorite to beat the Titans next Monday night. If the playoffs started today, the Steelers would not make the field, but a lot could change in six games, and with two games remaining against the Bengals, it’s all there for the taking.
The Penguins have their goaltender of the future. They locked up Marc-Andre Fleury through the 2018-2019 season.This afternoon, the Pens announced a four-year, $23 million extension that kicks in at the start of next season. Fleury has 295 career wins, 31 career shutouts and most importantly, one Stanley Cup. The team landed in Winnipeg this afternoon and Fleury had this reaction, “it’s great I’m really happy…I spent a lot of times here, it’s like my home…you know my teammates…have been with them for a while the organization’s been great to me all these years…the city, the fans and I couldn’t be more happy. It’s nice…I think it’s a good vote of confidence.”
It’s now official. All bets are off. The Steelers were 3-3 and coming off a loss to the Browns. They were, by all accounts, dead in the water. News flash. They’re alive-and-well. 3 straight wins. 2 in prime time, and the 3rd on national TV, have thrown the Steelers back into the thick of the race in the AFC. 7 games left and a lot of work ahead. But, with each passing week, the Steelers are looking more and more like a playoff team. Keep your schedule open for January.
On Wednesday, Ben Roethlisberger was named the AFC’s Offensive Player-of-the-Week after his incredible record-breaking performance against the Indianapolis Colts. But Ben says he’s putting that behind him, “It’s not hard to do. I told ya monday morning I got up and started changing diapers. Cleaned up the kitchen, moving on. I mean life goes on and that’s the realistic part of it. You have to put it behind you.” Ben’s focus now is the Baltimore Ravens and their outstanding linebacker, Terrell Suggs, who has sacked Roethlisberger 16 times over the course of their careers. He’s the one guy Ben singled out when talking about the Ravens, “He’s one of the best that plays the game. And he rushes the passer and gets after it and high motor so a lot of respect for him and just try to keep him off of me.” Keeping Suggs off Ben is a key to the Steelers making it three consecutive wins.
There’s not a more legendary Steeler than Joe Greene. He was Chuck Noll’s first draft pick, the cornerstone of the Steelers 1970s Super Bowl teams, the leader, and the heart and soul of the NFL’s greatest dynasty. But Mean Joe has a soft side, and today on a conference call, Greene told me he expects to be very emotional on Sunday night…The same way he was when he got the news from the Rooneys last spring, “making the decision to ah, to retire the jersey, Dan and Art II, that, that is just a tremendous honor. As i said, I was so happy that I was sitting down when Art told me that was their intentions.” Greene said he’ll have a large group of family members with him at Heinz Field on Sunday, including his wife and their children, and his mom. Greene will be honored in a private ceremony and reception before the game, and then the official jersey retirement at halftime as the Steelers host the Ravens on WPXI.
The Steelers have won consecutive games for the first time this season, and on Sunday night, they’ll try to make it three in a row when they host the Ravens. The offense put up big numbers in the win over Indianapolis, but the defense still has some questions—and the biggest is cornerback Cortez Allen, who signed a five-year, $5 million contract on the day before the season opener. Allen lost his starting job after the loss to the Browns. Allen also played poorly last week. He was in coverage for two of Andrew Luck’s TD passes, and was replaced by in the 4th quarter. Today at his weekly news conference, I asked Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin if he still had confidence in Allen, “I do. I not only reiterated that to Cortez after the game, but I reiterated that to him within the game. I was doing what I felt was necessary for us to win the football game, but it has no bearing on what I think he is capable of…he has to lick his wounds, roll up his sleeves and come back to work this week…we’ll watch him close and expect him to do it and answer the bell with what comes with putting bad stuff on tape. I would imagine that Baltimore will work to attack him and he better work to defend himself. Such is life in the NFL. Such is life at the cornerback position.”