Sluggish finish makes Steelers less daunting

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Sluggish finish makes Steelers less daunting

FOXBORO - News for the Pittsburgh Steelers has not been good over the past month.

Ben Roethlisberger mangled his ankle December 8 against Cleveland, the Steelers lost the following week at San Francisco, blowing the No. 1 seed. The Steelers offense went in the tank (31 points in the last three games Roethlisberger started). Leading rusher Rashad Mendenhall tore his ACL last week ending his season. The Steelers and their 12-4 record have to go on the road to face the 8-8 Broncos in the Wild Card round and their free safety, Ryan Clark, won't be playing for health reasons.

On Wednesday, Roethlisberger said he aggravated his high ankle sprain in the season finale last week and his ankle is a "5" out of 10.

The last taste many the Patriots got from Pittsburgh wasn't a pleasant one - a 25-17 loss in Pittsburgh in which Roethlisberger threw a career-high 50 times on New England's beleaguered secondary.

But that game has been the exception for the Steelers this season rather than the rule.
Since beating the Patriots on October 30, these are their results.

Ravens 23, Steelers 20

Steelers 24, Bengals 17

Steelers 13, Chiefs 9

Steelers 35, Bengals 7

Steelers 14, Browns 3

49ers 20, Steelers 3

Steelers 27, Rams 0 (Charlie Batch at QB)

Steelers 13, Browns 9

On the year, Roethlisberger took 40 sacks and threw 21 touchdowns and 14 picks. Since beating the Patriots, he's thrown seven touchdowns and seven picks. Their leading outside receiver Mike Wallace hasn't had a 100-yard game since October 23 (he had four in the first seven weeks). Pittsburgh's usually demonic pass rush has been relatively quiet this year (35 sacks).

Fact is, despite leading the NFL in points allowed (227), Pittsburgh isn't scary. They - like the Patriots - faced a fleet of punchless offenses.

And while they will face another one this Sunday in Denver, the Broncos defense and the altitude could be real equalizers. Now, Denver is no juggernaut. But they can play enough defense against a limping Steelers offense to stay within striking distance all game.

Of the three possible opponents the Patriots could see January 14 - Denver, Pittsburgh or Houston - the Steelers are the most daunting because of experience and ability. But they are no team to fear regardless of what happened on Halloween Eve.

Felger on Ortiz: ‘He keeps passing the tests’

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Felger on Ortiz: ‘He keeps passing the tests’

Major League Baseball is reportedly set to release more PED testing results, but Mike Felger is growing increasingly more confident in the fact that David Ortiz is clean. He's passing all the tests, isn't he?

Secretary of Navy: Cardona 'may have to leave the Patriots' to serve

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Secretary of Navy: Cardona 'may have to leave the Patriots' to serve

United States Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus joined the Dan Patrick Show on Thursday to discuss new Ravens draftee Keenan Reynolds, a record-setting quarterback during his career at the Naval Academy. In so doing, Mabus hit on the uncertain status of Patriots long-snapper Joe Cardona. 

"Right now we do have a process," Mabus said. "It hasn't got up to me yet to [decide on whether or not Reynolds will be eligible to play], but there are a lot of paths to both play and to serve. 

"We've got Joe Cardona, long snapper for the Patriots. He played . . . last year for the Patriots while he was on active duty because he was able to work them both out. Now he's been assigned to a ship, and he's going to report to that ship. He may have to leave the Patriots for a year or so to go fulfill that roll."

The playing status for individuals like Reynolds and Cardona is always somewhat uncertain given their commitment. Last season, Cardona was able to serve by working at the Naval Preparatory Academy during his time away from the Patriots facilities. Once his rookie season ended, he headed back to the Newport, Rhode Island-based school to work full-time and help mentor students there. 

Cardona was scheduled to make his way to Norfolk, Virginia later in the offseason and live there for about two months to participate in the Navy's Basic Division Officer Course, or "BDOC," which was required before he could report to his ship as a Surface Warfare Officer. From there, he was scheduled to travel to Bath, Maine, to work on the USS Zumwalt. 

"I'll get to work there and figure out a schedule that doesn't interfere with either of my jobs," Cardona said back in January following New England's loss to Denver in the AFC title game, "and hopefully be back on the field next year."

Cardona has long maintained that his job as an active member of the Navy is his top priority. Should his duties on the USS Zumwalt interfere with his long-snapping work with the Patriots, he could realistically sit out for the season. 

The Patriots signed veteran long-snapper Christian Yount earlier this offseason in a move that reminded those following the team that Cardona is not guaranteed to be available for 2016. Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich has long-snapped in the past and typically serves as the team's emergency snapper. 

Cardona was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and played in all 16 regular-season games and two postseason games for the Patriots last season.