Is Post-Ward Era Underway?

Has Hines Ward's time come? Jerricho Cotchery and Antonio Brown formed a potent duo in his place on Sunday.

Turn Hines Ward's 6 upside down and the Steelers have Jerricho Cotchery.

Or, someone who "looks just like Ward," as noted by CBS-TV color analyst Dan Fouts during the Steelers' 24-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

Who wasn't fooled by Cotchery's impersonation of Ward? Number 89 caught one touchdown pass that counted and had another touchdown pass called back during the first half Sunday.

"He's getting the hang of this [Ben] Roethlisberger offense – stay alive," Fouts said after a replay.

After a game in which Ward played very little and caught only one pass for 10 yards, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked if Ward was "held back" because of the previous game's head injury.

"No, I think he was ready to go," Tomlin said. "We were just looking at some personnel groups and looking at ways we wanted to attack these people. We'll do that from week to week. It may not be any indication of his participation moving forward. It's just an indication of his participation today."

And that was virtually nil.

With so much depth at wide receiver, Ward's continuation as a starter has been debated throughout the media. And with the showing in Cincinnati of Cotchery and Antonio Brown opposite Steelers deep threat Mike Wallace, fans saw the future as Ward's playing time in his great 14-year career is bound to diminish.

It would be difficult to argue with the results. In Ward's place, Cotchery caught two passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 24-yard touchdown nullified by a ticky-tack interference call away from the ball on Heath Miller.

"It was a good call by them," said Tomlin.

Cotchery also stopped short on a sure touchdown pass that sailed high and wide, but for the most part he successfully worked Ward's routes in the middle of the Bengals defense, while Brown confounded the Bengals on the outside.

Brown caught five passes for 86 yards, but most of it – four for 74 – came on one drive that started with an incomplete pass to him that should've been intercepted.

After that play, Brown converted a third-and-19, a third-and-seven, and a first-and-20. He also added a 17-yarder in the drive that ended with a field goal and 17-10 lead.

"If he's one-on-one and the DB's back is to me, then he's open," said Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger was asked why he threw so often to Brown, who's been targeted more than any other Steelers receiver this season.

"Mike Wallace was getting double-teamed and that opens up the back side," Roethlisberger said. "He's done some great things. I'm really proud of some of the throws that I had to put on his back shoulder. Adjustments that he had to make, he made. That's awesome on his part."

And why was Roethlisberger so excited and animated after throwing his first touchdown pass to Cotchery?

"I'm excited for him to get his first one," Roethlisberger said. "He was a little amped. It's not like me, but I couldn't hold it back."

Neither could Tomlin.

"He's a savvy, veteran guy," Tomlin said of Cotchery. "A guy that we've been excited about having since the day we acquired him. He had some things (hamstring injury) to slow him down early in the process, but he's been a consummate professional throughout all of it. He's prepared himself, and you guys are just starting to see the signs of that preparation."

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