Patriots

Patriots-Panthers inactives: Harris out; Hightower, Cannon, Rowe in

cp-spark-patriots-panthers-brady-newton-100117.jpg

Patriots-Panthers inactives: Harris out; Hightower, Cannon, Rowe in

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower, sidelined since Opening Night, is active for Sunday's Patriots-Panthers game, as is offensive lineman Marcus Cannon and defensive back Eric Rowe.

It should be interesting to see where Hightower aligns in the Patriots defense. Will he play on the edge as he did in Week 1? Or will he take his place in the middle of the field and serve as the unit's primary communicator? It could be argued that defensive communication is one of the team's foremost weaknesses through three weeks of the season, and placing Hightower back in that area of the field could help resolve some issues. 

Cornerback roles for the Patriots will be in focus on Sunday as well. In Week 2, when the Patriots took on a pair of tall receivers, Rowe was a starter and Malcolm Butler found himself demoted to the No. 3 role. Will the story be similar as the Patriots prepare to take on Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess? Or will Butler remain a starter after a strong Week 3 performance against the Texans? 

Patriots rookie tight end Jacob Hollister is also active Sunday. He was a late add to the injury report with a knee injury, but he tested it out under the watchful eyes of team medical personnel, as well as Bill Belichick, and was given the OK. Brandon King, another late add to the injury report on Friday, is inactive. 

One noteworthy inactive player for the Patriots is veteran linebacker David Harris. He has found himself down the depth chart for Patriots linebackers, behind Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, and he doesn't play special teams. Add it all together, and if the linebacker unit remains healthy moving forward, his game-day status will probably continue to be tenuous. 

Here's the full Patriots' inactive list for today's game vs. Panthers:

T LaAdrian Waddle
WR Matt Slater
RB Rex Burkhead
OL Cole Croston
LB David Harris
LB Harvey Langi
S Brandon King

The Panthers' inactives:

WR Curtis Samuel
DE Daeshon Hall
CB Daryl Worley
C Ryan Kalil
OT John Theus
QB Brad Kaaya
DE Bryan Cox
 

 

Steelers take a different route, but are on track for showdown with Pats

cp-spark-steelers-antonio-brown-roethlisberger-121117xx.jpg

Steelers take a different route, but are on track for showdown with Pats

Barring South Florida toe-stubbage of 2004 proportions, the Patriots will meet Pittsburgh late next Sunday afternoon in a game to decide who runs the AFC this season.

Then we will learn whether the horseshoe the Steelers have had lodged in their posterior all season was permanently implanted or removable.

Sunday night, the Steelers won their eighth straight. They won it on a field goal in the final minute, as they did against the Bengals the week before and the Packers the week before that and the Colts two weeks before that.

MORE PATRIOTS

They allowed 152 yards rushing, made Joe Flacco look ordinary (that's an upgrade for him this season) and allowed six plays of 20 or more yards. They committed six penalties for 101 yards, blew a 14-0 lead and had to chase the Ravens down from behind. They were on the verge of being closed out all night.

So why weren't they? Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger, like him or not, is a Hall of Fame quarterback. The best-in-the-game-right-now conversation always centers on Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but their late-game Houdini routines aren't more commonplace than Roethlisberger's.

It's just that -- because he looks like he just got up from a two-day bender -- there's a whiff of "Oh, Ben finally woke up . . . ". instead of the awe and reverence Brady and Rodgers inspire. Pittsburgh was 12 for 18 on third down against Baltimore. And that's supposed to be a good defense. Roethlisberger was 44 for 66 for 506 yards. Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards on 18 targets.

Watching Brown, to me, is like watching Steph Curry in a way. When Roethlisberger drops, surveys, then tilts his shoulders so you know he's heaving it down the right sideline, there's an anticipation mixed with certainty that a generally low-percentage heave is going to be complete. To Brown. Who is sublime.

Cris Collinsworth said during the broadcast last night that Brown deserved MVP consideration. I personally have a hard time saying any position aside from the game-directing position of quarterback can truly be more valuable. But Brown deserves Offensive Player of the Year, for sure. Ninety-nine catches for 1,509 yards and nine touchdowns? He has 627 yards and six touchdowns on 39 catches in the last four games as he almost singlehandedly keeps the Steelers in stride with the Patriots.

And that's where the Steelers are. Somehow, despite being on the edge of an upset every week, they are 11-2 and will this week do their, "Lemme at ‘em! Hold me back!" routine when talking about the Patriots.

Which is in contrast to how New England does it. Everything about the Steelers is in contrast to New England. Where Mike Tomlin is all about emotion and swagger and chest-puffing, Bill Belichick is stoic, calculated and clandestine. The Steelers defense is a lead-pipe to the base of the skull, attack, attack, attack. The Patriots defense is quicksand. Looks benign. Still deadly (or at least has been to the last eight opponents). Roethlisberger looks like he has pastrami and cheese on his breath and will probably need a size-54 jacket when he gets to Canton. Brady's breath probably has a whiff of almonds and altoids and will look runway ready when he's inducted in 2031.

And the fanbases? You cannot help but enjoy the passion of each but they are both -- by and large -- condescending, easily offended and entitled. Which makes the runup to a game like this even better.

All the Patriots have to do is take care of business in Miami tonight and then full attention can go to the Steelers. And it should be a helluva week.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Steelers lock up AFC North with 39-38 win over Ravens

steelers_ravens_antonio_brown_121017.jpg

Steelers lock up AFC North with 39-38 win over Ravens

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier was everywhere. His helmet rested on the Pittsburgh Steelers' bench. His jersey too. His face and #Shalieve stitched on specially-designed cleats. His familiar No. 50 printed in white in the middle of a gold circle on T-shirts worn by teammates searching for a way to let Shazier know he is never far from their mind as he recovers from a spinal injury that put the linebacker's blossoming career in jeopardy.

Shazier may never play football again. That doesn't make him any less of a Steeler. And the men who have taken so much from him over the last three-plus years decided it was time they gave him something back in return: the AFC North title he ordered them to lock down without him.

Chris Boswell made a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left and Pittsburgh's defense overcame a shaky night without their most dynamic player to shut down Baltimore's last-gasp drive and hold on for a 39-38 victory on Sunday night to capture their third division title in the last four years.

"We are riding with that guy," head coach Mike Tomlin said of Shazier. "He is strong. He is strengthening us."

Looked like it.

The Steelers (11-2) trailed by 11 points going into the fourth quarter but capped an emotionally draining week to rally for their eighth straight victory, one they couldn't wait to share with Shazier, who joined the giddy postgame celebration via Facetime.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to top 500 yards passing three times. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, including two long gains in the fourth quarter that allowed the Steelers to recover after blowing an early 14-point lead. Le'Veon Bell had 125 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns .

"We can win a shootout against anybody," Bell said. "I feel like we can score points whenever we need to."

Good thing, because Pittsburgh might have to. The Ravens (7-6) rolled up 414 yards against the NFL's fourth-ranked defense and recovered from a slow start to score on five consecutive drives and six out of seven to take a 38-29 lead on Javorius Allen's second touchdown with 6:44 left.

Not much time against most teams. Far too much against the Steelers.

Roethlisberger and Brown, who is mounting a legitimate MVP candidacy, hooked up on a 57-yard connection set up an 11-yard sprint by Bell with 3:29 to go. The Steelers forced the Ravens into a three-and-out and Roethlisberger calmly led Pittsburgh within field goal range, including a 34-yard lob down the sideline to Brown that set up Boswell's winner.

Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw for 269 yards passing with two touchdowns and one interception but was strip-sacked by rookie linebacker T.J. Watt on the Ravens' final snap.

"This one hurts," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We lose to them the same way we did last year. This one sucks, but we've got to get over it. Yeah, this one's going to hurt but it's best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out there's a good chance we'll be in (the playoffs)."

Shazier, who's been in the hospital since injuring his spine in the first quarter of last week's victory over Cincinnati, told his teammates to finish the work he helped start. Even as they celebrated an important step in a journey they hope will carry them deep into the postseason, they were making plans to keep Shazier involved, starting with a late-night trip to the hospital to deliver him his AFC North champions' swag.

"We are going to give him the hat and T-shirt tonight," good friend and fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams said.

When someone mentioned visitor's hours were probably over, Williams repeated "tonight." Then, it was home to rest before preparing for a showdown with New England next Sunday.

"That's the crazy part about the NFL, things constantly change and you've got to keep rolling," Williams said. "So you've got to find a way to roll with the punches even though it may be a haymaker, got to find a way to recover."

HONORING SHAZIER

Linebacker James Harrison took to the field shirtless during warmups even as temperatures hovered in the low-30s, a nod to one of Shazier's pregame rituals. When Roosevelt Nix drilled Moore on the opening kickoff, Nix lifted his jersey to show the T-shirt most of the Steelers wore at some point during the night.

BRING ON THE PATS

The Steelers fell to New England in a one-sided loss in the AFC championship game 10 months ago. They're not exactly intimidated by the prospect of facing Tom Brady and company.

"You act like they're coming in with Kryptonite, Superman and Batman and Avatars and stuff," Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey said. "Heck yeah, it's a regular football game, what do you mean? We're going to go out there, tackle the football and run the football."

UP NEXT

Ravens: Visit winless Cleveland next Sunday. Baltimore beat the Browns 24-10 on Sept. 17.

Steelers: Will try to beat Brady and New England for the first time since 2011 next Sunday.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE