Wednesday AFCN update

A mid-week update on the Steelers, Ravens, Browns and Bengals.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

HOT TOPIC
The Ravens' loud-mouth antics won't be silenced even after their embarrassing performance in Detroit.
The Ravens were penalized 21 times - one short of the NFL record - and had two players ejected.
But coach Brian Billick said he would not temper his players' preening, dancing and trash-talking after rather routine plays.
"As a coach, there are a lot of things, personally, I may or may not like or would not personally do - not necessarily may be my style," Billick said. "But you have to be very careful about inhibiting the passion for this game in an arbitrary way. I've got a very diverse group of players economically, socially, racially, geographically, with a number of different upbringings."
Linebacker Ray Lewis sets the tone for the Ravens' "look at me" theatrics. Whether it's stopping a running back for no gain or 5 yards down the field, he jumps up and starts flexing and howling to the crowd.
Then everyone seems to get in the act, from safety Ed Reed to defensive end Terrell Suggs. They'll get into the face of opposing players and dance on the sidelines during timeouts - even if the Ravens are losing.
This was the not the behavior of the Ravens' Super Bowl team in 2000, when veterans took a more businesslike approach to games. Lewis was the star, but the leaders of that team were tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Rod Woodson and veteran defensive linemen Michael McCrary, Rob Burnett and Tony Siragusa.
More and more, though, observers appear to be growing tired of the Ravens' antics. But Billick is not, as long as it stays within the rulebook.
"For me to determine that one set of actions vs. another based on my limited perspective in the way that I grew up or the way that I've conducted myself, you've got to be very careful about (that)," Billick said.
"I've got to be responsive to the needs and the passions in the way my players feel like they need to play the game but also make sure there is a very clear line of demarcation as to what is acceptable and what is not."
The Ravens were hit with three unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties - two for taunting - and two ejections against the Lions, crossing that line.
"For those that look at my or any other player, and say, 'Gee, I don't like the way he does this or that,' I can't have a bunch of robots," Billick said. "And I can't dictate to 53 individuals that they show their passion and love for this game in a very narrow, rigid perspective of a 51-year-old man."

PLAYER NOTES
--QB Kyle Boller could dress as the No. 3 quarterback Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. He has been out since hyperextending his right big toe in the season opener.
--QB Anthony Wright continues to have a problem with interceptions. Take away that Seattle comeback victory in 2003, he has thrown 14 touchdowns and 22 interceptions in 10 starts with the Ravens.
--RB Jamal Lewis rushed for 95 yards, easily his best output of the season. But 39 of those yards came in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens could get no closer than 11 points.
--RB Chester Taylor could see more carries if he has the hot hand in games. Taylor had been limited to seven carries a game.
--WR Derrick Mason has accounted for 27 of the team's 94 receptions (28 percent). He remains the favorite target for quarterback Anthony Wright.
--WR Mark Clayton has been a nonfactor in his two starts. The Ravens wanted to give him the ball more but he has 11 catches in four games.
--WR Clarence Moore has the best average per catch (19.7 yards) on the team but has only three receptions. His inability to catch the ball consistently has limited his playing time to third-down packages.
--TE Todd Heap has made a catch over 20 yards the past three games. But he is only on a pace to catch 60 passes. The problem is he has been staying to pass block because the Ravens need an extra blocker for their porous pass protection.
--TE Daniel Wilcox has been nonexistent after the season opener. After making eight catches in the first game, he has one in the past three.
--PK Matt Stover has connected on his last four field goals after missing his first three of the season. He drilled a 46-yarder on his last attempt.
--SS Ed Reed has yet to make an interception this season. He has broken up one pass this season after breaking up 17 last season as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
--CB Deion Sanders showed he doesn't have his same old speed. On a long run by bulky Shawn Bryson, Sanders couldn't catch up to him in a footrace.
--DE Terrell Suggs is in a sack drought. He has 1 1/2 sacks in his past 8 games, dating to last season.



CINCINNATI BENGALS

HOT TOPIC
Chad Johnson is one of the league's top receivers, and he often draws double coverage.
Sunday night, when the Jaguars had a cornerback and safety on Johnson for all but one play, Johnson appeared to grow frustrated, though he had five receptions.
Johnson and quarterback Carson Palmer seemed to have a heated conversation that was caught by a TV camera on the sideline.
Not so, Johnson said a day later.
"It was about what we can do on certain (defenses)," Johnson said. "We were trying to figure out, and he told me before the game, if you see anything you like, let me know. That's the only thing we conversed about, the things I thought I could get. I just told him.
"He's probably telling me he's going to try. You can't fuss at a quarterback during the game. It messes it up, up there (in the head)."
Quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese was sitting beside Palmer on the bench during the quarterback-receiver exchange.
"It probably looks a lot worse than it is," Zampese said. "Those two guys have been through enough where it's not going to affect what they do."
Johnson is sixth in the league with 31 receptions and ninth with 426 yards. As one of the league's elite receivers - like the Eagles' Terrell Owens and Raiders' Randy Moss - Johnson wants the ball often, even if he is double covered. The more he touches the ball, Johnson reasons, the better the Bengals' chances of winning.
"You go into a game knowing you have to stop 81 (Owens) and 18 (Moss). Now the same mindset goes here," Johnson said. "You know they're going to try to take me away with two or three people. If it means me being double-teamed to open it up for everybody else, so be it. Now I can't complain if you're going to give me chances. If you give me chances, (and) I don't make anything happen, then that's different. When I don't get chances or the opportunity to make anything happen, then I'm hurt."

PLAYER NOTES
--QB Carson Palmer has a passer rating greater than 100 in each of his past eight starts. The Bengals are 6-2 in those games and 8-3 in his last 11 starts.
--QB Jon Kitna is not going anywhere, coach Marvin Lewis has said. Kitna periodically is the subject of trade rumors, the latest involving the Jets before they re-acquired Vinny Testaverde.
--RB Chris Perry had his finest all-around game of his career against Jacksonville. He rushed seven times for 55 yards, a 7.9-yard average, and he caught two more passes for 21 yards. He has 18 receptions.
--FB Jeremi Johnson, Rudi Johnson's blocking back, made his third pass reception Sunday, his first this season that did not go for a touchdown.
--WR Chad Johnson said he was so frustrated Sunday night at Jacksonville with the Jaguars double-coverage that he wished he wasn't him. He said he just wanted to be a receiver working one on one against a cornerback.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh did not play against Jacksonville and remained questionable with a hand injury for the game Sunday at Tennessee. He is second on the team with 20 receptions.
--WR Chris Henry, firmly established as the third receiver, had another impressive game. He had three receptions, including a 47-yarder and a 25-yard touchdown, against Jacksonville. He now has 13 catches for a 16.5-yard average and two touchdowns.
--WR Tab Perry has a 26.6-yard average on 12 kickoff returns.
--TE Matt Schobel, who had three receptions against the Jaguars, is questionable for the Titans with a shoulder contusion. He is the team's top receiver at tight end, and the position would become even less of a threat without Schobel.
--K Shayne Graham has improved the depth of his kickoffs. He had his first touchback at Jacksonville. He is perfect on 13 extra points this season and has made 11 of 12 field goal attempts.
--DE Duane Clemons could be a boost for the defensive line. He is on the 53-man roster. His four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy was up last week.
--LB Odell Thurman overran some plays against the Jaguars, allowing running back Fred Taylor to cut back. He led the defense with seven tackles.
--LB Hannibal Navies continues to make a solid contribution to special teams. He forced and recovered a fumble in the kicking game at Jacksonville and had two special teams tackles, upping his total for the season to four.



CLEVELAND BROWNS

HOT TOPIC
The Cleveland Browns with a winning record?
That could happen - if the Browns can take advantage of a struggling Baltimore Ravens team Sunday in Baltimore.
The Ravens are coming off a game in which they committed 21 penalties and had two players ejected. The Browns are coming off two wins in three games.
If Cleveland can find a way to win, they'd be above .500 - something few expected they could do this year.
But their coach will have none of that kind of talk. He's a bottom-line realist and that's the only way he'll look at things.
"We're 2-2 and all that means is we're .500," Romeo Crennel said.
Crennel is smart enough to know that his defense will struggle against the run all year and his offense will move in fits and jerks.
So he's not going to get ahead of himself. He knows that while this season is about winning games, it's also rebuilding and setting the foundation for the future.
"We are what we are," Crennel said. "We are .500 right now. I would say that we're probably near the bottom of the stats defensively. Offensively, we're probably in the middle of the pack.
"Basically, you're looking at an average kind of team."

PLAYER NOTES
--WR Braylon Edwards missed the Bears game after being rushed to the Cleveland Clinic for surgery to clean out an infection in his right arm. Edwards spent three nights in the hospital, and he will miss more time. The team isn't sure how much time, though, and won't know until test results are back from the culture of the infection.
--QB Trent Dilfer smiled when reminded that he'll face the team that didn't re-sign him after he had won the Baltimore Ravens a Super Bowl. Reminded that Brian Billick is still the coach, Dilfer smiled and said: "It'll be an interesting week."
--QB Charlie Frye continues to patiently wait for his time. Frye has yet to play a regular-season down, and even though Dilfer struggled for much of the Bears game there was never a thought to playing Frye.
--RB Reuben Droughns averaged more than 4 yards per carry against a tough Bears defense. He continues to impress with his running, and has pretty much wrested the running back job from William Green and Lee Suggs.
--RB William Green is struggling big-time. Green had two series against Chicago and on his first carry he fumbled. Green does not even mildly resemble his rookie form. That year people were talking about what a great career he would have. Now it's almost a mystery why he's playing.
--RB Lee Suggs returned from his sprained ankle but barely played. Suggs may have been in the game for four plays, but that was it. The Browns seem committed to Reuben Droughns.
--WR Antonio Bryant made two big plays for touchdowns against the Bears, and it's probably a good thing. Bryant was starting to show frustration on the sideline, and coaches urged him to be patient. He was, and he was rewarded.
--WR Dennis Northcutt is the hard-luck man on the team. Northcutt had a third-and-22 reception for a first down called back by a holding penalty. Previously this season, Northcutt had two punt returns for touchdowns called back.
--TE Aaron Shea returned to the lineup and was productive, with six catches for 65 yards. Shea and Steve Heiden are doing a good job of minimizing the loss of Kellen Winslow to a knee injury.
--PK Phil Dawson is still perfect on his field goals. In Sunday's win over the Bears, his placement kickoffs helped the Browns win the field position fight.
--S Chris Crocker was very effective in safety blitzes against the Bears, but don't look for that to happen every week. Against veteran quarterbacks Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, the Browns eschewed the blitz. Against a rookie, they sent Crocker. The team will use Crocker as the game plan dictates.
--LB Andra Davis continues to be productive in the 3-4 defense. He was one of the defenders mentioned by coach Romeo Crennel when asked to name players who seemed to be adjusting to the transition.
--LB Matt Stewart returned from a knee injury and played almost a dozen plays. Stewart was in on a fourth-down stop of Cedric Benson. His playing time should increase as he regains his stamina.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

HOT TOPIC
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not been ruled out from playing Sunday against Jacksonville after suffering a knee injury in the final minute of the Steelers' pulsating 24-22 victory in San Diego Monday night.
Roethlisberger has a hyperextended left knee and a bruised bone, an MRI showed on Tuesday morning. In all likelihood, he will miss the next game but coach Bill Cowher on Tuesday would not rule him out against the Jaguars.
That was great news for the Steelers, who initially thought Roethlisberger might have a more serious knee injury. They also received more good news when backup Tommy Maddox's calf injury dramatically improved over the weekend. Maddox pulled the calf muscle in practice last Friday and did not make the trip to San Diego. They believed he might miss three weeks. Cowher said that Maddox will practice on Wednesday.
Cowher indicated that Charlie Batch, who replaced Roethlisberger in the final minute but did not throw a pass, is the likely starter for their game Sunday against Jacksonville, by default.
"All Indications are that it will be that way," Batch said.
Roethlisberger's knee injury is the latest in a list of injury scares that have not prevented him from missing a game since he became the starter in the third game of the 2004 season. He had a bruised knee, sore hand and toe problems last year. The Steelers held him out in the regular-season finale only because it meant nothing to them.
He was listed as questionable before the second game this season but started and played the whole game. He was knocked woozy in that game in Houston but kept playing. Against New England in the third game, a linebacker landed on him and Roethlisberger writhed on the ground with an injured arm. He missed no time, however.
He may miss one game this time but he should be ready to go for the Steelers' AFC North showdown at Cincinnati Oct. 23.
"I'll be all right," Roethlisberger said. "You know me, I'm tough."
Batch, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, played Monday night for the first time since Nov. 30, 2003. He has not started a game for the Steelers and last started Dec. 2, 2001 for the Detroit Lions against the Bears in Chicago.
Batch did not throw a pass Monday night. He handed off three straight times to Jerome Bettis before Jeff Reed kicked a 40-yard field goal to win it with six seconds left. Batch last threw a pass in a regular season game on Nov. 30, 2003 when he threw two in Cincinnati. Batch has thrown just eight passes since joining the Steelers as a free agent in 2002. All came during the 2003 season. He had played in only three other games with them, all in 2003.
Because of the injury to Roethlisberger, the Steelers signed former Pitt quarterback Rod Rutherford to their practice squad on Tuesday.

PLAYER NOTES
-- RB Jerome Bettis played in his first game since he pulled a calf muscle in the third preseason game and he contributed in a large way. He led the Steelers with 54 yards, including 21 on the game-winning drive in which he converted two third-and-one situations.
-- WR Hines Ward fought through a tender hamstring to lead the Steelers with six receptions for 83 yards. He had a 47-yard TD pass reduced to a 14-yard reception on a replay challenge.
-- TE Heath Miller had his most productive day in the pros. He caught four passes for 36 yards and one 16-yard TD. He now has 6 receptions and 2 TDs.
-- LB James Harrison made his first start of the season, for injured Clark Haggans. He intercepted a pass and returned it 25 yards to set up a scoring drive.
-- RB Duce Staley did not dress even though he is healthy and has practiced the past four weeks. Staley fell behind starter Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis, and Verron Haynes plays on third downs.
-- FB Dan Kreider touched the ball for the first time this season. He carried once for two yards.
 


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