Bears

Big Ben takes blame for Steelers' stumble

506621.jpg

Big Ben takes blame for Steelers' stumble

From Comcast SportsNetPITTSBURGH (AP) -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks at his passing statistics, and they're not all that bad.His passer rating is up from his career average, as well as his average passing yards per game.The completion rate is where it has been over the course of an eight-year career.Only once before has Roethlisberger thrown more touchdown passes per game or fewer interceptions per game.But it's been Roethlisberger's play, by his own admission, that's a key factor in Pittsburgh (7-8) failing to make the playoffs for only the fourth time since 2001."A lot of it just has to do with me not playing well enough down the stretch," Roethlisberger said. "Fourth-quarter drives or last-minute throws, I'm just not making it happen, so my best answer would be that I just didn't play well enough."The Steelers controlled their playoff fate until their 13-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday eliminated them from the postseason.Just as had happened one week earlier against Dallas, Roethlisberger threw an interception during a tie game that led to the opponent kicking a winning field goal.Those losses joined others earlier this season against Denver, Oakland and Tennessee in which Pittsburgh not only blew fourth-quarter leads, but had the ball in the final minutes with a chance to drive for a potential winning score.The Roethlisberger-led offense failed each time. In the season opener at Denver, he threw an interception to Tracy Porter that was returned 43 yards for the clinching touchdown."In the past, I prided myself and us in fourth-quarter comebacks," Roethlisberger said. "I've always said that you don't want to have them, because that means you haven't done well early in the game, but we've always been good at it. And this year, we just weren't. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason why, (but) it was just a year when I wasn't."Roethlisberger has thrown only eight interceptions this season, but many came at crucial times. Six came in defeats, four in the fourth quarter or overtime. His first interception in the must-win game against the Bengals on Sunday was returned for Cincinnati's only touchdown.This season, Roethlisberger's 84.4 passer rating in the fourth quarter and overtime is by far lower than during any of the other three quarters.That would seem to be in contrast to the clutch reputation Roethlisberger has earned over the course of a career in which he has led 22 fourth-quarter comebacks and 29 game-winning drives during the regular season and also led a memorable comeback in the final minutes of the 2009 Super Bowl."I don't think there's any reason to go panic about it, because I've been pretty good for eight years doing it and had one not-so-good year on it," Roethlisberger said. "I think I played pretty good football, though, other than those situations."To be fair, Roethlisberger was under center for three fourth-quarter comebacks this season. But even coach Mike Tomlin acknowledges his two-time Pro Bowler just wasn't the same in such situations this season."Just not making the critical plays," Tomlin said. "Not a lot has changed in terms of structurally for how we prepare for those moments and how we deal with those moments. They're not coming together for us, and I'm not going to try to make excuses in that regard."Roethlisberger and Tomlin both downplayed the notion that the quarterback's right shoulder and rib injuries sustained in November are affecting his play.Roethlisberger missed three games, and since he's come back, he's thrown six interceptions and four touchdown passes in three games -- all losses."We can talk about that in the offseason, maybe, but I feel good enough to play," Roethlisberger said.There have been times over the past three games that Roethlisberger's arm didn't appear as strong as usual and he was badly off on throws he typically makes. But there also are examples he was the same old Big Ben.Against Dallas, for example, he lofted a ball more than 50 yards in the air to Mike Wallace to set up a tying second-half touchdown. Earlier in that game, he scrambled and avoided multiple sack attempts to find an open Heath Miller for a score just before halftime."The only reason we're in that game is because of his play," safety Ryan Clark said. "The only reason he had an opportunity to throw an interception at the critical moment is because he played so well to keep us close."Still, Roethlisberger has largely built his career not on eye-popping numbers but on clutch play.When asked about why this season has been so much different, Wallace shrugs and maintains that Roethlisberger is the same at practice and in the huddle."You can't be perfect every time," Wallace said. "You can't be a superhero every time."Maybe, but Roethlisberger was far from it late in this season -- and as a result, the Steelers will spend January at home."I not worried about Ben," Miller said. "He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league -- in my mind, he's still there. And I wouldn't want anybody else to be leading this team."Notes: The Steelers placed Miller, CB Ike Taylor and RB Baron Batch on injured reserve Wednesday and signed TE Jamie McCoy, S Damon Cromartie-Smith and LB Marshall McFadden to the active roster. Miller, who tore knee ligaments Sunday, will have surgery Wednesday.

Puppy Pick 'Em Puppy Walter makes his Week 7 picks for Bears-Saints

Puppy Pick 'Em Puppy Walter makes his Week 7 picks for Bears-Saints

When the Bears announced their 2019 schedule, we decided to have some puppies reveal the opponents. Now, we have taken it a step further. We have a puppy that will make weekly picks for the Bears games.

It is Week 7!

Walter's choices in Week 7 are a chance to go to Mardi Gras or a celebration of St. Patrick's day in Chicago. Bears fans should be excited about his decision in Week 7... and now we're all looking forward to St. Patrick's Day again!

The 12-week old dachshund was hand-selected by the scouts at NBC Sports Chicago and hails from One Tail at a Time rescue. He came from a shelter in Alabama and was transported to Chicago.  At just 7 weeks old and without his mom, he beat a deadly virus and spent some time in the doggie ER, where he healed and became strong again. 

Now, Walter is ready to rumble between the well-manicured lines of Sweetness Field. He is NOW adoptable via onetail.org and has two adorable sisters named Martha and Millie, who are already adopted. 

Walter will pick the games throughout the NFL season, including the playoffs and we hope that his nose follows the scent to the Bears every week, all the way to that magical game in Miami in February. Narrated by Jason Benetti, play-by-play announcer for the White Sox.  

It is time for Puppy Pick ‘Em presented by Nissan.

To learn more: www.onetail.org

How will the Blackhawks utilize Kirby Dach?

kirby_dach_traverse_city.jpg
Detroit Red Wings

How will the Blackhawks utilize Kirby Dach?

The Blackhawks recalled No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach from his AHL conditioning stint on Friday night after he appeared in three games with the Rockford IceHogs. He missed the first week of training camp with a concussion and the organization wanted him to get a taste of the pro action and back up to speed after not playing in any preseason games, either.

"I enjoyed the experience there," Dach said. "I had a lot of fun. Got to see a couple buddies. It was good for me to get down there and get some pro games under my belt and just feel what the pace is going to be like. It'll be another step up here, but I feel good and I feel like I'm ready to go."

Whether Dach makes his NHL debut on Sunday against the Washington Capitals won't be revealed by head coach Jeremy Colliton until after morning skate on Sunday. But where does he fit into the lineup going forward?

The Blackhawks are 2-0-1 in their past three games and aren't necessarily looking to shake up their rotation, even though they're still searching for consistency on all four lines.

The easy answer is for Dach to slide into a third-line center role behind Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome, but the trio of David Kampf, Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad has undoubtedly been the most consistent for the Blackhawks this season. And we saw in the home opener what happened when they were separated. 

The Blackhawks held an optional practice on Saturday morning and didn't run through line rushes, but before Dach was assigned to Rockford, he took several spins on the first line with Toews and alternated with Drake Caggiula and Alex DeBrincat. It's possible Dach starts on the wing, where he can play top-six minutes and not have as much responsibility as a center would.

"I've played wing in previous years, so it's not something that's new to me," Dach said. "At the same time I'm open-minded to just getting into the lineup and helping the team win."

The Blackhawks can give Dach up to nine NHL games before deciding whether they want to burn the first year of his entry-level contract or send him back to the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.

"As a kid you always grow up dreaming of playing in the NHL, so there'll be nerves," Dach said. "But there will also be a lot of excitement. I've just got to do my best to focus on my game and be ready to play whenever my name's called upon by the coaching staff."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.