INTERCONFERENCE: Roethlisberger, Bell lead Steelers over Vikings, 26-9


INTERCONFERENCE: Roethlisberger, Bell lead Steelers over Vikings, 26-9

PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes, Le'Veon Bell ran for 87 yards and the Pittsburgh Steelers kept the Minnesota Vikings in check during a 26-9 victory on Sunday.

Roethlisberger hit Martavis Bryant for a 27-yard score in the first quarter and flipped a shovel pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster that the rookie turned into a 4-yard score . Roethlisberger finished 23 of 35 for 243 yards and the two scores as the Steelers (2-0) improved to 10-1 in home openers under Mike Tomlin.

Minnesota (1-1) played without quarterback Sam Bradford, who sat out with a left-knee injury. Case Keenum struggled to get anything going in Bradford's absence, throwing for just 167 yards on 20 of 35 passing.

Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook ran for 64 yards, but Minnesota failed to generate any real momentum against Pittsburgh's rejuvenated defense.

Pittsburgh's "Killer B" offense didn't exactly light it up in Cleveland in a methodical Week 1 victory. Head coach Mike Tomlin pointed to marked improvement in Week 2 and while the fireworks most expected did not materialize, Bryant and Bell both took significant steps forward.

Bryant caught three passes for 90 yards, including his first touchdown in 20 months and also drew a pass interference penalty that set up Smith-Schuster's score. Both Steeler wide receivers took advantage of the NFL's relaxed celebration rules, imitating rolling dice while being surrounded by teammates.

Bell was limited to just 13 touches against the Browns, something Tomlin attributed more to spotty play around Bell rather than his extended sabbatical following an offseason contract impasse. The workload was significantly heavier in Bell's second week back. He ran the ball 27 times and added three receptions for two yards. While his longest play was only an 11-yard run, he helped the Steelers run the clock in the second half to protect their sizeable lead.

Last week, Minnesota's offense looked efficient with Bradford running things in an easy opening victory over New Orleans. Bradford tweaked his left knee during the game.

Enter Keenum, who went 9-15 as a starter with Houston and the Rams before signing on with Minnesota. The Vikings offensive line had trouble giving Keenum time in the pocket, and the results were often checkdowns that went nowhere.

Minnesota's only touchdown came on a 1-yard plunge by fullback C.J. Ham that drew the Vikings within 17-9 early in the third quarter. Kai Forbath missed the extra point and Pittsburgh responded with a 10-play, 74-yard drive that ended with the second of Chris Boswell's four field goals with 4:59 left in the third. The Vikings never threatened again.


A week after racking up 13 penalties in Cleveland, the Steelers weren't much cleaner against the Vikings, though Minnesota wasn't any better. The Steelers drew 10 flags for 72 yards while the Vikings were penalized 11 times for 131 yards, including a pair of pass interference calls in the first half that set up Roethlisberger touchdown passes.


Steelers: Rookie linebacker T.J. Watt left in the second quarter with a groin injury and did not return. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva exited in the third quarter with "heat-related issues" but returned in the fourth. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert sat out most of the fourth quarter with cramps.


Vikings: Host Tampa Bay next Sunday.

Steelers: Travel to Chicago to face the winless Bears.

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

'Leprechaun' Gronk dropping more hints about future plans - sort of

Rob Gronkowski, decked out in his finest St. Patrick's Day duds over the weekend in Nashville, reportedly tried to shed some light on his NFL future.

Of course, while Gronk was doing Gronk things, he told a Patriots fan one thing and a reporter another.

Breech is an NFL writer for His father is former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jim Breech. And the "69ers" aren't a real team.


AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

AFC East is starting to prepare for post-Brady life

The Patriots' "direction" never really changes. They're always "going for it" because they're always one of the best teams in the league. 

The rest of the AFC East is usually in flux. The other teams range from hoping for 8-8 to trying to bottom out in hopes of a high draft pick. Yet right now, it seems the stars are aligning and that the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all have the mindset: Change things now and be ready to pounce once Brady is gone. 

The Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, assuring themselves a chance at one of this draft's top quarterbacks. The Bills, with picks Nos. 12 and 22, are expected by pundits to make a similar move up. The Dolphins, fresh off cutting bait with Ndamukong Suh in an attempt at a culture change, have the 11th pick and could use it on a quarterback to either push or replace Ryan Tannehill. 

None of the three teams are close to pushing the Patriots as long as Brady's around, even with the Bills coming off a season in which they reached the playoffs. Yet there's a two-or-three-year plan on which all three teams could have designs: Get the quarterback now, build around him and be in a good situation by the time Brady is done. 

We've seen these teams try to rebuild before during the Brady Era, with only limited success. Mark Sanchez worked out better in New York than anyone could have initially expected, but that success lasted way shorter than any believers could have hoped. Now, it seems they try again. 

Over in Buffalo, the end of the Tyrod Taylor era hardly means the beginning of the Nathan Peterman era. Those two first-rounders should easily be able to get the Bills into the top five, and they've also got two second-rounders and two third-rounders. Hell, they have the pieces to get to No. 1 if Cleveland is bold enough to pass on their choice of Darnold/Rosen/Allen/Mayfield. 

The Dolphins are in the more interesting spot. Tannehill missed all of last season and he's 29. If you're six years into your career and your team still isn't totally sure if you can be one of the better QBs in the league, you probably aren't one of the better QBs in the league. At the very least, Lamar Jackson should be there at No. 11. They could also trade up. 

At the start of last season, the Patriots had far and away the two best QBs in the AFC East. Now, it stands to reason that at least two of their divisional opponents (the Jets and Bills) will come away with what they hope are franchise quarterbacks. And if any of these guys hit, the Pats will have gone from the best QB situation in the NFL to seeing some actual competition waiting for them by the time their own quarterback is done. 

Of course, all three of these teams usually suck at everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal.