Tagged in: offensive

Roethlisberger throws 2 TDs, Steelers top Broncos 27-19

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers silenced the noise. At least for a week.

Funny how having something resembling a running game for the first time in a long time will do that.

Riding an offensive balance nonexistent for most of the last two years, the Steelers held off Denver 27-19 on Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak.

Rookie Najee Harris ran for a career-best 122 yards and a touchdown for Pittsburgh (2-3) before a cramping issue in his calves forced him to stand on the sideline while a late rally by Denver fell short.

The Broncos (3-2) trailed by 18 in the fourth quarter before a pair of Teddy Bridgewater touchdown passes brought them within striking distance.

Bridgewater’s fourth-down heave to the end zone with 11 seconds left was intercepted by James Pierre, permitting the Steelers to exhale. For a minute anyway.

Asked if the triumph will quiet withering criticism he’s endured over the last month, Roethlisberger just smiled.

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“Probably not,” he said. “But we won the game, and that’s all that matters.”

And won in a way they’re probably going to need to keep pace in the highly competitive AFC North. With Harris churning through holes that didn’t exist over the first four games, the Steelers didn’t have to rely exclusively on their 39-year-old quarterback to make something happen.

That was kind of the plan all along and got lost amid a difficult first month. The Steelers dropped three of four behind a retooled offensive line that at times looked overmatched.

Not so much versus the Broncos.

The Steelers gave up one sack and kept Denver outside linebacker Von Miller in check while running the ball 35 times and passing just 25, the kind of ratio Roethlisberger is more than happy to live with.

Several times Roethlisberger lined up in the shotgun with the option to run or pass, saw coverage that indicated he should probably throw it and opted to hand it off to Harris anyway because the 22-year-old runner and the five linemen in front of him had it going.

“Why take it out of his hand when you’re grinding it, you’re getting it?” Roethlisberger stated. “It was kind of fun to watch him excel and take over.”

Yet cramps forced out Harris in the middle of the fourth quarter. Bridgewater, who spent the bulk of the week in the NFL’s concussion protocol before returning to practice Friday, nearly drew the Broncos even.

Bridgewater completed 24 of 38 passes for 288 yards with a pair of scores: a 2-yard dart to Kendall Hinton and a 39-yard rainbow to Courtland Sutton with 5:46 to go that drew Denver within 24-19.

Bridgwater then drove Denver to the Pittsburgh 3 in the final seconds before Pierre’s first career interception ended the threat.

“We can’t wait until the game is out of hand to have a sense of urgency,” Bridgewater said.

The loss made Denver’s perfect September look more like a mirage. The Broncos piled up wins against the Giants, Jaguars and Jets last month. Tested by Baltimore and Pittsburgh in back-to-back weeks, the Broncos came up short.

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Carlos Santana, Kansas City Royals reach 2-year deal

The Kansas City Royals and veteran first baseman Carlos Santana have agreed to a two-year contract that plugs one of the team’s biggest offensive holes while providing some clubhouse leadership for a rebuilding club.

The deal is for $17 million, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan, confirming an MLB Network report.

The 34-year-old Santana was an All-Star two years ago in Cleveland, when he hit a career-best .281 with 34 homers and 93 RBIs. But he slid to .199 with eight homers and 30 RBIs while playing 60 games during the shortened 2020 season, resulting in the Indians declining his $17.5 million option for the upcoming season.

The Royals were in the middle with a .244 team average last season, but they hit just 68 home runs and were tied with — coincidentally — the Indians for the sixth-worst scoring offense in the majors.

“One of our objectives this offseason was to add a middle-of-the-order bat, someone that would blend in well with our current group, make us a lot better,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore stated.

“Carlos certainly does that.” Santana should fill both an offensive need and defensive hole for the Royals. They had been toying with the option of moving Hunter Dozier to first base, but that would merely create another vacancy at third base and in the outfield, where they already have one to plug following the retirement of left fielder Alex Gordon.

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“He was one of the primary targets for us when we began to make offseason plans,” Moore said. “You know, once we began our season, we started talking mid-to-late July [about] players that would potentially fit for us. Carlos’ name was at the forefront of that based on the opportunity that we perceived that would perhaps present itself for us — middle of the order, switch hitter, highly professional. Winning-type player.”

The Royals are very familiar with Santana from his time in the AL Central. He hit 216 homers with 710 RBIs during 10 campaigns with the Indians, and he’s been durable in playing at least 143 games every season but his rookie year and this past season, when he still suited up for every game for Cleveland.

Another bonus? The Royals won’t have him in the other dugout anymore. Santana has hit .288 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs in 151 career games against them, the best of any team in the division.

The Royals also had the inside track on negotiations because Rene Francisco, their vice president and assistant GM, signed Santana as an amateur free agent when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 2014.

“That made the start-up of the conversation go extremely well,” Moore said.

For years one of the quietest teams in free agency, the Royals have been on an early spending spree under new owner John Sherman.

Relief pitcher Mike Minor signed an $18 million, two-year deal and outfielder Michael Taylor a $1.75 million deal for next campaign, and nearly all their arbitration-eligible players are under contract.

That incorporates an $8.05 million contract for slugger Jorge Soler and a $3.35 million deal for staff ace Brad Keller.

“I’ve said many times, ‘free agency is a flawed way to build your team,'” Moore said. “That’s why this offseason we’ve tried to do it from the top down.

We’ve tried to add some guys that had a little more impact. Two-year deals, we have a little more flexibility in 2022 than we have in 2021, just because of the economics of the game, but financially we’re in a position to add a little more money, a little more flexibility in the payroll.”

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