AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
Still, I was a little taken aback at the vitriol spewed at Haley via social media after the Steelers’ 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
A significant portion of fans always seemed to want to fire Haley’s predecessor when things didn’t go well for the Steelers until the organization actually did part ways with Bruce Arians.
Since the Steelers “retired” Arians in 2012 he has parlayed an offensive coordinator job in Indianapolis into a head coaching gig in Arizona.
Arians led the Cardinals to 10 wins in 2013 in the NFL’s most rugged division -- the NFC West -- and he has the Cardinals off to a 3-0 start this season.
As high of a standing as Arians enjoys in the desert he may be even more popular in Pittsburgh. That is how disenchanted Steelers fans seem to be with Haley.
I get that and have questions of my own after the galling loss to the Buccaneers. Some of the play calling left me scratching my head.
Even the first one.
After quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed a short lateral to fullback Will Johnson that netted zero yards I found myself asking, “They had all week to put together a game plan and they came up with that?”
The Steelers also seemed to go sideways too often against a defense that had the speed at linebacker to snuff out such plays.
But when I look at the offense’s body of work against the Buccaneers I have to conclude that criticism of Haley after this loss is simply misguided.
The Steelers piled up 390 yards of total offense and put together touchdown drives of 60, 93 and 80 yards.
They would have scored a fourth touchdown -- and likely put away the Buccaneers -- had a perfectly thrown pass by Roethlisberger not clanged off Antonio Brown’s hands early in the fourth quarter.
Brown flashed open after the Steelers ran a flea flicker and he would have scored a 68-yard touchdown had he caught the ball, something the two-time Pro Bowler probably does 99 out of 100 times.
Add those 68 lost yards to the Steelers’ total and that puts them at 458 yards of total offense.
Indianapolis and Atlanta lead the NFL in total offense. They average 444 yards per game.
And people are calling for Haley’s job after the Steelers should have exceeded that average and scored four touchdowns?
The Steelers are fifth in the NFL in total offense (412 yards per game) and this is the guy fans want to scapegoat after a disappointing 2-2 start?
Haley is an easy target because of his job and how it lends itself to second-guessing from the comfort of a bleacher seat or a couch.
But blaming him after the loss to the Buccaneers looks more like a function of habit for angry Steelers fans -- and something that is rooted in emotion more than it is in reality.
It wouldn’t make Mitchell feel any better to know that there was an undeniable symmetry between the resplendent day that the Steelers insisted on marring with penalty after penalty and the last time a journeyman wide receiver named Louis Murphy ruined a lot of Sundays in the greater Pittsburgh area.
The overriding one is why have the Steelers developed a habit of losing to lesser teams they should beat when they have a chance of stringing victories together.
It happened too often in 2012 and 2013.
It happened again on Sunday -- and against a team that had lost its previous game by 42 points.
Forget for a second that Mike Glennon’s easy throw to Murphy in the middle of the field, which set up his game-winning touchdown pass with seven seconds to play, appeared to be the result of linebacker Lawrence Timmons not taking a deep enough drop with the Steelers in a zone.
That pitch-and-catch between a quarterback who had been a backup through the Buccaneers’ first three games and a wide receiver who had been on the street until last week was a symptom of something larger that ails the Steelers.
They simply cannot generate enough pressure on the quarterback to cover for a suspect secondary.
Not even close.
While the Buccaneers were dumping Ben Roethlisberger five times, including one that led to a key turnover early, the Steelers rarely got to Glennon or even made the second-year man uncomfortable in the pocket.
The Steelers sacked Glennon just one time and hit the slender 6-foot-6 signal-caller only four times.
The Steelers got all of two quarterback pressures from their outside linebackers, which was a main reason why Glennon looked like a seasoned pro in throwing for 301 yards and a pair of touchdowns and needed just 33 seconds to march the Buccaneers 46 yards for the winning score.
The reality, a quarter into the season, is that the Steelers are probably going to have to outscore a lot of teams to win 10 games and avoid sinking into a cycle of mediocrity.
They almost did that Sunday after spotting the Buccaneers an early 10-0 lead.
Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were magnificent, and the Steelers win the game if Brown doesn’t drop a perfectly thrown deep ball off a flea flicker in the fourth quarter – or if Big Ben doesn’t overthrow the two-time Pro Bowler on a key third down later in the drive.
“I think every man in that locker [room] feels like we could have done something different to affect the outcome of the game,” Brown said.
The shame of it for the Steelers if they would have held on to beat the Buccaneers is their schedule set up nicely for them to go on a run. Now they are back to wondering which team will show up on a weekly basis.
“We’ve got to get off this up-and-down roller coaster ride,” Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “It’s unpleasant for everybody. We’ve got to be a straight line. We’ve got to get better.”
“This one hits you,” Pouncey said after the Steelers couldn’t protect a fourth-quarter lead in a 27-24 loss to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The loss particularly weighed on Pouncey, as he committed a costly penalty with the Steelers needing just a lone first down to close out the Bucs.
It came with the Steelers nursing a 24-20 lead with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the game and facing a second-and-8 at their own 16-yard line.
Pouncey was flagged for an illegal snap, and the 5-yard penalty resulted in a punt two plays later and placed the onus for closing out the Buccaneers on the defense. It couldn’t do it.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said he never received an explanation for why Pouncey was hit with the Steelers’ 13th and final penalty of the game. Pouncey said he was told he had moved the ball too much before snapping it to Ben Roethlisberger.
“That’s on me,” the three-time Pro Bowl center said. “As a center you can’t have that, and I take full responsibility.”
Pouncey’s accountability was refreshing.
And it had better resonate with his teammates if the Steelers want to avoid a third consecutive 8-8 season.
The Steelers piled up 125 penalty yards, and six of their flags were of the 15-yard variety. Two of those penalties were for taunting and unsportsmanlike conduct by running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, respectively.
Another unsportsmanlike penalty was called on defensive end Cameron Heyward, who took issue with a missed holding call on Doug Martin’s 3-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.
The Steelers are averaging 11 penalties per game, and Tomlin acknowledged after a 37-19 win at Carolina last Sunday that the rash of flags would become “problematic” if his team didn’t start playing smarter.
That explained why Tomlin was so upset and called his players “undisciplined.”
“The defining factor in determining the outcome of that football game is that we were way too highly penalized,” Tomlin said. “It’s ridiculous.”
His players largely agreed with him.
But they also said the usual after a loss, that they have to watch the film from the game and make the necessary corrections.
That translates to blah, blah, blah, blah for frustrated Steelers fans, because some penalties don't need film to correct.
“Post-play penalties are ridiculous,” Tomlin said. “That we have full control over.”
The players would do well to follow the lead of Pouncey and hold themselves more accountable for penalties.
“It’s all on the players,” Pouncey said, “It’s not like [coaches] are calling like, ‘Hey, hold on this play’ or 'hit the guy late.’ They coach us the right way. We’ve got to play the right way.”
- Mike Mitchell summed up the overwhelming feeling in a gloomy locker room after the Steelers couldn’t protect a late lead against a previously winless team at Heinz Field. “I feel sick,” the Steelers free safety said late Sunday afternoon. The Steelers allowed quarterback Mike Glennon to march the Buccaneers 46 yards in 33 seconds for the winning touchdown. Glennon made his first start of the season Sunday, but Mitchell played against him in 2013 while with the Carolina Panthers. “He is who we thought he was,” Mitchell said. “Golly, that will be a sound bite.”
- James Harrison played a handful of snaps in his first game back with the Steelers and was the same old Harrison -- at least in the locker room. As a group of reporters stood in front of Cameron Heyward’s locker waiting for the defensive end to talk, Harrison growled to a cameraman, “Get your feet off my bag.” Harrison wasn’t credited with any tackles or quarterback hits in the loss to the Buccaneers. But Harrison, who has been back with the Steelers for less than a week, didn’t give himself a pass after practicing for the first time in more than nine months on Wednesday. “I’m part of the mental errors,” Harrison said of the mistakes the Steelers committed.
PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-24 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday at Heinz Field.
What it means: The Steelers looked like the 2012 and 2013 8-8 teams that found ways to lose games to lesser opponents. They did just that with an uneven performance against the previously winless Buccaneers. The Steelers beat themselves by committing 13 penalties for 125 yards and losing an early fumble that gave the visiting Buccaneers, who needed an early confidence boost in the worst way, a 7-0 lead two minutes into the game. They made one late defensive stand against the Buccaneers but couldn’t do it again after Tampa Bay got the ball back with a little more than a minute left in the game. The Steelers (2-2) had several chances to put the Buccaneers away, including early in the fourth quarter, when a sure touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger clanged off the hands of Antonio Brown. Shelve that talk about the Steelers going on a run. This may well be another .500 team.
Stock watch: The defense kept the Steelers in the game early, but it did not get enough pressure on Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon, who was making his first start of the season. Glennon moved the Buccaneers right down the field at the end of the game and threw the game-winning touchdown pass with seven seconds left. The Steelers' secondary isn't good enough to cover for the front seven when it doesn't consistently pressure the quarterback.
Miller time: Roethlisberger couldn’t have placed an early pass any better than if he had walked up to Heath Miller and put it in his hands. The normally reliable Miller inexplicably dropped the pass at a time when the Steelers were tripping themselves, but the 10th-year veteran more than made up for it. Miller caught the next eight passes that Roethlisberger threw his way, including a 5-yard touchdown that snapped a 17-17 tie. Miller’s nine catches for 80 yards were both season highs, and he moved into eighth place on the Steelers' list for career yards from scrimmage. Miller now has the fourth-most receiving yards in franchise history.
Injury update: The Steelers made it through the game relatively unscathed, a welcome development after losing three defensive starters to significant injuries in the third quarter alone last Sunday. Roethlisberger appeared to bang his throwing hand against a helmet in the second quarter -- it was announced that he had hurt his right arm -- but he was fine. Cody Wallace started for the second consecutive week at left guard, filling in for Ramon Foster (ankle). Foster practiced last week but was limited on Friday and did not dress against the Buccaneers.
Game ball: Roethlisberger became just the 12th player in NFL history to throw for at least 35,000 yards with the same team and he helped pull the Steelers out of an early stupor. With the offense doing nothing and the Steelers facing a 10-point deficit and a third-and-10 deep in their own territory, Roethlisberger completed a 32-yard pass to wide receiver Markus Wheaton, taking a serious shot after releasing the ball.
What’s next: The Steelers visit the Jacksonville Jaguars next Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. The Jaguars entered Sunday's game at San Diego with an 0-3 record, and they'll have rookie Blake Bortles starting at quarterback.
Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski are the Steelers' only active quarterbacks for their 1 p.m. ET game at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger will try to improve to 17-2 lifetime against NFL teams at Heinz Field, and he needs 117 passing yards to reach 35,000 for his career.
The Steelers are without a handful of starters Sunday because of injuries.
Cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) were declared out earlier this week.
Left guard Ramon Foster will miss his second consecutive game because of an ankle injury despite practicing every day last week. Foster was limited in practice Friday, and he will be replaced by Cody Wallace in the starting lineup.
Joining Foster, Taylor and Shazier on the Steelers’ inactives list are wide receiver Martavis Bryant, nose tackle Daniel McCullers, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson and quarterback Landry Jones.
And away we go...
@ScottBrown_ESPN: I don't think Ryan Shazier will be a consideration to play for at least one more week and the Steelers will err on the side of caution when bringing him back. The rookie inside linebacker will probably have to practice for most of if not a full week before he returns to the field. Jarvis Jones is not eligible to return from the injured reserve/designated to return list until the Steelers' Nov. 30 game against the New Orleans Saints. And he may not be ready then. The Steelers placed Jones on the IR/return list because they felt he would be able to return at some point this season. That doesn't necessarily mean Jones will be ready to play when he is eligible to come off the IR/return list.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: It is a little early to proclaim Bell an MVP candidate, but it's hard not to perk up when he leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage (461) and a future Pro Football like LaDainian Tomlinson says there is no other back in the NFL that he would rather have right now than Bell. Full disclosure: I thought LeGarrette Blount might be the Steelers' best runner and Bell their best all-around back. I stand corrected just three games into the season. And, by the way, if Bell can maintain his current pace he would finish with 1,680 rushing yards. That would have to put him into MVP consideration, especially if the Steelers win 10 or 11 games this season.
@ScottBrown_ESPN when will lance moore see significant playing time?- Jeremy Johns (@jj52783) September 25, 2014
@ScottBrown_ESPN: Great question. I thought Moore would slide right into the No .3 wide receiver when he returned from a groin injury, but he played just one snap last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. I have to believe it is only a matter of time before he overtakes Justin Brown as the primary slot receiver. The Steelers seem to really like Brown, who has a lot of promise, and maybe he adds considerably more as a blocker in the running game than Moore, who is not the biggest guy. Moore will play significant snaps at some point this season. The only question is when.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: Man, I am probably the last guy to ask about this since I think it takes at least three seasons before you can fairly evaluate a draft class. Through three games I think the Steelers' rookie class has been fairly typical as far as contributions across the board. Shazier is going to be really good but he is going through the requisite growing pains. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt is not playing much but he is at a position where young players come along slowly in the Steelers' defense. Running back Dri Archer makes an impact when healthy since teams have to account for him because of his speed and versatility. Wide receiver Martavis Bryant, offensive lineman Wesley Johnson and nose tackle Daniel McCullers appear to be headed toward the NFL equivalent of redshirt seasons but that is not a bad thing. It means the Steelers have the luxury of bringing them along slowly.
@ScottBrown_ESPN: Believe it or not, Troy Polamalu may be the biggest prankster on the team. Don't let his quiet nature fool you; the eight-time Pro Bowler will pounce on an unsuspecting teammate as I believe Casey Hampton found out a couple of seasons ago when he left his helmet on the sidelines. Polamalu, if I remember correctly, tied or chained the helmet to a bench -- and this was during a preseason game -- and got quite the laugh watching "Big Snack" grab his helmet before going back onto the field. As for the Tomlin question, I'm not totally sure what you mean. He doesn't show much personality to the media and that is by design. I think he is totally different around his players and coaches.
Foster, who missed the Steelers’ 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers because of an ankle injury, is listed as questionable for Sunday despite practicing all week.
All other players who have been nursing injuries, including rookie running back Dri Archer (ankle), are listed as probable for the 1 p.m. ET game against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle) and cornerback Ike Taylor (arm) were ruled out for the game earlier this week.
The guess here is that Foster plays against the Buccaneers and is back in the starting lineup.
Here is my projected Steelers’ inactives list along with Shazier and Taylor.
- WR Martavis Bryant: The Steelers aren’t going to dress six wide receivers and Darrius Heyward-Bey plays special teams as well as giving the Steelers a deep threat.
- NT Daniel McCullers: Starting nose tackle Steve McLendon played well in the Steelers’ 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers, and McCullers is still a work in progress.
- G Chris Hubbard: The first-year man played seven snaps last week in Carolina but with Foster’s return he is the odd man out along the offensive line.
- OL Wesley Johnson: The rookie fifth-round pick has yet to dress for a game. As long as the Steelers stay relatively healthy up front they will bring Johnson along slowly.
- QB Landry Jones: The second-year man won’t dress this season unless there is an injury at quarterback.
The Buccaneers have lost eight of nine games against the Steelers, with their only victory coming in 1998, when Pittsburgh still played at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Buccaneers are off to an 0-3 start and will be decided underdogs after getting clobbered 56-14 last Thursday night at Atlanta. The Steelers, meanwhile, are coming off an impressive 37-19 victory at Carolina, which beat Tampa Bay in the first week of the season.
ESPN Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas and ESPN Steelers reporter Scott Brown take a closer look at the game.
Brown: Pat, the Buccaneers aren’t making me look too smart. Not hard, I know, but I predicted them to be that team that goes from worst to first in its division. It’s early, but the Buccaneers look like they could have a long season ahead of them. Did new coach Lovie Smith inherit a rebuilding project or are the Buccaneers a better team than their record indicates?
Yasinskas: Scott, you're not the only one who expected more from the Bucs. I predicted a .500 season and thought they might even be able to do a little better than that. I really thought new coach Lovie Smith would turn things around quickly. So much for that. I'd like to say the Bucs are better than their record indicates, but I can't. What happened in Atlanta was the ugliest defeat I've ever seen a team have. The Bucs simply looked like they weren't even in the same league as the Falcons. And I don't see Tampa Bay suddenly having some sort of revival against the Steelers. The Bucs are a bad team and they will be without starting quarterback Josh McCown. I'd like to say it can't get worse than it did in Atlanta, but it might get worse against the Steelers.
I was very impressed with Pittsburgh's win over Carolina. The Steelers looked like a complete football team to me. Do they have any weaknesses that Tampa Bay might be able to exploit?
Brown: The defense has injury issues, as the Steelers will be without three starters this week: outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Ike Taylor. The Buccaneers’ size at wide receiver could be a problem for the Steelers, as Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin caught eight passes for 113 yards and a touchdown against them last Sunday. And I need to see more than one good game against the Panthers to say that the Steelers can consistently stop the run. Carolina abandoned the run early and did not employ the zone-blocking or stretch plays that have given the Steelers problems. A healthy Doug Martin will test the Steelers, and Bobby Rainey looks like he can play when he isn’t fumbling.
Pat, I was a little perplexed when the Buccaneers signed McCown and didn’t give Mike Glennon a chance to battle him for the starting job. Glennon seemed to show promise last season as a rookie, and McCown has been a journeyman. What is your take on the Buccaneers’ quarterback situation, and with Glennon starting against the Steelers, what are his strengths and weaknesses?
Yasinskas: Glennon did some very good things, despite some very difficult circumstances, as a rookie last year. I also was surprised he didn't at least get a chance to compete for the starting job. But Lovie Smith had history with McCown in Chicago, and the coach wanted a veteran to run his offense efficiently. Smith has said that Glennon is the team's quarterback of the future and I think the future could be now. Glennon's main positive point is a very strong arm and the Bucs need to let him use that. Glennon has a huge receiving corps, and the Bucs need to take advantage of their size. Glennon's other strength is his intelligence. He's not going to make a lot of mental mistakes. I think Glennon can be just as -- if not more -- efficient than McCown.
So how much are all those injuries going to hurt the Steelers?
Brown: Cornerback could be an issue for the Steelers, especially if the Buccaneers can get them into their nickel defense. I don’t like the matchup between the Steelers' cornerbacks and the big, physical Buccaneers wide receivers. When the Steelers go to the nickel, Antwon Blake, Brice McCain or B.W. Webb will play right cornerback if William Gay doesn't play there. If Gay, who is starting for Taylor, stays at right cornerback in the nickel package, McCain will likely play in the slot. What should also be worrisome to the Steelers is if they sustain more injuries on defense against the Buccaneers. They are stretched thin at a couple of positions and their top reserve at outside linebacker is James Harrison, who officially retired three weeks ago today.Pat, I can’t figure out the NFL, so anyone who thinks the Steelers are a lock in this game is nuts. What has to happen for the Buccaneers to pull off an upset at Heinz Field?
Yasinskas: Something pretty close to a miracle. The Bucs are a bad team that likely will be playing with a backup quarterback. I've seen nothing out of the Bucs that leads me to believe they have any chance against the Steelers. But, getting back to your question, I'll give you an answer. It's hypothetical, but the Bucs have to play the perfect game to have any chance at a victory. They need to play the way Lovie Smith has designed this team: a great defense and an efficient offense. We haven't seen the Bucs play that way yet, but maybe they'll shock us.
The thing that jumped out at me Sunday night was Pittsburgh's running game. The Steelers ran the ball exceptionally well against a Carolina front seven that I think is one of the best in the league. Did Pittsburgh just get lucky and take advantage of the lead, or is this the second coming of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier?
Brown: It’s too early to put Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount in the class of Harris and Bleier, but they are on their way to giving the Steelers the best running tandem they have had in years -- and certainly the top one since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007. Bell does everything and he has emerged as a dynamic runner. I actually thought Blount might be the Steelers’ most talented runner going into the season, and he is more than just a big back. He has excellent feet, which make him anything but a plodder. Blount ripped off a 51-yard run last Sunday against the Panthers, adding to the 81-yard gain Bell had earlier in the game.
The Steelers rushed for 160 of their 264 yards when the Panthers were within 10 points or fewer. They pretty much ran the ball whenever they wanted to against a really good front seven that was dominated by the Steelers’ offensive line. The line and the backs should take a lot of confidence into Sunday.
Each were full participants in practice for the second consecutive day, and the only Steelers players who did not take part in drills on Thursday were inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm).
Both Shazier and Taylor have already been declared out for the 1 p.m. ET game Sunday at Heinz Field.
Archer has not played since the season opener because of a sprained ankle and Foster missed the Steelers’ 37-19 victory over the Carolina Panthers after spraining his ankle last week in practice.
The Buccaneers are expected to get back one of their top players this week as running back Doug Martin said he expects to play against the Steelers. Martin has missed the last two games because of a knee injury.
The Buccaneers will be without starting quarterback Josh McCown (thumb). Mike Glennon, who started 13 games for Tampa Bay last season as a rookie, will start against the Steelers.
And, said Roethlisberger, "I think the thing that gets overlooked sometimes, not from us, is his pass blocking. He does such a good job of picking up blitzes. Even if a linebacker is blitzing (and) has a 6-yard head start, he’s not going to get out of the way or cut him. He’s going to stick in there and do his job because he knows how important it is."
Bell’s all-around play has made him the talk of the NFL, and Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith knows containing the Michigan State product on Sunday will be one of the keys to the 0-3 Buccaneers springing an upset at Heinz Field.
"I don’t use special very often, but I think you could use that with him and his play," Smith said of Bell. "He has good size but he has quick feet. He has the feet of a small back, can make you miss in the open field, can run in between the tackles and has good hands. He’s as good a back I think as there is in the league."
Former NFL great LaDainian Tomlinson said essentially the same thing this week on the NFL Network.
Tomlinson, who is fifth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, said there is not a running back he would take over Bell right now.
"It’s an honor to have a guy like LaDainian Tomlinson say something like that, because growing up that’s who I used to watch and I looked at him as the best running back in the NFL," Bell said. "It is really just humbling and I’m just glad to have that said from him, a guy who is a future Hall of Famer. It means the world to me."
As he headed straight to where he used to dress, Harrison shook his head when he realized times had changed. He made a hard left turn to his new locker, which served as a reminder that this comeback will be a process.
The most immediate challenge Harrison faces is working his way into football shape, and the 36-year-old outside linebacker practiced Wednesday for the first time since January, when he was in his lone season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Noticeably spent following drills, Harrison said he might have to adjust the timetable he initially set for getting in optimum playing condition.
The good news for the Steelers is they don’t need Harrison to come in and start at right outside linebacker -- or even log a lot of snaps, if Arthur Moats plays well there in place of the injured Jarvis Jones.
The role to be filled by the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year is anybody's guess at this point, as Harrison acknowledged after his first practice since re-signing with the Steelers on Tuesday.
Harrison said he needs to drop about 10 pounds, but added that the weight will come off as he starts practicing on a regular basis again.
“I could gain all of the muscle I wanted when I was sitting on the couch,” he said.
Leaving the comfort of his couch to play one more NFL season -- and Harrison was adamant that this is it for him -- was not something he did on a whim.
“If my kids had said no, it wouldn’t have mattered how much I talked to [Brett] Keisel, Ike [Taylor] and Troy [Polamalu],” said Harrison, who has two young sons and officially retired earlier this month so he could spend more time with them. “It was a real difficult decision.”
Harrison had been happy in retirement and at peace walking away from football.
In the end, Harrison said, he couldn’t say no to what he referred to his “second family,” after Keisel, Polamalu, Taylor and coach Mike Tomlin gave the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker the hard sell to return to the team where he spent nine straight seasons.
“It’s hard to turn down family,” Harrison said. “The game itself I didn’t really miss. The only thing I really missed was the teammates, the camaraderie, being with the guys. We’ll see if the ending is good. Just being here is good. We’ll see if we can make it better.”
Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler told Spence Wednesday morning that the 5-foot-11, 231-pounder will start in place of Ryan Shazier, who is nursing a sprained knee, against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It had to be particularly gratifying for Butler to deliver that news to Spence.
It was Butler, after all, who said in April of 2013 that it would be a “miracle” if Spence ever played again.
“The tunnel was dark for me for a long time, but I stayed positive and Steelers Nation stayed behind me,” said Spence, who shredded his left knee in a 2012 preseason game and dislocated his knee cap while also sustaining nerve damage. “I finally get to get some good quality reps on defense.”
Spence actually got those last Sunday night when he replaced the injured Shazier in the third quarter of the Steelers' 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.
And the 2012 third-round pick played well enough to earn the start this week with Shazier already declared out against the Buccaneers.
Spence recorded three tackles against Carolina, including one when he tripped up Cam Newton after the Panthers quarterback had escaped a collapsing pocket. Newton had a lot of grass in front of him when he started to scramble, but Spence limited him to a 5-yard gain.
Spence, who logged a career-high 35 snaps last Sunday night, said his play in Carolina proved “that I can play in the National Football League. I hadn’t done it in two years, and the preseason doesn’t really count and Sunday night counted. I think I held up pretty well.”
Spence will probably make more than a few calls after his work day is finished.
His parents are at the top of the list of people with whom he wants to share his latest good news. Spence will also call former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, who is now playing for the Arizona Cardinals, at some point.
“I talk to Larry every week. He’s like a big brother to me,” Spence said. “He mentored me when he was here, not only in football but life.”
The veteran wide receiver made his Steelers' debut last Sunday night, but he played just one snap in a 37-19 win against the Carolina Panthers.
But it also became clear as the game progressed that Justin Brown has supplanted Moore, who did not play in the first two games because of a groin injury, as the Steelers' No. 3 wide receiver.
At least for now.
"It's the reality of this business, when you get hurt as a football team you adjust and move forward," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "As a guy regains his health it's his responsibility to make himself useful and to get on a moving train."
It shouldn't be hard for Moore to catch Brown based on his experience and production when he was catching from Drew Brees in New Orleans.
Moore, who is just two seasons removed from a 1,000-yard campaign, appears to be an ideal slot receiver, and Brown hasn't been very productive despite playing extensively in the first three games.
The first-year man has caught six passes for 54 yards, and he lost a fumble in the Steelers' 26-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 11.
The Steelers like Brown's potential and their thinking appears to be he will only get better as he gains experience.
Where that leaves Moore is anyone's guess at this point.
"I like the approach he is taking," Tomlin said. "We'll continue to work to get him back into the fold. It's just that. He has to work his way back into the rotation. I like his attitude, I like his work habits. We'll see where it takes us this week."