Column: Steelers play out the string (second and even third) and keep winning

Landry Jones, Matt Spaeth

Steelers quarterback Landry Jones (3) celebrates with tight end Matt Spaeth after throwing a touchdown pass to wide receiver Martavis Bryant in the fourth quarter Sunday.

(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

Pittsburgh snatched a victory from the grasp of the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, six days after heisting one from the San Diego Chargers.

Two games in a week. On opposite sides of the country. With two different backup quarterbacks.

Talk about Steal City.

“I just can’t believe I got in the game,” said Steelers quarterback Landry Jones, who made the most of his first appearance in an NFL regular-season game, throwing a pair of touchdown passes to lead his team to a 25-13 come-from-behind victory over the favored Cardinals.


On a day when Carolina stayed undefeated by winning at Seattle, and when San Diego nearly toppled undefeated Green Bay at Lambeau Field, the Steelers fiercely protected their home turf.

Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, replaced the injured Michael Vick, who had been playing in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger. It was Vick who guided Pittsburgh to a 24-20 win at San Diego last Monday with the Steelers scoring the deciding touchdown as the clock expired.

Vick, who was briefly sent to the sideline after absorbing a knee to the head (later reported to be dirt in his eye), completed three of eight passes for six yards. He left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. The Steelers also lost left tackle Kelvin Beachum to a season-ending torn knee ligament.

“It wasn’t perfect by any stretch,” Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin said of Sunday’s win. “But with the state that we’re in, we’re not expecting perfection. We just need to do what’s required for us to win.”


The hero on the other end of Jones’ passes Sunday was receiver Martavis Bryant, active for the first time this season after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, then sitting out the San Diego game with a sore knee.

The Steelers trailed at the half, 10-3, but bounced back with two field goals and a touchdown in the third quarter to take a 15-10 lead. The touchdown covered eight yards and was a spectacular leaping grab by Bryant, the first of his two huge highlights from the game.

The second was a short reception that Bryant turned into an 88-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, a knockout blow to the Cardinals, whose coach, Bruce Arians, was returning to face the franchise that fired him as offensive coordinator three years earlier.

The Steelers will face a similar situation when they play at Kansas City on Sunday, as their offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, was fired as coach of the Chiefs during the 2011 season.

Roethlisberger, who left a Week 3 game against St. Louis with a knee injury, could be back as soon as Sunday. His team has fared better without him than many people expected, going 2-1 to improve to 4-2. The Cardinals, who have lost two of three, slipped to 4-2.

Rivers in the flow

That’s back-to-back heartbreaking losses for the Chargers, who gave the Packers a huge scare Sunday before falling, 27-20.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was phenomenal, completing 43 of 65 passes for an astounding 503 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Rivers set single-game franchise records for attempts, completions and yards passing, but the game came down to four plays within three yards of Green Bay’s end zone in the last 33 seconds.


A one-yard run by Danny Woodhead, an incomplete pass by Rivers, a loss of one by Woodhead, and finally a fourth-down pass that was knocked away just before it got to Woodhead denied the Chargers.

Still unblemished

Carolina came into Sunday as one of five undefeated teams, although the Panthers still had a way to go to truly prove themselves. Their first four victories came against Jacksonville, Houston, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, teams that are currently a combined 7-16.

The 5-0 Panthers answered their doubters in resounding fashion with a 27-23 victory at Seattle, handing the two-time defending NFC champs their first home loss since Week 6 of last season.

The game proved to be a battle of big men, with Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham catching eight passes for 140 yards, and Carolina tight end Greg Olsen pulling down seven for 131 yards and the winning touchdown.

For the 27th time in his career, Carolina’s Cam Newton both ran and threw for a touchdown. That’s second in NFL history to Steve Young, who did that 31 times.

Breaking ground

Cincinnati stayed undefeated with a 34-21 victory at Buffalo. The Bengals are the first AFC North team to start 6-0 since divisional realignment in 2002.


Then again, 6-0 is a familiar start for Denver’s Peyton Manning. He’s done that six times in his career, more than any other NFL quarterback. That includes this year; the Broncos reached 6-0 with a 26-23 overtime win at Cleveland.

Putting the D in Denver

Manning came into Week 6 as the only starting AFC quarterback with more interceptions than touchdowns. That trend continued Sunday with one touchdown and three interceptions for the NFL’s only five-time most valuable player.

The Broncos stayed undefeated, however, largely on the strength of their top-ranked defense.

“We’re struggling,” said Manning, who has seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. “We’re not playing as well as we’d like, but we’re playing well enough to win. We’re doing some things right at critical times, whether it’s the last drive of the game or in overtime.”

Some might say Denver is lucky. Manning isn’t one of those people.

“Obviously, we’ve had a ton of breaks,” conceded Manning, who has suffered three pick-sixes this season. “I won’t be going to Vegas for my bye weekend. I’m not feeling lucky now.”

Over there, and under repair

Buffalo didn’t just lose a game Sunday. The banged-up Bills lost receiver Sammy Watkins, who wound up with crutches after suffering an ankle injury on a 22-yard touchdown catch, and defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who was carted off with a knee injury. Already the status of quarterback Tyrod Taylor is in question because of his bum knee.

Complicating matters is that the Bills play Jacksonville in London on Sunday, so adding players is a problem because they don’t necessarily have passports.

“It’s going to put us in a bind. We’re going to go straight to work on that now,” Bills General Manager Doug Whaley told the Associated Press as he and the team prepared to fly out immediately after the game.

“It narrows your pool down because some guys don’t have passports. And the pool’s already reduced because it’s the middle of the season and everybody’s trying to add guys.”

Raise the flags

Less than two weeks ago, Buffalo Coach Rex Ryan distributed wristbands reading “Yes sir!” to his players as a reminder not to argue with officials on the field. The Bills lead the league in penalties.

So how are the reminders working? Well, Buffalo still leads the league in penalties, with 62 through six weeks, and Sunday was flagged eight times to Cincinnati’s three.

Go beyond the scoreboard

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