Patriots

SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Steelers lean on D, Smith-Schuster in 20-15 win over Lions

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SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Steelers lean on D, Smith-Schuster in 20-15 win over Lions

DETROIT -- JuJu Smith-Schuster made an inside move like a veteran and used his young legs to do the rest.

The rookie receiver scored on a 97-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger late in the third quarter, and the Pittsburgh Steelers forced the Detroit Lions to turn the ball over on downs twice in a 20-15 win Sunday night.

Smith-Schuster, selected No. 62 overall out of Southern California, had season highs with seven receptions for 193 yards.

"A lot of people said, `He's young, he's immature,'" Smith-Schuster said. "I'm 20 years old, but when I'm on the field, playing with my boys, I'm going to get the job done."

Smith-Schuster also knows how to have a little fun. When he got to the sideline after his touchdown, he put a chain that he purchased Sunday on a stationary bike, making light of his bike being stolen and recovered recently.

"He's a little kid, excited for the moment," veteran defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "You appreciate the energy he brings. Us old farts don't know how to deal with it sometimes, but I'm glad we got him."

Roethlisberger is, too, because he has a reliable receiver to go to when Antonio Brown is covered and Martavis Bryant is pouting.

His last catch converted a third-and-1 from the Steelers 32, allowing them to run out the clock.

"He's not playing like a rookie," Roethlisberger said. "He's playing like a seasoned veteran."

The AFC North-leading Steelers (6-2) go into their bye week with a three-game winning streak.

"We weren't perfect, obviously, but boy we showed fight," coach Mike Tomlin said.

Pittsburgh's defense put up a curtain in front of it end zone, forcing the Lions to settle for field goals. When they went for touchdowns, the Steelers stopped them.

Detroit coach Jim Caldwell chose to go for it on fourth down from the Steelers 1 trailing by one in the third quarter. Matthew Stafford was sacked as he stepped up out of a collapsing pocket and tried to run up the middle.

"Just as I thought I could do something, I got hit," Stafford said.

A snap after missing wide-open tight end Jesse James on the ensuing drive, Roethlisberger dropped back into his end zone and perfectly lofted a pass to Smith-Schuster. The rookie receiver ran for about 70 yards after the catch, running past cornerback Quandre Diggs and pulling away from safety Glover Quin on his way to the end zone.

"I told him I didn't know he had that much speed," Roethlisberger recalled. "He said he didn't, either."

Matt Prater kicked his fifth field goal on the next possession after Caldwell didn't want to go for it on another fourth down from the Pittsburgh 1, drawing boos from a crowd that included a lot of black-and-yellow clad, towel-twirling fans cheering for the visitors.

"We tried to be aggressive the first time," Caldwell said. "And then it was later in the game, so we kicked it. We gave ourselves a chance to win the game."

Then, receiver Golden Tate gave it away.

Detroit got the ball back with a chance to drive for a go-ahead TD, but Tate blew it with an unforced fumble at the Steelers 24.

"It just slipped," Tate said. "It was just a bad play by me."

The Lions' defense forced Pittsburgh to punt again and they failed to take advantage. After the 2-minute warning, Stafford threw an incomplete pass from the Pittsburgh 8.

"Our red zone defense was amazing," Heyward said.

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Detroit had the third-highest yardage total without a TD, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com data dating back to 1940. The Lions had 482 yards, trailing only Cincinnati's 496 yards against Seattle in 1994 and San Francisco's 501 against Washington in 1986.

The Lions (3-4) were coming off their bye and lost for the fourth time in five games.

TAKE A SEAT

Bryant was inactive after his social media outburst following a victory over Cincinnati last weekend. Tomlin was asked if he was confident whether Bryant will help the team later this season.

"I'm not," Tomlin said.

THROUGH THE AIR

Brown, blanketed for much of the night by cornerback Darius Slay, had five catches for 70 yards.

TJ Jones, drafted by Detroit in 2014, had career highs with four receptions and 88 yards. Marvin Jones had six receptions for 128 yards for the Lions, who moved the ball well until they got deep into Pittsburgh territory.

INJURIES

Steelers: S Mike Mitchell hurt his right ankle, and was replaced by Robert Golden. ... OL Chris Hubbard was evaluated for a concussion.

Lions: RB Dwayne Washington left the game with a concussion. ... OT Rick Wagner went out with an ankle injury, and was able to return.

UP NEXT

Steelers: Idle until playing Nov. 12 at Indianapolis.

Lions: Play at Green Bay on Monday, Nov. 6.

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Cooks thanks Patriots for AFC championship ring in Instagram post

Cooks thanks Patriots for AFC championship ring in Instagram post

While Brandin Cooks' tenure with the Patriots was a short one, he's still "forever grateful" for his opportunity to play in New England.

The wide receiver thanked the Patriots while showing off his AFC championship ring in an Instagram post.

Cooks was huge in the AFC Championship Game, racking up six receptions for 100 yards in the Patriots' 24-20 victory over the Jaguars.

The Pats traded Cooks to the Rams in April in a package that sent a first-round draft pick to New England, which turned into offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn.

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Curran: Oprah interview underscores Brady's wavering devotion to football

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Curran: Oprah interview underscores Brady's wavering devotion to football

The money quote from the first episode of Tom vs. Time caused massive swooning in the right-hand corner of the country.

“If you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life,” warned Tom Brady. “Because I’m willing to give up mine.”

New England had to collectively lean against the headboard and smoke a cigarette after that.

“The guy’s got everything anyone could want and he’ll put it all on the back burner for football? And, by extension, for me, since I prefer to consume the football his team plays? Hold me . . . ”

Nobody knew then the unspoken sentences after that sentiment would have sounded like this . . . 

"But I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be willing to give up my life.

"Hell, I have three kids. They aren’t just little balls of flesh with eyes and mouths anymore, they are needy miniature humans. My wife is pretty much all set with me getting dropped out a two-story window every week and coming home in a crap mood when some 23-year-old who thinks he’s arrived runs the wrong route at practice for the 233rd time since August.

"I get paid half the dough of players half as good as me.  My boss has been wearing my ass out for almost two decades and when I try to get everyone to understand that, ‘Hey, there might be a different approach to training that’s worked great for me . . . ’ I’m Benedict Arnold. And sorry for being 40 and thinking about the rest of my life after football, advancing the ‘brand’ and not playing Fortnite. So giving up my life . . . I don’t know. Maybe next year I just try to give up a big portion of my life instead of the whole thing and see how that works out."

MORE BRADY/OPRAH

That version of Tom Brady was right there. Right under the surface. The guy attached to another adult male by giant rubber bands so he could drag him around the backyard of a $5 million (or whatever) mansion while wearing a helmet and shoulder pads may actually have realized, “This seems odd.”

Judging from Brady’s 45-minute interview with Orpah Winfrey that aired Sunday, and a slew of other occasions this offseason, Tom Brady’s just not that into it the way he was.

I think you’d call the “give up my life” quote a case of whistling past the graveyard. Brady knew when he chest-puffed about sacrifice that there was an expiration date on that, but he didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Why? Horrible for the brand. Better to appear as if every cell in the organism was swimming  toward the same goal of domination without a single one of them saying, “Are you sure we’re going the right way?”

You could also call that quote a bait-and-switch. Brady’s entitled to be a complete human -- encouraged, even. But the 180 from the first episode of TvT to this offseason is nothing anyone could have anticipated based on the propaganda served. We’ve gotten a steady diet of mixed messages from Brady and those around him and responses that -- in their delivery -- invite more speculation than they douse.

With Oprah, Brady again tentatively pointed out that real life has increasingly encroached on football.

MORE BRADY/OPRAH

Asked about retirement, he answered, “I think about it more now than I used to. I think I’m seeing there’s definitely an end coming sooner, rather than later. As long as I’m still loving it. As long as I’m loving the training and the preparation and willing to make the commitment.

“But it’s also, I think what I alluded to a lot in the docuseries, there’s other things happening in my life, too,” Brady added. “I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games . . . my kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

Gotham Chopra, who produced TvT, was the first to declare Brady as being year-to-year. Then, soon after, Brady’s agent Don Yee told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, "Tom's intentions have not changed. He's consistently said he'll play beyond this contract and into his mid-40s, or until he feels he isn't playing at a championship level. I understand the constant speculation, but this is one point he's been firm about."

Oprah, who despite the Harry Caray glasses just doesn’t seem that much fun anymore, did ask Brady if there is “something going on” with Bill Belichick.

Brady answered, “Umm . . . no. I mean, I love him. I love that he is an incredible coach, mentor for me. He’s pushed me in a lot of ways. Like everything, we don’t agree on absolutely everything, but that’s relationships.”

The “ummmm . . . ” and averted eyes spoke a lot louder than the “no.”

MORE BRADY/OPRAH

If you asked your kid, “Son, didn’t you see this pile of dog crap on the rug?” and he answered, “Ummmm . . . no . . . ” while looking away, you’d tell him to clean up the dog crap he tried to pretend he hadn’t seen.

There’s no sense turning this into another “Ah HA!” moment about there being friction. You all get it by now. I'm instead pointing it out because it’s another example of the dissembling Brady’s done this offseason, where he indicates one thing and then walks it back in the next breath.

If there is one spin-it-forward takeaway from this it might be this: Given his devotion to understatement, saying the end is coming "sooner rather than later" makes me wonder if my long-held belief Brady would retire after 2019 has to be reconsidered as being a year too aggressive. 

How was the interview overall? Fine, I guess. The two standout parts for me were actually from Oprah. The first came when she admitted being amazed that there was more depth to Brady than the person she’s seen playing football.

“Gee,” she noted, outing herself as one of a dwindling number of “gee” users. “Watching you play football, I wouldn’t have thought of you as a spiritual person or that spirituality was a kind of thing you were seeking or conscious about.”

Holy crap. It would be fun to be a speck in the Oprah universe, say a plumber fixing a drain and then mentioning aloud how much you like jazz.  

“You’re my plumber,” Oprah would say, “But you also think about things other than faucets and drains. Gee.”

The second came when Brady gave some fortune-cookie wisdom passed on to him by Gisele, saying, “We’re spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Oprah shot forward like she was hit with a cattle prod, clutched her chest and blurted, “YES! That’s one of my favorite phrases!”

Gee, she was real excited.

This post has gone on too long so I’ll chew on the other items a little later. I would have done it yesterday when the interview came out but as someone once said, “I do have kids that I love, and I don’t want to be a dad that’s not there, driving my kids to their games . . . my kids have brought a great perspective in my life. Kids just want the attention. You better be there. And be available to them.”

So I golfed. 

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