Dalton, Bengals seek elusive win in Baltimore

By Paul Adkins

September 5, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) — Andy Dalton knows what it’s like to walk off the field a winner in Cleveland and Pittsburgh. That other AFC North city? Nothing but dejection.

Dalton’s Bengals have never won in Baltimore.

They’re 0-3 on the Ravens’ home field, where they’ve had some of their worst moments in the last three years. They’ll have a chance for what would amount to a huge breakthrough in their season opener Sunday.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to have another growing step,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said Wednesday. “We’ve talked about it over the years. We’ve had this little step here or that little step there where this team’s continued to improve. But we haven’t won in Baltimore.

“So what a great opportunity for us to go and try to get that milestone out of the way.”

A lot of it will be on their offense.

The Bengals have dropped their last four overall in Baltimore. Dalton and receiver A.J. Green have been around for the last three, which ended up as some of their worst games. Even the few exhilarating moments led to another loss.

Last year, Dalton threw a desperation 51-yard pass that was tipped directly to Green in the end zone, tying it at the end of regulation. One of the great plays in franchise history set up a 20-17 overtime loss.

Green had never played in a game that ended with the emotional swings of that one.

“That’s the first one,” Green said. “We just have to go out there and live in the moment.”

They’ve also lost 31-24 and 44-13 in Baltimore.

Dalton’s 52.2 passer rating for last year’s game was the second-lowest of his three-year career. And his other two games in Baltimore also are low on the list. In the three games overall, Dalton has completed only 53 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, seven interceptions, 11 sacks and a passer rating of 58.7.

“You’ve got to be sharp,” Dalton said. “I think turnovers have been the key in those games. We’ve played a lot of close games there. We just haven’t been able to come out on top.”

The teams swapped the division title the last two years. The Ravens won the division and the Super Bowl during the 2012 season. Last year, the Bengals beat the Ravens 34-17 at Paul Brown Stadium, eliminating them from playoff contention.

“In this league, you see it year to year: You don’t get to hold onto anything very long,” Whitworth said. “We were division champs last year, but I promise you Baltimore doesn’t care about that. We’ve got to go out and win it again this year.

“It’s a great game to start that off and kick it off — two teams that have been good, been to the playoffs and are fighting for the opportunity to be on top.”

A breakthrough in Baltimore would make Cincinnati the clear front-runner.

“It’s big,” Dalton said. “The way the schedule is, they start us off right off the bat with a division opponent. So it does set the tone. It really shows the expectations of what we have here.”

Notes: The Bengals signed rookie WR Tevin Reese to the final spot on their practice squad. Reese was San Diego’s seventh-round pick out of Baylor. He was waived in the final cut. … LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RT Andre Smith (concussion) and RB Cedric Peerman (hip) had full practices Wednesday. Coach Marvin Lewis said a decision on whether Smith can play on Sunday will be made later in the week. … The Bengals have accepted the NFL option of lifting local TV blackouts when 85 percent of their non-premium seats are sold at Paul Brown Stadium. “Sales are not as strong to date as we’d like,” said Andrew Brown, director of ticket sales. “Even under the 85 percent plan, we will need strong sales from this point to get games on TV.”

Steelers need to

get to Browns’ QB

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Get to the quarterback.

That’s the goal this season for Pittsburgh Steelers second-year linebacker Jarvis Jones. It doesn’t matter how he does it, either.

“No matter how you get there, you just have to get there,” Jones said.

The Steelers hope to see just that starting Sunday when they welcome the Cleveland Browns to Heinz Field for their season opener.

Jones displayed flashes during the preseason. He sacked Eli Manning in the first game against the Giants and, in the team’s finale, recovered a fumbled snap that went 15 yards past Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson.

Jones is ready for more against the Browns.

“That’s what we look forward to, being able to play some real football and actually fight for something,” Jones said. “This one right here, Week 1, we’re playing against a top opponent in our division and we can’t afford to start slow.

“You have to be hitting on all cylinders because everything counts from here on out.”

Jones, the No. 17 overall pick in the 2013 draft, carried a reputation for reaching the passer at Georgia, totaling 28 sacks in 26 games, good for third in school history. But he struggled in his rookie season with just one sack, four passes deflected and 41 tackles in 14 games.

“I wasn’t productive and it hurt,” Jones said. “I’m not used to being in that position. Ever since I started playing football in high school, I’ve always been successful.

“It was humbling, but at the same time it makes you work harder. That’s the approach I take.”

Jones has focused more on his mental approach to the game, spending additional time in the film room, studying formations, techniques, tendencies and more. The extra time helps, particularly in a week like this one when Jones will face Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, considered one of the best in the league.

“When you get to the NFL, you’re playing against guys that have been in the league for 10 years,” Jones said. “I think most people try to play this game on the physical side, but it’s the mental side that makes you a Pro Bowler and a Hall of Famer.”

That’s where Jones eventually wants to land. He wants to be mentioned alongside the likes of James Harrison, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year who retired over the weekend fourth in team history with 64 sacks.

“When you look at it, he’s one of the best players to ever play this game,” Jones said. “When you win Defensive Player of the Year in this league it means something.

“When you talk about someone who had 60-plus sacks, defensive player of the league . I got a long way to go and I’m nowhere near there. So for myself I have to continue to work, continue to try and get better and do the things my coaches and teammates ask of me.”

Reaching the quarterback is a big part of the job description and Jones knows it.

“Everybody puts me as a pass rusher, so that’s the main thing everybody wants to see me produce this year,” Jones said.

Jones is ready to answer the call. The disappointments of last season are a distant memory, replaced by the optimism of an impressive preseason and a new start against the Browns on Sunday.

“We got a good defense here and I believe we can be great,” Jones said. “We have a lot to improve on, and that’s going to be there no matter how good you are, but I think we have a great defense. We just have to go out and prove it.”

NOTES: The Steelers will honor former coach Chuck Noll this season with a commemorative decal on the back of their helmets. Noll, the only coach to win four Super Bowls, passed away in June. . The players selected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as offensive captain for the sixth time in his career, while safety Troy Polamalu was voted defensive captain for the first time. Safety Robert Golden and kicker Shaun Suisham are the special teams captains.

Pouncey humbled

by return

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Maurkice Pouncey turned to face the cameras, his elaborately tattooed chest already covered in a fine sheen of sweat.

These are what walkthroughs are like these days for the Pittsburgh Steelers center. Call it part of the maturation process for a player barely a month removed from his 25th birthday. Call it penance for a season lost to injury. Or maybe both.

Only when the game that’s come so easy to him was taken away did Pouncey truly come to appreciate his immense talent. That includes pushing himself during an exercise meant to play like a slow-motion dress rehearsal for the real thing.

Not for Pouncey, who is currently attacking each practice like a man trying to make up for lost time. A year removed from a gruesome knee injury that threatened his career, the three-time Pro Bowler is downright giddy heading into Sunday’s opener against Cleveland.

“I feel like a rookie all over again,” Pouncey said.

In a way, he is.

A new position coach, a new contract and a newly rebuilt right knee have Pouncey earnestly trying to regain the form that made him one of the best players at his position before teammate David DeCastro rolled up on him eight plays into the 2013 season opener against Tennessee.

One second Pouncey was pulling to his left to open a hole for Isaac Redman. The next he was staring up at the sky and screaming in agony, his knee shredded and his teammates in shock. While trainers tended to him, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knelt on the Heinz Field turn a few yards away and covered his eyes in a mixture of shock and disgust.

Surgery and eight grueling months of rehab followed, a process that forced Pouncey to watch from the sideline or on TV while the Steelers slumped to an 0-4 start on their way to a second straight 8-8 season.

Relegated to bystander, Pouncey admits he wasn’t much of a cheerleader. It’s kind of hard to wave a towel when you’re gritting your teeth.

“That was terrible,” Pouncey said. “I can’t imagine what it was like for the guys who were playing, because when you lose games like that — four in a row — everything’s different at work. It’s tough to be there, and nobody has a smile on their face.”

The smiles are back — for now — as the Steelers try to return to the playoffs after two miserable Januarys missing the postseason. And they’ll do it with the athletic, aggressive and still learning Pouncey back as the linchpin for the rest of the offense.

“His actions proved he missed football,” guard Ramon Foster said. “His rehab, his urgency … You can tell being out of football for a year, he kind of treasured the sport a little bit more.”

Any lingering concerns over his knee, which remains stabilized by a thick brace, disappeared at the beginning of training camp when Pouncey found himself mixed up with rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier. Shazier grabbed both sides of Pouncey’s jersey and threw the center to the ground.

Any other time in his football life, and Pouncey would have been furious at getting manhandled. Not this time. In that brief moment, Pouncey understood he could simply go out and play without needing second-by-second feedback from the joint at the base of his massive thighs.

“I was kind of like there it is,” Pouncey said. “I don’t even think about it anymore after that.”

He has looked much like the player who, “has that it factor” as cornerback Ike Taylor put it. New offensive line coach Mike Munchak has modified the blocking schemes a bit to take better advantage of Pouncey’s agility.

At 6-foot-4 and 304 pounds, he is strong enough to take on most defensive linemen and quick enough to seal a linebacker. It’s one of the reasons the Steelers gave him a five-year contract extension worth $44 million in June. They believe he’ll be around awhile.

So does Pouncey, who also understands part of the job description is becoming a leader away from the field. That part is a little tougher. He and brother Mike — who plays for the Miami Dolphins — are facing a civil suit stemming from a nightclub incident in Miami over the summer.

No criminal charges have been filed yet and Pouncey called the accusations “hurtful.” Maybe, but he said he’s trying to be more pragmatic about how he spends his free time. Not that there will be much over the next six months or so. Not with a career to revive and a franchise to lead back to the promised land.

“We definitely need a bounce-back year because we went two years without the playoffs,” he said. “Our bounce-back year should’ve been last year, so we definitely need that to happen this year.”