Steelers hanging around behind resurgent Batch

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Steelers hanging around behind resurgent Batch

PITTSBURGH (AP) Larry Foote has no illusions about the Pittsburgh Steelers catching the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North even after Sunday's emotionally charged 23-20 victory over their bitter rivals.

He doesn't exactly care either.

Sure, homefield in the playoffs - if the Steelers manage to make it - would be nice. But the 32-year-old doesn't believe it's necessary for Pittsburgh to get where it wants to go.

``We've just got to get a ticket,'' Foote said. ``The last few years, the Giants have done it, and Green Bay has done it.''

Heck, so have the Steelers (7-5), who revived their season in a dramatic fourth quarter in which they scored 10 points to snap Baltimore's 15-game home winning streak.

Pittsburgh won three road playoff games on its way to the 2006 Super Bowl, a route it would like have to travel again if the Ravens can maintain their two-game lead over the Steelers and Bengals with a month to go in the season.

It's a cushion Foote doesn't see evaporating.

``I'm sure they're probably going to win the division,'' Foote said. ``I can't see them losing two more games.''

If Foote and the rest of his fellow 30-somethings can continue to muster the toughness they showed while rallying past the Ravens, they might not lose two more games between now and next season, either.

In one of the toughest places in the NFL to play - let alone win - backup quarterback Charlie Batch passed for 276 yards, directed two late scoring drives and played like someone ready to turn 28, not 38.

Linebacker James Harrison and his aching 34-year-old knees strip-sacked Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco to set up the game-tying touchdown and 31-year-old safety Troy Polamalu's presence seemed to energize a defense that lacked the kind of ``splash plays'' that have been the unit's calling card under coordinator Dick LeBeau.

It was a vintage performance few outside the locker room expected.

Not without Ben Roethlisberger, whose sprained right shoulder relegated him to the role of head cheerleader for a third straight week. Not with a patchwork offensive line that included a rookie seventh-round draft pick making his first NFL start. Not with cornerback Ike Taylor going down on the game's second play with an ankle injury so severe he could miss his first game in eight years when the Steelers host San Diego on Sunday.

Yet the Steelers survived anyway, evening the season series with the Ravens and postponing Baltimore's division title plans for at least a week or two.

``We're still alive,'' safety Ryan Clark said. ``But we need some more games like this.''

Pittsburgh just might get them.

The Steelers play three of their final four at home starting with the reeling Chargers (4-8). Roethlisberger is one week closer to getting back on the field, though the offense appears to be in good hands until his return after Batch avoided the three-interception nightmare that cost Pittsburgh so dearly in a loss to Cleveland a week ago.

Save for a late interception - one the defense quickly atoned for - and an overthrow of a wide-open Mike Wallace at the end of the first half, Batch was efficient and poised. He completed 25 of 36 passes, including a touchdown to Heath Miller that tied the game late and was a perfect 5 of 5 on the game-winning drive.

How good was Batch? His 276 yards were the most he's thrown in a game since Nov. 18, 2001 while playing for the Detroit Lions.

To put that in perspective, Roethlisberger was a freshman at Miami (Ohio) the last time Batch had a better day as a pro.

``I've been in the league 15 years,'' Batch said. ``I've been a starter in this league, and the one thing you can't do is dwell on the past. It's a long season, and no matter what, all I can ask for is another opportunity.''

He may get another one next weekend, four days after he turns 38. Batch is the oldest player in a locker room filled with guys closer to the end of their career than the beginning. That experience allows him to play with an even keel that guards against panic when things don't go as planned. It also allows him to summon a sense of urgency when necessary.

Batch had both on a day the Steelers provided a reminder that the core group that's won two Super Bowl rings in the last eight years isn't quite done yet.

``Charlie came in and played the game that we needed him to play today to win,'' Harrison said. ``It's not surprising to us. It may be to you, but not to us.''

While Polamalu's return was quieter, it was no less impactful. The perennial All-Pro has been dogged by a strained right calf that has limited him to all of five quarters before Sunday. He eased his way back in, taking the occasional breather to make sure he didn't overtax himself.

The result was a defense that limited Flacco to 16 of 34 passing for 188 yards and sacked him three times on an afternoon that felt like old times for a bunch of old guys.

``You know (Polamalu) is going to make a big play when it's time,'' nose tackle Casey Hampton said. ``Just to have him down the stretch, we know we're going to need him, because it's time for us to make a run.''

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AFC North: Will Steelers RB Bell stay healthy this season?

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AFC North: Will Steelers RB Bell stay healthy this season?

Here’s a key AFC North question. Will Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell stay healthy?

Bell is without question one of the league’s most talented backs. However, knee injuries have ended his season the past two years, leaving the Steelers without him when they were eliminated from the playoffs.

De’Angelo Williams did a superb job in place of Bell last season, rushing for 907 yards and 11 touchdowns. But Bell is a better pass receiver and more elusive – capable of turning almost any play in to a big play. In 2014, Bell had over 2,000 yards combined from scrimmage – 1,316 yards rushing and 854 yards receiving.

Bell doesn’t want to be labeled as injury-prone, yet some people already view him that way. But at Steelers OTA’s, Bell showed up looking healthy, while vowing not to run cautiously next season.

“I’m going to be physical,” Bell told ESPN.com. “I’m out here with no knee brace or anything, didn’t wear a sleeve or anything. I’ve been training my knee for everything I’m about to go through, so when September gets here I’ll be even better than I am now. That’s even crazy to think about. But I’m excited.”

When Bell has been healthy, putting up numbers has not been a problem. The more Bell plays next season, the better the Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs.

Urschel spends his spring getting straight A's at MIT

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Urschel spends his spring getting straight A's at MIT

If the NFL had an All-Academic team, Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel would be on it.

In February, Urschel began the Ph.D program in mathematics at MIT. How’s he doing so far? Here’s a hint. When it comes to grades, Urschel is only familiar with one letter in the alphabet.

“My first semester in school in nearly three years,” Urschel wroter on Twitter. “Four PhD classes at MIT. Four A’s. The streak continues!!!”

Entering his third season with the Ravens, Urschel has found a way to juggle his love for football with his love for mathematics. He posted an interesting article on The Players Tribune this week in which he described training with the football team at MIT this spring.

“I probably had about 50 or 60 pounds on the biggest guy on MIT’s O-line,” Urschel wrote. “But when we ran, they put me to shame. They could outsprint me.

“What I found is that the team at MIT is no joke. It is a football team – in some ways, more of a football team than any I’d ever seen. These guys love football. They are playing the game because they want to. No one is making them come to practice, no one is checking up on them. They know as well as anyone about head injuries; they know that football is dangerous; they know the feeling of exhaustion and pain. They still play. They don’t do it for money, and they don’t do it for status.

“We talk about dedication and passion in the pros, but the truth is, sometimes the game feels like a job. You start to think of the paycheck. You feel the grind. But training with the team at MIT, I started thinking about what had drawn me to football as a kid. It felt like a game again. I had thought I might have something to teach the team. I never imagined they’d have so much to teach me.”

That guy in the Dos Equis beer commercials might be the most interesting man in the world. But Urschel has built a strong resume as the most interesting player on the Ravens.

RELATED: NFL ANNOUNCES LOCATIONS FOR 2019, 2020 AND 2021 SUPER BOWLS

NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

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NFL announces locations for 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls

The NFL has decided on the locations of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 Super Bowls. The vote took place at the NFL owners meetings in Charlotte on Tuesday. 

Atlanta will host Super Bowl LIII in 2019, while South Florida (Miami) will get the event in 2020 and Los Angeles will host in 2021. 

The cities chosen each included new or upgraded stadiums in their pitches to the league. 

Atlanta will be home to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, opening in 2017. 

Miami's stadium (Sun Life Stadium from 2010-2016) is undergoing a $400 million renovation that will include an open-air canopy to provide shade for 92 percent of seats, according to Sports Illustrated. Construction should be complete before the 2017 season. 

And Los Angeles will boast a new 300-acre, campus-style stadium housing the Rams and potentially a second team. The $2.6 billion project will be the most expensive sports arena in the world, reports CNN, and should be ready before the 2019 NFL season.