Steelers Notebook: Smith out after first-quarter injury

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DENVER -- Shortly after the Steelers welcomed back all four of their starters who missed their last game with injuries, they lost another.

Defensive end Aaron Smith left the game in the first quarter with a left knee injury. It knocked him out for the game.

Veteran Nick Eason, signed as an unrestricted free agent this year from Cleveland, replaced Smith.

Both starting wide receivers returned last night. Hines Ward had missed the past two games with a sprained knee and Santonio Holmes missed one with a hamstring pull. Also, Casey Hampton (hamstring) and Troy Polamalu (ribs) started after missing one game.

Champ's out

The Broncos, already identified as the worst defense against the run in the NFL through five games, scratched their best defensive player an hour before game time when Champ Bailey's name turned up on the inactives list.

The Bailey drama had played out all week in Denver, where the decorated cornerback had an injured quadriceps muscle and didn't know even yesterday whether he'd start against the Steelers.

Domonique Foxworth got the start in Bailey's stead.

Denver also was missing starting center Tom Nalen and wide receiver Javon Walker, who torched the Steelers' secondary in November. Chris Myers started for Nalen and Brandon Stokley for Walker.

Also inactive again was defensive end Simeon Rice, who was already on record as characterizing this season as "the longest of my life." Rice has been injured but considers himself healthy enough to play. He has indicated fairly strongly that he'll be playing elsewhere in 2008.

Also inactive for Denver: Safety Hamza Abdullah, running back Andre Hall, fullback Mike Bell, defensive tackle Amon Gordon and guard Isaac Snell.

There were no surprises on the Steelers' inactive list of wide receiver Willie Reid, corner Bryant McFadden, running back Gary Russell, linebacker Andre Frazier, offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton, tackle Trai Essex and tight end Jerame Tuman.

Running a red light

Coach Mike Tomlin continued to be too quick to throw the red challenge flag. He did it again last night after a pass to Hines Ward in the second quarter was ruled incomplete because the ball came loose as he hit the ground.

Tomlin did not wait long before he threw the red flag but replay shortly thereafter showed the ball clearly had come out and it was trapped.

After reviewing the play, the officials let the call stand and the Steelers lost a timeout.

Tomlin is now 0-2 in challenges this season.

Broncos honor players

The Broncos honored late players Darrent Williams and Damien Nash in a pregame ceremony attended by their families.

Williams died in a shooting at 2 a.m. New Year's Day while a passenger in a limousine with some teammates after celebrating the holiday. No one has been charged in his killing.

Nash died suddenly of a heart problem in February.

Weather watch

The weather in Denver is much like that in Chicago in a way. Wait a minute and it will change.

The Steelers and Broncos played in relatively good weather last night -- no precipitation and temperature in the 30s. In the morning, it snowed heavily, with as much as 6 and 7 inches in the southern suburbs. By mid-afternoon, it was sunny.

The day before, it was sunny and in the 70s. Today, the high is supposed to be in the 50s and be back into the 70s by Wednesday.

Same field, different city

Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium has the same playing surface as Heinz Field, a rarity in the NFL.

It's called DD Grassmaster, mostly grass with a synthetic weave. Mile High, though, does not entertain many football games other than the Broncos, unlike Heinz, so the field does not get as worn down late in the season.

What advantage?

The Broncos appeared to many in Colorado to have lost more than just the AFC title to the Steelers here in January 2006. Since that 34-17 pummeling in the game that sent the Steelers on to Super Bowl XL, Denver is 5-6 at home.

The Broncos took the field last night coming off their worst home loss since 1966, a 41-3 loss to the Chargers here two weeks ago. After the season's first five games, only the dreadful St. Louis Rams had been outscored worse than the Broncos. Denver was outscored in those five games 136-75, 75-26 in the second half.

Quick hits

The Steelers came into the sixth game of Tomlin's first season having allowed a total of only five touchdowns, only four by the defense. ... The Broncos have only six starters left from the team that lost to the Steelers in the 2005 AFC championship game. Just one is on offense, tackle Matt Lepsis. ... FB Dan Kreider earned his first start of the season when the Steelers opened in the I formation with Willie Parker set up behind him. ... Ben Roethlisberger's streak ended at 13 consecutive pass completions when his first to Santonio Holmes on the game's first play fell incomplete. He then completed his next five on the way to a touchdown drive.


Staff writer Gene Collier contributed to this story.


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