Steelers Notebook: Wilson, Clark leave with injuries

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Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
Jeff Reed kicks a 50-yarder, the longest NFL field goal at Heinz Field, yesterday in the second quarter against the Buccaneers.
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers lost two more starters to injuries yesterday and both might not recover in time to play against Cleveland Thursday night at Heinz Field.

Wide receiver Cedrick Wilson left the game in the first quarter with a left ankle sprain and free safety Ryan Clark left after his groin was injured while he covered a punt in the third quarter.

The Steelers already were missing starters at receiver (Hines Ward) and strong safety (Troy Polamalu) because of injuries and may have to play backups at those four starting positions against the Browns. Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes may have to start at wide receiver, while Tyrone Carter starts at strong safety and rookie Anthony Smith may have to start at free safety.

"It's a short week," coach Bill Cowher said of the injury to Wilson. "I'm not real optimistic."

Clark said he did not know if he could play Thursday.

"We were going down like flies," Carter said.

Wilson's injury left the wide receivers looking green. Second-year player Nate Washington, who made his first start in place of Ward, and rookie Holmes were on the field when the Steelers used two receivers. Special teams co-captain Sean Morey entered when the team went to three and Walter Young, signed from the practice squad Nov. 25, came on as the fourth wide receiver.

The Steelers can use tight ends Heath Miller and/or Jerame Tuman to replace a wide receiver in some of their packages.

"We may expand that a little bit," Cowher said. "But we feel good about Sean Morey. Walter Young's here. We're not going to get rid of everything."

Turf troubles

Kicker Jeff Reed did not want to blame the Heinz Field dirt for a miss on a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. But he's not fond of the surface that has been worn down by college, high school and pro games the past month.

"I don't ever blame it on the field," Reed said. "I lost my plant [foot] a little bit and tried to compensate for it.

"There was no grass between the hashes. That's kind of evident in this game. Nobody has to ask those questions now. That's the way it is, both teams play on it."

Reed's third field goal left him with 106 in his career and moved him past Norm Johnson into third place on the team list.

Reed boots a long one

Reed nailed a 50-yard field goal with two minutes remaining in the first half. It is the longest field goal in an NFL game since Heinz Field was opened in 2001 and is the second-longest field goal of Reed's career. He has hit three from 51 yards in his five years with the Steelers

For Bettis

Linebacker Joey Porter wore a green Notre Dame jersey with the No. 6 on it after the game, an old Jerome Bettis replica. It was to honor his former teammate, whose father, Johnnie, died at age 61 last week and will be buried in Detroit today.

"It's just to let them know we're thinking about them, him and his family," Porter said. "They're always in our hearts and we're always playing for them. He's a brother to us. He's not one of those guys who, when he's off the team, you don't think about him. He's still a family member."

Many Steelers have lined up private jets and will attend this morning's services and return in time to practice this evening.

Ben big vs. NFC

Ben Roethlisberger entered the game with a 103.7 passer rating against NFC teams. That was second best in the past three seasons to Peyton Manning's 113.7 rating against the other conference. It included six touchdowns and no interceptions and a 138.5 rating this season, an otherwise subpar year for Roethlisberger.

Yesterday, he had a middle-of-the-road 85.1 rating, mainly because he completed less than 50 percent of his passes and he threw an interception. It was his 20th this season, the most for a Steelers quarterback since Cliff Stoudt threw 21 interceptions in 1983.

Mistaken identity

Fox, which televised the game, made a major gaffe in the third quarter when it talked about Bruce Gradkowski being another NFL quarterback from Western Pennsylvania, the area that sent the likes of Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and Jim Kelly to the league. While this was going on, Fox showed some clips that were supposed to be of Gradkowski in high school at Seton-LaSalle. Except the quarterback in the video was wearing No. 14 and was Anthony Doria, who played after Gradkowski. Gradkowski wore No. 7 at Seton-LaSalle.

Happy to be back

Gradkowski enjoyed the weekend in his native Pittsburgh, just not the result.

"It was an amazing opportunity," he said. "I was thrilled to come back to Pittsburgh. The fans in Pittsburgh and everyone around here has been so good to me. Especially for all the family and friends that got to come to this game and see me play.

"I wish we could have put on a better show and personally me also, but things happen like that."

Quick hits

Tampa Bay avoided another loss in sub-40 degree temperatures (a case in which it is 1-21 lifetime) because it was 42 degrees at kickoff. ... Porter's two sacks give him 60 in his career, moving him past Keith Willis into fourth place on the Steelers' list .... Deshea Townsend added to his Steelers' career sack record for cornerbacks with another yesterday, giving him 151/2. ... The Steelers are 7-1 against Tampa Bay. ... The Steelers have won 11 of their past 12 games against NFC teams. ... Fullback Dan Kreider had his first carry of the season; he gained 5 yards.

Inactives

Steelers -- QB Brian St. Pierre, WR Hines Ward, OT Willie Colon, G Chris Kemoeatu, C Marvin Philip, S Troy Polamalu, RB Duce Staley, WR Willie Reid.

Buccaneers -- CB Alan Zemaitis, S Donte Nicholson, C Nick Mihlhauser, OT Donald Penn, WR Paris Warren, DE Charles Bennett, DT Jon Bradley, QB Luke McCown.

Matt Freed, Post-Gazette
The Buccaneers' Mike Alstott jumps through the Steelers' defense for a first down yesterday in the second quarter.
Click photo for larger image.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
The Buccaneers' Shelton Quaries tries to bring down Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com . Staff writers Gene Collier, Jerry Micco and Bob Smizik contributed to this report.


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