Steelers Notebook: Pass-happy Hines Ward makes his 800th catch
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The hits for Hines Ward just keep on coming, but the highlights yesterday weren't more bruising blocks thrown on unsuspecting foes by the Steelers' No. 1 wide receiver.
Ward hit three more milestones yesterday: He caught his 81st pass of the season for 1,043 yards, and the 800th reception of his career, and it marked the fifth time he has topped 80 receptions and 1,000 yards in his career, and first since 2004.
Ward's 800th catch, in the fourth quarter, came on rookie quarterback Dennis Dixon's first pass completion in the NFL, for 3 yards. His 800 catches extend his Steelers record, once held by Hall of Famer John Stallworth at 537. Louis Lipps at 358 and Hall of Famer Lynn Swann at 336 are next.
"That's a lot of catches, man," Ward said. "Eight hundred catches for this organization means a great deal to me.
"I didn't come into this league saying that's something I want to achieve, 800, but it's definitely an honor to catch 800 balls for this prestigious organization and be on top of the leader board and pass guys like Swann and Stallworth and have my name mentioned with those guys."
The Steelers have off today and will begin preparations for their first-round playoff game tomorrow. They will practice three consecutive days, including New Year's, and then have off Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
As the AFC's No. 2 seed, they will play at 4:45 p.m. Jan. 11 at Heinz Field against the second-lowest seed that survives this weekend's two AFC playoff games. No. 1 Tennessee will play the lowest seed that advances at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 10.
"We're ready," linebacker Larry Foote said. "We're going to take this week off and enjoy it."
Foote meant they will take the weekend off, because he knows that coach Mike Tomlin made them work every day but their regular Tuesday off day last week, including Christmas Day. This, even though yesterday's game meant nothing to their playoff standing.
"Mike Tomlin got us practicing on Christmas!" Foote said in a joking manner. "That's probably why this game was so lopsided, because we were upset because we had to practice on Christmas and we had to take it out on the Browns."
Willie Parker's 116 yards rushing boosted his total to 791 yards, his first under 1,000 since his rookie season of 2004, when he played little. It also was the lowest to lead the Steelers since Amos Zereoue's 762 in 2002.
It's been a frustrating, injury-plagued season for Parker, who missed five full games and parts of two others because of injuries to his knee and shoulder.
That's why, after he scored on a 34-yard run on the team's longest run of the season, he threw one of the game's longest passes -- it went deep into the lower section of the North end zone. He then pounded his chest.
"You know how it is," Parker said. "It hasn't been going my way this year. I was a little frustrated and the touchdown kind of relieved a lot of stress.
"It's been a loooong time. That's just out of frustration and that's the first thing that came to mind -- I just chucked the ball into the stands."
Byron Leftwich completed 7 of 12 passes for 80 yards and ran 8 yards for a touchdown in relief of injured Ben Roethlisberger, who left with a concussion 32 seconds before halftime.
It was the first time Leftwich played since he replaced Roethlisberger at halftime in Washington Nov. 3 when the starter's right shoulder was re-injured while scoring a 1-yard run.
"I just try to go through my reads and get the ball to the right guy," Leftwich said. "My job as a quarterback is to drop back, go through my reads and get the ball to the right guy."
Several hundred people showed up at the Steelers' annual locker-room blood drive Friday, many after reading a Post-Gazette column detailing the struggles of 5-year-old Elijah Smith -- son of defensive end Aaron Smith -- who was diagnosed with leukemia in October. "I almost cried when I walked in and saw all of those people," said Smith, who stopped by the locker room after practice to thank donors. "I love this city. It never ceases to amaze me."
Added defensive end Brett Keisel, who also stopped by to shake some hands and pose for some pictures, "It was very emotional. There were people everywhere, all over the room. They were lined up to get in the door. I've never seen anything like it. What a great thing for this city and for Aaron."
Even though the game meant nothing to the Steelers' playoffs seeding, Mike Tomlin played his starters into the fourth quarter to keep them sharp. But he appeared to be surprised when safety Troy Polamalu went out with a lot of reserves for a Browns' possession that started with 8:43 left. He immediately called a timeout to get him out.
"Quite honestly, no one told me not to go back in," Polamalu said. "[Tomlin] told me I was done for the day. I said, 'Ah, please ... ' He said no way."
• Linebacker James Harrison missed his first game since he became a starter last season. After not practicing all week because of a hip pointer, he did not suit up. Lawrence Timmons started in his place, the second start of his career.
• The Steelers had three sacks -- Bryant McFadden, Andre Frazier and one shared by Travis Kirschke and Chris Hoke -- to raise their team total to 51, most since they tied their team record of 55 in 2001.
• Jeff Reed scored seven points to give him 733 in his career, moving him into second place ahead of Roy Gerela on the team's scoring list. Gary Anderson is the career leader with 1,343 points.
Steelers -- No. 3 QB Dennis Dixon, S Ryan Clark, CB Fernando Bryant, LB Bruce Davis, OT Tony Hills, OT Jason Capizzi, DT Scott Paxson, LB James Harrison.
Cleveland Browns -- DB Travis Daniels, S Hamza Abdullah, TE Kellen Winslow, TE John Madsen, TE Darnell Dinkins, WR Paul Hubbard, LB Leon Williams, DL Santonio Thomas.
First Published December 29, 2008 12:00 am