Thoughts From The Pressbox

Dale Lolley has some notes, quotes and anecdotes after covering the Steelers' 27-17 division-clinching win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The biggest news to come out of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that won the AFC North was the loss of running back Le'Veon Bell in the third quarter to what Mike Tomlin said was a hyperextended knee.

That's actually good news.

The hit on Bell by Reggie Nelson, while low, was a legal shot in today's NFL. And the injury could have been much worse. In fact, I immediately thought about Heath Miller suffering a knee injury two years ago in the game after being named team MVP, as Bell was this past week.

"Structurally, it appears fine, so we'll see if he'll be available to us here in our next game," said Tomlin.

It doesn't help that the "next game" Tomlin referred to will be Saturday night against Baltimore, but several of Bell's teammates said they had spoken with the running back and they don't expect him to miss that game.

"I'm pretty sure he'll be OK," said backup running back Josh Harris, who had a 55-yard run called back because of a holding penalty after Bell went down. "But it was good for me to show to show the coaching staff that I can do it. Now, we can take some of the load off of him and make sure he's fresh."

Not having Bell to run the ball wouldn't be a huge loss against the Ravens. To beat Baltimore, you have to throw, throw, throw against a cheesy soft secondary. But Bell does so much in the passing game as well that he would certainly be missed in that part of the game.

And then there is this: With Bell in the lineup the past two seasons, the Steelers are 19-10. When he doesn't play, they're 0-3.

@ Brice McCain and Antwon Blake made big plays again in the Steelers' secondary, with McCain picking off a pair of passes and Blake ripping the ball loose from A.J. Green in the fourth quarter and then recovering the fumble about 10 yards away.

For Blake, it was a carry over from practice this week. He had at least three interceptions in practice on Tuesday - the Landry Jones interception practice day.

"In the heat of the moment, something told me to go for the ball," said Blake. "It came out and we were able to recover it.

"That's somewhat of a myth when they say that if you get your hands on a lot of balls in practice, that it's going to carry over into the games. But I think it did in this case. I'm just glad I was able to go out and make a play for my team."

@ The Steelers weren't happy that Bell got hurt, but they also didn't think the hit by Reggie Nelson that did the damage was dirty or illegal.

"That's just today's NFL," said safety Mike Mitchell, who knocked Green out of the game, drilling him after Blake had stripped him of the ball. "That's the way the game's being played these days because guys are afraid of being fined. They're lowering their targets. That just sucks. I don't think that was a dirty play. It's extremely unfortunate. Nobody wants to see Le'Veon get hit in the knee when he's not looking. But that's the NFL we play in."

Tomlin had a heated conversation with Nelson after the game, but it wasn't about the hit on Bell.

"I guess a teammate told him that I said something regarding him," said Tomlin. "That's untrue. Ask him. I have a lot of respect for Reggie Nelson. He's a good player."

@ The Steelers enter the postseason with the NFL's leading receiver, leading passer - though Ben Roethlisberger shares it with Drew Brees - and, they hope, the AFC's leading rusher.

So why shouldn't they feel pretty good about their chances to go to the Super Bowl?

After all, they finished 5-1 against teams that made the postseason, the best record in the conference. New England is next at 4-1, while Cincinnati went 3-4-1, Denver 2-3 and Baltimore and Indianapolis 2-4 each.

"This is a tournament," said Mitchell. "I don't know if that means much now. This will be a rubber match. We've got to be able to do it. We've got the goods. We've got the guys. Our defense is coming together. Our offense is our offense. We've just got to stay singularly focused and legitimately humble and we've got a chance."

What, exactly, are the goods?

"I don't know, but we've got them," said Mitchell.

@ The biggest thing that's happened over the past few weeks is the resurgence of the Pittsburgh pass rush.

After recording six sacks last week against Kansas City, the Steelers had three more sacks against the Bengals and pressured Andy Dalton into some bad throws - not that it necessarily takes a lot of pressure for that to occur.

@ The Steelers have run that fake punt play daily in practice since training camp and finally used it in this game. It has looked much better in practice.

"I just wanted to be aggressive," said Tomlin, taking the blame for the play on which punter Brad Wing threw an interception in the fourth quarter with the Steelers leading by three.

"I was actually more pissed that we didn't get it," said Mitchell, "because it's something we practice all of the time. Wing, in practice, he looks great throwing that ball. That was horrible. He looks awesome throwing that ball in practice."

@ Roethlisberger was not sacked in this game, which is a good thing considering he was battling the flu and had to leave the sideline to relieve himself a couple of times.

All I could picture was a "Slapshot-type" moment when Reg Dunlap boarded the guy at the beginning of the movie and he went all over himself. Didn't want that to happen to Roethlisberger in front of a prime-time audience.


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