Cook: Team-first Miller makes his case with MVP play
Heath Miller had five catches for 97 yards Sunday against the Ravens and has been one of the most valuable players on the Steelers this season.
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I'm thinking Katie Miller is a big part of the problem. She needs to do a better job of communicating with her husband, Heath. She has to remind him it's a look-at-me world in professional sports these days and he simply isn't playing the part. She needs to tell him to start tooting his own horn, banging his own drum, singing his own song ...
You get the idea.
If the wife can't do it, who can?
"She hasn't said that to me and she won't," Miller said, quietly and politely, which is the way he says everything.
This was Sunday night after the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens, 23-20, at M&T Bank Stadium for their most satisfying and necessary win of the season. How satisfying? "They said we couldn't win [in Baltimore] with a backup quarterback," linebacker Larry Foote gushed. "But look at us now. We're coming out of here smiling." How necessary? The win kept the Steelers (7-5) one spot (by virtue of a tiebreaker) ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) for the final AFC wild-card spot.
Miller was huge against the Ravens with five catches for 97 yards. He had catches for 17 and 7 yards late in the first half to set up a field goal. He had a catch for 43 yards in the third quarter to set up a touchdown. He had a catch for 7 yards that went for a touchdown and tied the score, 20-20, midway through the fourth quarter. That final catch was a beauty. Miller dived all out for the end zone, hitting the pylon with the ball in his left hand. It also was statistically significant. The Steelers are 26-8 when he scores a touchdown.
You almost could hear the "Heeeeeeath!" screams from Pittsburgh in Baltimore.
"He's been that guy all year," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's a really, really good football player."
Miller didn't respond by saying, "Ah shucks, gee whiz, I don't deserve that kind of praise." But he might as well have. He took no credit for the win. He never takes credit.
"This game is about more than individual players," Miller said. "It's never about one person. It's the epitome of a team sport. I understand that and respect that."
You can stop right here if you're looking for Miller to sell himself as a Pro Bowl candidate, which he surely is. He leads the Steelers with 56 catches and seven touchdown receptions. He's big as a blocker in their run game. He frequently stays in to help the tackles in pass protection.
Miller acknowledged none of that, of course, preferring to talk of the great job rookie offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum did against the Ravens in his first NFL start. He talked of big catches by wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. He talked of how hard running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman ran. Most of all, he talked about quarterback Charlie Batch, who led two fourth-quarter scoring drives to help the Steelers climb out of a 20-13 hole. "I'm happy for him," Miller said. "He deserves a lot of credit. I'm sure he took way too much blame last week."
Batch, playing for injured Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, threw three interceptions in a 20-14 loss Nov. 25 to the Cleveland Browns.
"I'm really proud of the way this group stuck together after that game," Miller said. "I'm sure it would have been easy to look around and start pointing fingers. But, for us, that's never an option. We have a tight group here. A lot of the guys have been together for a long time. We believe in each other."
The Steelers believe in Miller. It's his production, sure, been his production for going on eight NFL seasons. He's third in catches on the franchise's all-time career list, seventh in receiving yards and sixth in touchdowns. But it's also his durability. He missed two games in 2010 with a concussion after taking a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit from Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain, who wasn't penalized on the play but later drew a $40,000 fine from the league. He also missed two games in '08 with an ankle injury. But that's it. He has played in 132 of 136 games, including the postseason, despite punishing anyone who tries to tackle him. A defender had better bring help if he's trying to bring him down.
"Absolutely, he's the best all-around tight end in football," Roethlisberger often has said. "He is a great player, a great teammate, maybe the best I've ever had at any level."
"I'm not sure he's not the best player I've ever been around," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said earlier this season.
It's hard to say Roethlisberger isn't the Steelers' most valuable player. His value never was more apparent than in the past 3 1/2 games, which he missed with a shoulder/rib injury. Safety Ryan Clark also is having a tremendous season on a defense that is playing the best football in the league.
But it wouldn't be wrong to put Miller in the team MVP conversation. Just don't ask him about him, not unless you want to see him take on a pained look. Him? MVP? Please. He'll tell you he's just another player.
That's why Katie Miller is facing a tough challenge.
First Published December 4, 2012 12:00 am