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Old 11-15-2011, 06:20 AM   #1
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Default Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In many ways, the Steelers game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals was typical of the series. The Steelers made just enough plays and the Bengals just enough mistakes for the Steelers to win, 24-17. No one could have been surprised by the result, here or in Cincinnati. The Steelers are 10-1 at Paul Brown Stadium.

But in one significant way, the win was unlike any other Steelers game. For the first time, future Hall of Famer Hines Ward wasn't a big part of the offense even though he was healthy. He played sparingly -- in just a few packages -- and had one catch for 10 yards, the only time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger targeted him.

The Steelers coaches clearly believed the team had a better chance of winning with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery at wide receiver ahead of Ward.

It's not hard to imagine it being that way the rest of the season, barring injuries.

It's also enough to make you wonder if Ward will reach his coveted career milestones in the final six regular-season games. He needs 19 catches for 1,000, 30 receiving yards for 12,000 and five touchdown catches for 90.

Ward long has taken great pride in proving people wrong. He always says he's motivated by the "naysayers," a big reason he has lasted 14 years in the NFL, put up those amazing numbers and been a big part of two Super Bowl-winning teams. But getting back on the field in a meaningful role this season is Ward's greatest challenge. It would be even tougher for him if not for Emmanuel Sanders' knee injury. Sanders was coming on before having surgery last week.

Wallace has developed into one of the NFL's best receivers. He's a threat to hit a home run on every play. In just his third season, he has hooked up with Roethlisberger for a franchise-record 11 touchdowns of at least 40 yards.

Brown, in his second season, quickly is becoming a star. He had five catches for 86 yards -- a curious total considering Ward's uniform number -- against the Bengals. In his past four games, he has 26 catches for 364 yards and one touchdown. Roethlisberger loves throwing to him.

Cotchery left the New York Jets after seven seasons and was signed as a free agent in August to provide depth. A hamstring injury forced him to miss the first three games and he didn't make his first catch until the New England game Oct. 30. But he received considerable playing time Nov. 6 against the Baltimore Ravens after Ward left early in the second quarter with concussion-like symptoms and had three catches for 44 yards. He caught two balls for 29 yards against the Bengals, including a 16-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead. He later had a 24-yard touchdown catch called back because of an offensive pass interference penalty on tight end Heath Miller.

"He's a savvy, veteran guy, a guy that we've been excited about having since the day we acquired him," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's been a consummate professional. ... We've been extremely pleased with him."

Cotchery has grown on his teammates. Roethlisberger was jubilant on the field Sunday after Cotchery's touchdown.

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

So where does all of this leave Ward?

It's hard to blame Tomlin for not completely answering that question. We're not talking about Max Starks replacing Jonathan Scott at left tackle or William Gay taking over for Bryant McFadden at cornerback. We're talking about Cotchery replacing a Steelers legend, one of their all-time great players. Making such a move can't be easy for any coach. It can't be easy discussing it.

"We were just looking at some personnel groups and looking at ways we wanted to attack these people," Tomlin said when asked why Ward didn't play more against the Bengals. "It may not be any indication of his participation moving forward. It's just an indication of his participation today."

What else could Tomlin have said? That Ward is finished as a player and can't help the team anymore? Of course not. But it doesn't mean that Ward will be a big part of the offense again. Tomlin can't make that guarantee.

This has been a difficult season for Ward. He injured an ankle Oct. 23 in the Arizona game and had to sit out the next week against New England. Then against Baltimore, he was popped in the head by Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, a hit that resulted in a $20,000 fine for Lewis.

Now, there's this benching of sorts.

It will be interesting to see how Ward handles it. He dressed quickly after the game and left the locker room but is expected to face the media today after practice. He's such a prideful guy, such a wonderful competitor. But he can't gripe. That would be unseemly. The Steelers are 7-3 and in first place in the AFC North Division. It's more likely he'll say that no one should count him out, that he still can get open, that he still can make plays for Roethlisberger and the offense.

Really, what else can Ward say?

Maybe the off week comes at just the right time for Ward. Maybe it won't just give his body a chance to heal. Maybe it will energize him.

That's a nice thought.

Ward is going to need every bit of that energy to take on this challenge.

The naysayers are going to be right one day.

They always are right in the end.
Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author
First published on November 15, 2011 at 12:00 am

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11319...#ixzz1dmAdqFOZ
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Old 11-15-2011, 07:44 AM   #2
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

I still think he has some clutch plays left in him this year

Im still very glad we have him for when we need him
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Old 11-15-2011, 09:00 AM   #3
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

He's still one of my favorite Steelers of all time. The way the other receivers are playing, they deserve to play in front of him.
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Old 11-15-2011, 10:27 AM   #4
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

Wallace and Brown are the obvious #1 & #2 receivers. He still gets open on big 3rd downs, he is excellent in the redzone, and a great blocker. He still has his place here, just not #1 or #2.
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Old 11-15-2011, 10:49 AM   #5
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

I'm trying to get at this feeling from his perspective. It has to be tough for guys like him, Smith, Farrior. Heck, I just imagine what Randle El must be feeling and he hasn't done much since XL season.

Ward is THE example of what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler (from my viewpoint anyways) - Team first, be a leader by example, go above and beyond your duties (and even as an offensive player - be nasty - which, there is no better blocking WR in NFL history, ever IMHO and he holds a HOF resume.) When you own most Steelers WR records and can be on an all time list that is something to me.

In the past 5 seasons he's gone from #1 receiver / SB MVP to watching his last days go by and the #3 to #5 option depending on injuries. I hope Ward has opportunity to at least get his numbers before retiring and to contribute to some huge first down plays and touchdowns. Remember in XLV, Ward was still getting separation and has PLENTY of clutch plays left in him. Many teams would pay a lot of money for him for a 1 yr contract just to bring stability. The fact that a WR of his caliber has been moved down the depth chart only speaks volumes to the Steelers organization and less about his capabilities as a receiver. The guy still has it - so I say keep giving the guy as many chances as possible while winning.

I hated seeing Bettis retire but I feel more of a sense of urgency with Ward - I want this guy to go out with another Ring - it is the least he deserves for what he has meant to us as fans and to the team . . . sniff, sniff
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:15 AM   #6
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

maybe we could use ward like we used the bus. in the redzone, put him in. between the 20's, put in brown
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Old 11-15-2011, 11:37 AM   #7
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

Quote:
Originally Posted by steelfury02 View Post
I'm trying to get at this feeling from his perspective. It has to be tough for guys like him, Smith, Farrior. Heck, I just imagine what Randle El must be feeling and he hasn't done much since XL season.

Ward is THE example of what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler (from my viewpoint anyways) - Team first, be a leader by example, go above and beyond your duties (and even as an offensive player - be nasty - which, there is no better blocking WR in NFL history, ever IMHO and he holds a HOF resume.)
As I recall was suggested by Ron Cook today, maybe the Steelers can get some blowout leads and pad Ward's stats during garbage time to get to 1000 catches - 4 of the 6 remaining games (Chiefs, Rams, 2 Browns games) might provide that opportunity

As far as what is best for the team, IMO Ward drops to #5 on the depth chart once Sanders returns, which might result in Hines not even dressing for some games.

Hopefully the Steelers learned the adverse consequences of keeping an aging veteran on the roster with the Aaron Smith saga and Ward will handle his demotion with class

Sad to see Hines go but 14 years is an amazing run
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Old 11-15-2011, 12:14 PM   #8
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

Cotchery might be ahead of Ward on the depth chart. He played Hines role on Sunday. He had a TD (should have been 2) and made a fantastic block on 3 defenders to get Mendenhall into the endzone on the 9 yard run. Ed Bouchette reported Hines didn't talk to the media after the game, dressed quickly and left the building.

A little controversy starting to develop maybe? Like I said before, Hines probably won't leave gracefully.
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Old 11-15-2011, 12:20 PM   #9
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

If not for the refs and a bad throw by ben, cotchery could have had 3 TD catches. He may be ahead of Ward too.
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Old 11-15-2011, 12:32 PM   #10
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Default Re: Disappearing Ward facing his biggest challenge yet

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If not for the refs and a bad throw by ben, cotchery could have had 3 TD catches. He may be ahead of Ward too.
I think they'll play him enough to get to 1,000 receptions (19 to go). This is definitely his last year even though he said he wants to play out 2012.
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