Steelers Notebook: Ward reaches 12,000-yard milestone
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Hines Ward has seen his role in the Steelers offense diminish over the course of this season, but the 14-year veteran once again took center stage Sunday.
Ward led the team with five catches totaling 30 yards in the win against Cincinnati. His second reception put him at 12,008 yards for his career. He is the first Steelers receiver to reach the mark and just the 19th player in NFL history.
The catch that put him over 12,000 was, fittingly, a 12-yard pass over the middle. It's the kind of route that has defined Ward's time with the Steelers.
" Mike [ Wallace ] was teasing me on the sidelines, saying 'Not bad for a lot of option routes and choice routes,'" Ward said. "That's a lot of passes, considering I don't really go deep all the time."
Ward said Wallace, Antonio Brown and the other Steelers receivers were some of his biggest supporters when he reached the milestone.
"The guy's a class act," Wallace said. "He's humble. He doesn't cry when he doesn't get the ball. His role has decreased a little bit, he doesn't cry about that. I'm always happy for him to see things go his way."
Ward was in the game for 20 plays against the Bengals. The past two contests he was on the field for just nine and 16 snaps, respectively.
Ward also became just the third player with 12,000 receiving yards and multiple Super Bowl championships. The other two -- Jerry Rice and Art Monk -- are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Ward also inched closer to another milestone Sunday. After his five catches, Ward is 10 away from becoming the eighth player in NFL history with 1,000 career receptions.
"To go over 12,000 yards, do it at home and to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, today was a trifecta," Ward said. "It was an all-around good day."
The Steelers received three big plays from the special teams Sunday -- two of which they hadn't gotten in a while.
First, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward blocked Mike Nugent 's 33-yard field-goal attempt on the Bengals' first drive of the game. It was the first time the Steelers had blocked a field-goal attempt since Aaron Smith did so against the Tennessee Titans in the 2009 season opener.
"I'm not going to sit up here and tell you I meant to do it," Heyward said with a smile. "I was just in the right place at the right time."
The kickoff coverage unit came up with the next big play, forcing a fumble after the Steelers' first touchdown. Stevenson Sylvester knocked the ball loose from Cincinnati returner Brandon Tate and Emmanuel Sanders recovered. The Steelers extended their lead to 14-0 three plays later.
Finally, Antonio Brown put the game away with a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the second quarter. It was the Steelers' first punt return for a score since Santonio Holmes took one back against the Chargers in the 2008 playoffs.
With his 15 completions, Ben Roethlisberger moved to 2,026 all time, passing Terry Bradshaw 's team record of 2,025.
Bradshaw set his mark in 14 seasons with the team, while Roethlisberger is in just his eighth year in the league.
"It's obviously an awesome honor," Roethlisberger said. "I didn't know anything about it until everyone came up to me. Anytime you break a guy like that's record it's a great thing."
Running back Rashard Mendenhall also moved up in the franchise record books. His first touchdown of the game was the 27th rushing score of his career, moving him to fifth place all time in Steelers history and passing John Henry Johnson and Barry Foster . Mendenhall has scored 15 rushing touchdowns in his past 17 games.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley made his first appearance since Week 8 after missing three games with a hamstring injury, but left after the fifth play of the Steelers' second defensive series in the first quarter.
Woodley said his hamstring just felt "fatigued" and that he could have gone back in had the game been closer. Jason Worilds , who started the past three games in place of Woodley, replaced him.
"I wasn't expecting to go out there and play the whole game any ways just because it's my first game back and we didn't want to do anything to pull the hamstring," Woodley said.
Woodley said he expects to be ready to go for Thursday night's game against Cleveland.
Starting right guard Ramon Foster went down with a left ankle sprain in the third quarter and did not return. He was replaced by Trai Essex . Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he wasn't sure whether or not Foster would be able to play against the Browns.
The Steelers honored three local high school teams during the third quarter.
WPIAL Class A champion Clairton, WPIAL Class AAA champion Montour and City League champion University Prep were all shown on the jumbotron at Heinz Field.
Later in the game, the WPIAL got even more exposure, this time on the field. When starting quarterbacks Roethlisberger and Andy Dalton left the game late in the fourth quarter, they were replaced by Charlie Batch and Bruce Gradkowski , both former WPIAL quarterbacks.
Batch graduated from Steel Valley in 1992; Gradkowski from Seton-LaSalle in 2001.
Penalties ravaged the Bengals all day. In all, they were called for 10 penalties for 109 yards. Conversely, the Steelers were called for four penalties and 29 yards.
But it was a pass interference call on Bengals safety Chris Crocker in the second quarter that might have been the killer for Cincinnati.
With the Steelers up, 7-0, and the ball at their 35, Roethlisberger went deep down the middle to Wallace. Crocker was called for interference on the play, and the ball was placed at the Cincinnati 20.
The Steelers scored three plays later.
"We got a big pass interference penalty down the middle of the field on a ball that wasn't catchable," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Crocker agreed: "I touched him, but I thought it was uncatchable. But what can you do? You have to keep playing."
The Bengals lost the game in the second quarter, when the Steelers outscored them, 28-7.
That's nothing new for this year's Bengals, though. Counting Sunday's game, Cincinnati has been outscored, 119-39, in the second quarter.
"I don't know what it is," Dalton said of the team's poor second quarter play this season. "I think we've got to start faster and continue playing in the second quarter, and we've got to change that around for the last four games."
The Steelers' inactives were quarterback Dennis Dixon , linebacker Larry Foote , linebacker Chris Carter , defensive end Al Woods , offensive tackle Jamon Meredith , nose tackle Chris Hoke and wide receiver Arnaz Battle .
The Bengals' inactives were cornerback Nate Clements , linebacker Dontay Moch , offensive lineman Clint Boling , tight end Donald Lee , wide receiver Ryan Whalen , defensive lineman Pat Sims and defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap .
First Published December 5, 2011 12:00 am