Big Ben takes blame for Steelers' stumble

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Big Ben takes blame for Steelers' stumble

From Comcast SportsNetPITTSBURGH (AP) -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks at his passing statistics, and they're not all that bad.His passer rating is up from his career average, as well as his average passing yards per game.The completion rate is where it has been over the course of an eight-year career.Only once before has Roethlisberger thrown more touchdown passes per game or fewer interceptions per game.But it's been Roethlisberger's play, by his own admission, that's a key factor in Pittsburgh (7-8) failing to make the playoffs for only the fourth time since 2001."A lot of it just has to do with me not playing well enough down the stretch," Roethlisberger said. "Fourth-quarter drives or last-minute throws, I'm just not making it happen, so my best answer would be that I just didn't play well enough."The Steelers controlled their playoff fate until their 13-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday eliminated them from the postseason.Just as had happened one week earlier against Dallas, Roethlisberger threw an interception during a tie game that led to the opponent kicking a winning field goal.Those losses joined others earlier this season against Denver, Oakland and Tennessee in which Pittsburgh not only blew fourth-quarter leads, but had the ball in the final minutes with a chance to drive for a potential winning score.The Roethlisberger-led offense failed each time. In the season opener at Denver, he threw an interception to Tracy Porter that was returned 43 yards for the clinching touchdown."In the past, I prided myself and us in fourth-quarter comebacks," Roethlisberger said. "I've always said that you don't want to have them, because that means you haven't done well early in the game, but we've always been good at it. And this year, we just weren't. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason why, (but) it was just a year when I wasn't."Roethlisberger has thrown only eight interceptions this season, but many came at crucial times. Six came in defeats, four in the fourth quarter or overtime. His first interception in the must-win game against the Bengals on Sunday was returned for Cincinnati's only touchdown.This season, Roethlisberger's 84.4 passer rating in the fourth quarter and overtime is by far lower than during any of the other three quarters.That would seem to be in contrast to the clutch reputation Roethlisberger has earned over the course of a career in which he has led 22 fourth-quarter comebacks and 29 game-winning drives during the regular season and also led a memorable comeback in the final minutes of the 2009 Super Bowl."I don't think there's any reason to go panic about it, because I've been pretty good for eight years doing it and had one not-so-good year on it," Roethlisberger said. "I think I played pretty good football, though, other than those situations."To be fair, Roethlisberger was under center for three fourth-quarter comebacks this season. But even coach Mike Tomlin acknowledges his two-time Pro Bowler just wasn't the same in such situations this season."Just not making the critical plays," Tomlin said. "Not a lot has changed in terms of structurally for how we prepare for those moments and how we deal with those moments. They're not coming together for us, and I'm not going to try to make excuses in that regard."Roethlisberger and Tomlin both downplayed the notion that the quarterback's right shoulder and rib injuries sustained in November are affecting his play.Roethlisberger missed three games, and since he's come back, he's thrown six interceptions and four touchdown passes in three games -- all losses."We can talk about that in the offseason, maybe, but I feel good enough to play," Roethlisberger said.There have been times over the past three games that Roethlisberger's arm didn't appear as strong as usual and he was badly off on throws he typically makes. But there also are examples he was the same old Big Ben.Against Dallas, for example, he lofted a ball more than 50 yards in the air to Mike Wallace to set up a tying second-half touchdown. Earlier in that game, he scrambled and avoided multiple sack attempts to find an open Heath Miller for a score just before halftime."The only reason we're in that game is because of his play," safety Ryan Clark said. "The only reason he had an opportunity to throw an interception at the critical moment is because he played so well to keep us close."Still, Roethlisberger has largely built his career not on eye-popping numbers but on clutch play.When asked about why this season has been so much different, Wallace shrugs and maintains that Roethlisberger is the same at practice and in the huddle."You can't be perfect every time," Wallace said. "You can't be a superhero every time."Maybe, but Roethlisberger was far from it late in this season -- and as a result, the Steelers will spend January at home."I not worried about Ben," Miller said. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league -- in my mind, he's still there. And I wouldn't want anybody else to be leading this team."Notes: The Steelers placed Miller, CB Ike Taylor and RB Baron Batch on injured reserve Wednesday and signed TE Jamie McCoy, S Damon Cromartie-Smith and LB Marshall McFadden to the active roster. Miller, who tore knee ligaments Sunday, will have surgery Wednesday.

Chara probable vs. Panthers, Beleskey misses morning skate

Chara probable vs. Panthers, Beleskey misses morning skate

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- There were both expected and unexpected absences from Bruins morning skate on Monday morning at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of tonight’s game at TD Garden against the Florida Panthers. Matt Beleskey was the expected absence after getting knocked out of Saturday’s game with a lower body injury caused by a Tyler Fedun check to his right leg, and Torey Krug was also missing from the ice after pulling workhorse duty over the last handful of games in the absence of Zdeno Chara.

Following practice Claude Julien confirmed that Chara was “probable” to return for tonight’s game vs. the Florida Panthers after missing the last six games, and that Krug is expected to play after succumbing to the same illness that felled Patrice Bergeron over the weekend. Beleskey was being checked by doctors on Monday, and it sounds like his absence might be a bit longer term than simply a “day-to-day” lower body injury. 

Noel Acciari took part in practice, and it appears they both could be closing in on a return to the lineup. Frank Vatrano also shot the puck around a bit at the very beginning of Monday’s skate, but came off the ice as the team began their preparations for tonight’s game. 

Here are the Bruins projected line combos and D-pairings vs. Florida based on the morning skate with Beleskey and Krug both absent:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

Schaller-Krejci-Backes

Spooner-Nash-Czarnik

Blidh-Moore-Hayes/Acciari

Chara-Carlo

Morrow-McQuaid

K. Miller-C. Miller

Rask

Khudobin

Belichick on keeping Brady in: 'Seen those double-digit leads evaporate'

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Belichick on keeping Brady in: 'Seen those double-digit leads evaporate'

With 5:52 remaining in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game between the Patriots and Rams, and with the hosts up 26-3, quarterback Tom Brady was back on the field to lead the Patriots offense. 

It was a decision that had some scratching their heads. Why risk the health of your Hall of Fame quarterback in a game that's essentially been decided? Particularly at this point in the year? Particularly just days after the team lost it's most dynamic offensive weapon to season-ending back surgery?

"Well, after the game turns out, it's easy to go back and make those suggestions," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call Monday. "I've seen a few games in this league. Seen those double-digit leads evaporate in a minute or two. I know that's not a big concern when it does happen and then when it does happen it's a major crisis and [there's] a lot of second-guessing about what should've been done or what shouldn't have been done. Trying to win the game."

The Patriots held the ball for a little over two minutes before punting it back to the Rams. By the time the Patriots got the ball back for the final time with 1:15 remaining, Brady was on the field to take two kneeldowns and wipe out the clock. 

He told WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show on Monday morning that he wasn't looking for an early hook. The Rams have been accused of dirty plays in the past, and their coaching staff has a reputation for encouraging a reckless style, but Brady explained why he wanted to remain in the game late.

"All these games are close. I know yesterday, 26-3 at one point, but we’re playing for a lot here," he said. "i don’t think it’s ever right to take your foot off the gas pedal. We could use as many reps as possible, all the guys out there. There are different situations that come up in every game. You only get 16 weeks a year to try them out. You try them in practice, but there’s not the speed. There’s not the urgency. It’s not the decision-making because it’s unscripted.

"In practice you go and talk about these are the plays you’re going to run, these are the defenses you can get. Then you go into the game and they it’s all about decision-making really under pressure with everything on the line, so the more reps you can get with Malcolm [Mitchell] and [Chris] Hogan and Martellus [Bennett], guys that I haven’t played with, the better it gets."

Brady escaped his late-game reps no worse for the wear -- he completed three of four passes for 14 yards on his team's second-to-last drive -- but he did take one shot earlier in the game that had him ticked. Rams safety TJ McDonald got into the Patriots backfield untouched and drove Brady into the ground during a second-quarter drive. Brady got the ball away, but he was walloped, and when he got up he sought out McDonald for a few words.

"I think it was pretty emotional," Brady told Kirk and Callahan. "I didn’t see the replay yet, but he made a good clean hit. They were blitzing us. I knew we didn’t have him picked up and he put a little extra something on.”

Asked if the threat of a play like that late in a lopsided game bothered him, Brady said no.

"I said to my wife as I was driving home, she was like, ‘What was that?’ She wants to know about all these things and I was like, ‘I think it is all fair on the football field.’ You put yourself out there," Brady explained. "You’re up 20, you’re down 20. Everyone is playing hard and whatever happens out there is on the football field. I don’t think it was a dirty play.

"Guys love going in there and hitting the quarterback. They’ve been trained to hit the quarterback their entire careers, especially on defense. They get paid more hitting the quarterback. Their team is 4-8 so they are going to play hard 'til the end no matter what. They haven’t been in a lot of games this year so they are going to play hard to try and set them up for next year. I had no problem with that hit. I thought it was a real clean play. I was pretty pissed off for the most part yesterday because we weren’t executing as well as we could and that probably had something to do with it as well."