Steelers Notebook: Another early exit disturbs DE Smith
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Aaron Smith did not take much time to celebrate with his teammates in the winning locker room here. As many of them talked to reporters after they improved to 5-2, Smith walked resolutely past them on his way to the team bus.
His season is over, and at 35 his career may have ended too. He needs neck surgery, a development that only recently was discovered while he sat out the previous three weeks with a foot injury.
Smith did not want to talk about his future, he did not want to talk about much. He apologized for that and offered a few brief words about the news that, for the third consecutive year, his season ended early and abruptly.
"Just disappointed, that's about it," said Smith, who was limited to 11 games combined in 2009 and 2010 because of arm injuries and subsequent surgeries. "You work hard, circumstances change and it doesn't work out."
Smith's last game was Oct. 2 in Houston. A sprained foot kept him out, then doctors recently ran tests on a sore neck that will require surgery.
"He was experiencing some discomfort and pain," coach Mike Tomlin explained. "He thought it was a function of playing. Once he hurt his ankle, he thought it would calm down but it didn't. He consulted with our doctors and let them know what he was experiencing. They evaluated it and looked at it and determined that it needs to be fixed."
Ziggy Hood, the team's 2009 first-round draft choice, made his fifth start of the season Sunday, the third start at Smith's position, left end. The job is now his.
"I'm going to dedicate this season for him," Hood said.
Receiver Antonio Brown had the most productive day of his career with seven receptions for 102 yards, one of eight receivers who caught passes from Ben Roethlsiberger Sunday.
"It's a blessing," Brown said. "I want to thank Ben for delivering all those balls to me. I owe it all to him."
Brown's first 100-yard game wasn't the only significant event that occurred on Sunday. Consider these:
• Heath Miller, with four catches, passed Hall of Famer Franco Harris for sixth in Steelers history with 308 career receptions.
• Roethlisberger made it 15 consecutive regular-season games with at least 200 yards passing, his career high.
• Besides the longest pass reception in team history at 95 yards, Mike Wallace has caught a pass of 40 yards or longer in six consecutive games, the longest such streak in the NFL since Isaac Bruce had six in 2000. He and Roethlisberger have teamed for 11 touchdown passes of 40 yards or longer, and Wallace has 13 in his three-year career.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley had 11/2 sacks through the first four games and has had 5 1/2 in his past three for a team high 7. His two at Arizona tied him with Dwight White for eighth in franchise history with 46 career sacks.
But it's the one he didn't get that disappointed him.
He had Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb locked up in the Cardinals' end zone when Kolb pitched the ball away. Officials called intentional grounding on the play and the penalty in the end zone brings an automatic safety.
Had Kolb not committed the penalty, Woodley would have had his third sack and scored two points to boot.
"They robbed me, huh? Ahhhh, they robbed me. Well, we got the safety. The defense put some points on the board, so there was a positive out of that."
A former Pitt star caught a 73-yard touchdown pass for the Cardinals, but it wasn't All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It was reserve running back LaRod Stephens-Howling. His catch-and-run cut the Steelers' lead to 17-14 with 9:26 left in the third quarter.
"Boy, he is a talent," the Steelers Tomlin said.
Stephens-Howling was thrilled to get the touchdown against the Steelers defense. "They play their scheme well. They are flying around the field. It feels like they are everywhere."
Stephens-Howling hardly was in the mood to celebrate after the loss, the fifth in row for the Cardinals (1-5), who were coming off their open week. "We thought would take this bye week and start a new season," he said. "Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way for us. We just have to keep our heads up and keep pushing. There still is a lot of season left."
Fitzgerald, who had four catches for 78 yards, on the losing streak and how to prevent a "here we go again" attitude in the Arizona locker room:
"I never allow that to happen. I don't allow stinking thinking to set in. I know there are a lot of guys that it happens to. We haven't had great success for years, but we can't allow that to get into our minds. All we can do is keep working. That's the recipe for getting out of the funk. We need to put together one good practice after another and fight our way out of it."
Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham, who made only seven of his 11 field-goal attempts in the first six games, had a big day. He was successful from 41, 42 and 39 yards.
With Sunday's victory, the Steelers have won seven of their past eight and 25 of their last 30 games against the National Football Conference teams. They've also won nine or their last 12 road games.
In their first seven games, the Steelers have not allowed a 100-yard-plus performance by an opposing receiver nor a 300-yard-plus performance by an opposing quarterback.
The Steelers were penalized a season-high nine times one week after drawing eight penalties against Jacksonville. They had not had more than six penalties in any of the season's first five games.
• Roethlisberger limped around the locker room with ice on his left knee, which he said was bent backward in the fourth quarter. He stayed in the game but said he will have more tests on the knee today.
• Wide receiver Hines Ward left the game in the third quarter with a sprained ankle and did not return.
"We will see where he is as the week goes on," Tomlin said. "Hines always finds a way to defy logic, if you will, when it comes to injury and so forth. So we will definitely leave a seat on the bus for him."
• Arizona halfback Beanie Wells left the game with a sprained ankle and did not return.
First Published October 24, 2011 12:00 am