Steelers look to extend surge vs. road-weary Browns
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, October 25
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The faces change, sometimes at a dizzying rate. The results when the Cleveland Browns visit the Pittsburgh Steelers do not.
Each fall the Browns make their way to Heinz Field, typically with a new quarterback and frequently with a new head coach in tow.
And each trip ends in similar fashion: with a quiet bus ride back home after another stinging defeat in a rivalry that hasn’t felt like much of one for more than two decades.
Your turn Baker Mayfield. And maybe your last chance, Hue Jackson.
Cleveland’s rookie quarterback will get his initial shot at the Steelers (3-2-1) on Sunday when the Browns (2-4-1) try win in Pittsburgh for the first time in 15 years.
It’s a drought that spans nearly a dozen quarterbacks — from Jeff Garcia to Colt McCoy to DeShone Kizer — and seven head coaches — from Butch Davis to Pat Shurmur to Jackson, who has yet to win a game on the road during his tenure (0-19) and whose status is shaky at best.
Unlike his predecessors, however, Mayfield brings a certain swagger that’s hard to quantify but also hard to miss.
Pittsburgh safety Sean Davis couldn’t help but notice it on film, particularly the way Mayfield bounced up last week in Tampa Bay after getting hit by Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead , a play that the NFL admitted should have drawn a flag but did not.
“He got trucked but he got up and ran into the defender’s face,” Davis said with a laugh. “I kind of like that. When I hit him, he’s not going to run in my face.”
Davis then laughed before stressing “I do like him. He’s a good ballplayer. He’s put some good stuff on tape.”
So, though, have the first-place Steelers. Pittsburgh has won two straight following a bumpy 1-2-1 start, a stretch that began with a strange 21-all tie in Cleveland in Week 1.
The Steelers turned it over six times in the rain and wind, including a fourth-quarter fumble by running back James Conner that sparked a late Browns’ rally and spoiled an otherwise spectacular day by Conner in his first NFL start.
Seven weeks later, Conner is still atop the depth chart and thriving in the absence of Le’Veon Bell, who still hasn’t signed his one-year franchise tender. The way Conner is playing — he already has three games of at least 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns — there’s no telling what Bell’s role will be whenever he bothers to show up.
In many ways, the Steelers have already moved on from Bell. A victory coming off the bye week against an opponent that’s offered little resistance through the years would provide a momentum boost as Halloween nears. Yet Cleveland believes this isn’t the Same Old Browns. Only one way to find out.
Some things to look for as Pittsburgh looks for some separation in the jumbled AFC North while the Browns try to end a 24-game road losing streak, the second-longest in NFL history.
BEN BEING BEN
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger is an Ohio native and was passed over by the Browns during the 2004 draft. Cleveland opted for tight end Kellen Winslow with the sixth overall pick while the Steelers scooped up Roethlisberger five selections later.
All the 36-year-old Roethlisberger has done is go 21-2-1 in 24 starts against the Browns, and that doesn’t include the 2016 victory in which he came off the bench in relief of Landry Jones.
Still, he’s eager to atone for his four-interception performance in the opener.
“I hate when we turn the football over,” said Roethlisberger, who is tied for the NFL lead in yards passing per game (339). “I hate when we lose football games, but if you look at positives I think we are getting better every week.”
ON THE OFFENSIVE
An emotional Jackson raised eyebrows following last week’s tough loss with comments that he intended to get more involved in Cleveland’s offense, starting this week.
Jackson’s disappointment with the team’s slow starts — the Browns haven’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter — and overall struggles seemed directed at coordinator Todd Haley. Jackson walked back his remarks the next day, saying he was not being critical and only wanted to offer Haley help.
“I have total confidence in Todd and what the staff is doing,” he said. “In those situations, fuming like I was after losing, I had a chance to sit back and see it all. I just wanted to make sure that as an offense we were crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, and making sure that everything is moving in the right direction.”
Haley spent six seasons directing Pittsburgh’s high-potent offense before parting with the Steelers following last season’s ugly home playoff loss to Jacksonville. He didn’t always see eye to eye with Roethlisberger, but there were other reasons for the move. Not surprisingly, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin steered clear of any controversy this week about Haley’s departure.
“We just decided that it was an opportunity for change,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes, change is good — not only for us but for him. We had a good experience and had a lot of success together. It is my understanding that he is having a good experience over there, as well.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
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Browns coordinator Haley says ‘on same page’ with Jackson
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, October 25
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s vast experience as an NFL coach — and kid — has taught him not to overreact.
Stay calm, stay the course.
So when coach Hue Jackson said following last week’s overtime loss in Tampa Bay that he wanted to be more involved in Cleveland’s offense — a seemingly pointed shot at his top assistant — Haley said he never blinked.
He chalked up Jackson’s remarks to postgame emotions.
“Yeah, that’s what it sounded like, and we talked about it,” Haley said Thursday.
“This is an emotional game. It is not for everyone. Coaching in the NFL, especially being in that spot, is not for everyone. It is a high-pressure, high-stress job, and we’ve just got to keep doing what we know is right.”
Haley, who is in his first season under Jackson following six successful years in Pittsburgh, said he wasn’t bothered by the coach’s comments and welcomes help — from anyone.
“I’ve been around a long time in this league, been around a lot of different personalities,” said Haley, whose father, Dick, served as the Steelers director of player personnel for two decades.
“One thing that I will never be is reactionary. I am here for one purpose, and that is to help this offense, continue to grow this offense and continue to develop this offense. We are all on the same page. Nothing has changed.”
Haley said Jackson’s input has been the same as usual this week as the Browns (2-4-1) prepare to face the Steelers (3-2-1).
“He sits in a number of meetings and everybody gives their idea,” Haley said. “When they are good ones, we go with it.”
Cleveland’s offense has had some issues, including too many penalties, missed assignments, slow starts and poor finishes.
The Browns haven’t scored a touchdown in the first quarter, and they’ve bogged down at key moments, which have resulted in two overtime losses and a tie — with Pittsburgh in Week 1.
After the Buccaneers beat the Browns on a 59-yard field goal in OT last week, Jackson admitted he was “fuming” when Cincinnati’s former offensive coordinator declared he would jump in and do whatever was necessary to fix Cleveland’s offensive problems.
Jackson didn’t regret saying what he did, but was concerned Haley might misunderstand his motives.
“I do not think I was worried that he would take my comments the wrong way,” said Jackson, who is 3-35-1 in two-plus seasons.
“I was worried that he would take what everybody was saying and writing and the way that everybody made it out to be the wrong way. You always have to handle those things very quickly and privately. We did, and we move on. He has been great.”
Haley said he’s put the matter with Jackson behind him and is absorbed with developing rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, a young receiving group whose names he often confuses and winning.
“My sole focus is on trying to get this offense to be as good as it can as fast as it can as fast as I can,” Haley said. “That is all in the rearview mirror. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody has the same goal in mind. That is to score enough points to win.”
Haley also dismissed comments made by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who surmised his former coach was probably not happy with Jackson.
“It is all perception,” he said. “I am misunderstood a lot of times. I have learned to accept it, and what matters to me is that these guys respect, do what they are supposed to do and get better. That is what I take pride in.”
On Sunday, Haley will make his first bus trip to Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field as the enemy.
Raised in a proud Steelers household, he knows all about the rivalry with Cleveland. He’s also been schooled on the importance of blocking out distractions.
“I was trained by my father during the season,” he said. “We did not get a newspaper at the house. He would not let the Post-Gazette be delivered in season because he said anything you read may affect what you are trying to do. I was a little kid and that stuck with me.”
NOTES: Haley said last week’s trade of running back Carlos Hyde “was a jolt.” The Browns dealt Hyde to Jacksonville two days before their game with the Bucs. … Jackson remains confident C JC Tretter (ankle) and Damarious Randall (groin/ankle) will play Sunday. Randall, who has moved from free safety to cornerback, had high praise for Steelers WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. “I’m a big fan of both of them,” he said. “I love the way they play the game — toughness, grit and fight that they have each and every play.”
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Opinion: Seattle’s Tale of Two Stadiums
By Anne Philpot and Michael Farren
These days it’s hard to read the sports pages without a dose of business news. From D.C. to Vegas and L.A., the same story plays out over and over: Teams extract millions in public funding for stadiums through a high-stakes game of public relations posturing, shaky economics and political influence peddling.
For a perfect illustration of what’s wrong — and for some hope — look to two new stadium deals in Seattle.
In September the King County Council approved a $135 million subsidy to spruce up Safeco Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Mariners, in a contentious 5-4 vote. A new civic organization, the Citizens Against Sports Stadium Subsidies, quickly filed paperwork that could allow voters to overrule the council in a referendum.
Meanwhile, the council approved a different deal, this one geared toward securing a National Hockey League franchise. The KeyArena plan is a refreshing departure from America’s typical taxpayer-funded stadium scheme.
Handing the Mariners $135 million is equivalent to a $162 tax on every household in King County. That’s mildly outrageous considering many won’t ever set foot in the stadium. A full accounting would include hidden costs, too. The original stadium deal made Safeco Field publicly owned so that the Mariners would not have to pay $6 million in annual property taxes.
More important, any funding dedicated to the Mariners puts entertainment luxuries above civic needs. The council rerouted the money from a fund for affordable housing, arts and tourism marketing. King County could instead use the cash to boost affordable housing funding by 19 percent. The lost $6 million in annual property taxes would be enough to fund 27 new Seattle police officers, 54 new public school teachers, or help expand the city’s strapped bus service.
While the subsidy is funded by hotel taxes that traveling fans would help pay, it doesn’t even come close to paying for itself. That would require over 33,000 visiting fans to attend every Mariners’ home game — more than their average total attendance last season — and spend at least $100 at local hotels.
Perhaps the most flabbergasting thing? The Mariners would only need to charge actual fans — rather than taxpayers — an extra $2.50 per ticket over the 25-year life of the subsidy. This makes far more economic (and ethical) sense, since a product’s price should reflect the full cost of providing it.
The vast majority of academic studies show that stadium construction and renovation don’t broadly improve economic growth or community welfare. Locals don’t spend more money, they simply shift where they spend it. After all, consumers’ budgets don’t magically inflate when a new team comes to town.
It comes down to picking winners and losers. Teams, sports bars and ballpark-area businesses win. The smaller restaurants, concert halls and clubs who pay higher taxes to fund their entertainment industry competitors lose.
The subsidy stands in stark contrast to the council’s unanimously approved agreement with the Seattle Arena Company to redevelop KeyArena. This taxpayer-friendly plan uses $700 million in private funding and relatively few public subsidies. It’s a step in a much better direction.
So it’s a tale of two stadiums. Both were built with public funds, but while one underwrites private profits and makes professional sports a publicly funded service, the other charts a new course that leaders in other cities should watch closely.
Team owners know that it’s easier to sway politicians, who stand to gain political influence from adoring fans, than it is to win a public referendum. Nearly 70 percent of voters across the country oppose stadium subsidies. After months of political controversy, Seattle area voters may have their say. Will the rest of us pay attention?
ABOUT THE WRITERS
Anne Philpot is a research assistant and Michael Farren is a research fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where they study government favoritism. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Ravens’ No. 1 defense looks to stop ‘fast dinosaur’ Newton
By STEVE REED
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, October 25
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Baltimore Ravens safety Eric Weddle likened Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to a “fast dinosaur” this week.
“Muscular and big,” Weddle said. “He’s a very unique quarterback in the league, the only one really like him.”
The Ravens’ defense ranks first in the league overall, but they’ve not faced a dual-threat quarterback such as Newton, which adds some intrigue to what should be a physical game Sunday between two teams that pride themselves on playing great defense and ball-control offense.
Weddle said when Newton gets loose, bringing him down calls for a player to proceed at his own risk. He chose the Triceratops as the kind of dinosaur that best represents Newton.
“The big one with horns,” Weddle said.
Newton is the NFL’s all-time leader in touchdowns rushing by a quarterback and is third all-time in yards rushing with 4,577. He needs 352 yards to pass Randall Cunningham for second place. Mike Vick is No. 1 with 6,109 yards.
“Amazing player, extremely difficult in the open field,” Weddle said of Newton.
Newton laughed at Weddell’s compliment, saying it’s not the first time someone has called him that. The 2015 league MVP said Trooper Taylor, a former assistant at Auburn, used to call him that when he was playing for the Tigers.
“I always asked him, ‘Why do you call me a dinosaur?’” Newton said. “He said, ‘Your talent is extinct. They don’t make them like you no more.’
“I always laughed, but if you look around this league — and I’ve tried to warn a lot of people prior, too — it not cocky, it’s not confidence, it’s just self-belief in yourself knowing that the talents that you possess, a lot of people can’t say that they have.”
Newton has run for 252 yards and a team-high three touchdowns this season while averaging 4.9 yards per carry for Carolina (4-2). He’s also thrown for 11 TDs.
Things to watch in Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Panthers:
Newton won’t be the only quarterback on the field to be a threat to run.
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has proven effective as an occasional replacement for Joe Flacco in short-yardage situations for the Ravens (4-3). The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick scored his first NFL touchdown last week and ranks second on the team with 103 yards rushing.
Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said Jackson “is a playmaker who creates problems because of his speed and athleticism” and that “it’s important to know where he is on the field.”
Harbaugh often wrestles with finding the right time to use Jackson because Flacco is having such a good season with 11 touchdown passes and four interceptions.
“It’s more an art than science,” Harbaugh said. “Joe is playing at a very high level. We don’t want to lose sight of that. We try to do the best we can to put both those guys in there in ways that help us score points and move the ball.”
COVERING TIGHT ENDS
The Ravens drafted Hayden Hurst in the first round figuring he would play a major role on the offense, but a foot injury has limited him to one catch for 7 yards. Now rounding back into good health, he may have an opportunity to break out this week against a Carolina defense that has struggled covering tight ends.
Carolina has allowed the sixth-most passing yards to tight ends in the NFL at 79.6 per game. Last week, Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert combined for eight receptions for 138 yards and a touchdown.
Coach Ron Rivera said he was unconcerned with those numbers, adding that he feels as if the Panthers have done a good job against opposing wide receivers this year, which has been their focus. Rivera added that “I don’t think for the most part you’re going to get killed by tight ends.”
STELLAR PASS RUSHERS
Sunday’s matchup features two stellar pass rushers with Carolina’s Julius Peppers and Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs. Peppers has 156½ sacks, which is fourth all-time and the most among active players. Suggs is 15th all-time with 131 sacks.
“Those kinds of guys are just on a different level athletically,” Harbaugh said. “There aren’t very many of those types of human beings walking around on the planet.”
Two of the Ravens’ losses this season have come by a combined four points. Cleveland won with a field goal in overtime, and the Saints prevailed when Justin Tucker misfired on a conversion with 24 seconds last week.
So what’s it take to win those kinds of games?
“You have to make a closing play somewhere along the way,” Harbaugh said.
The Panthers seem to have that skill. Their past two wins were 33-31 over the Giants and 21-17 last week.
Tucker’s extra point miss last week was big for the Ravens, but he’s not the only one struggling with the point after.
Carolina’s Graham Gano has missed extra points in back-to-back weeks. Strangely enough, Gano is 8 of 8 on field-goal attempts, including a game-winner from 63 yards against the Giants.
AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg in Baltimore, Maryland, contributed to this report.
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ODNR to Rebuild Hocking Hills Lodge to Host Overnight Guests
LOGAN, OH – After the Hocking Hills Dining Lodge burned down, visitors to Ohio’s flagship state park have been clamoring for information on the future status of the lodge. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the former day lodge and dining hall will be replaced with an updated facility that will include overnight lodging, a conference center, dining and day-use accommodations.
“It was disappointing to lose a building that meant a great deal to so many people when the dining lodge burned down,” said ODNR Director Jim Zehringer. “This is a new opportunity for more visitors to have the option to stay overnight at Hocking Hills State Park, and we are excited to help create a place that will provide more joy and relaxation to millions of visitors in the future.”
The new facility will be built where the former day lodge once stood, which is already equipped with a large parking lot, but now boasts a new path to Old Man’s Cave and the newest Whispering Cave trail only feet away.
“ODNR’s commitment to rebuild the Hocking Hills State Park Lodge is just another giant step toward making this great state park a must-see attraction for travelers from all over the globe,” said Julieann Burroughs, president of the Friends of Hocking Hills State Park. “The new visitors center, coupled with a rebuilt lodge, is an amazing investment in Ohio’s state parks and the Hocking Hills region.”
The new lodge is expected to cost approximately $30 million, with a large portion of that funding coming from the insurance settlement ODNR received following the fire that destroyed the original lodge on Dec. 8, 2016. At that time, ODNR launched a survey that allowed visitors to share suggestions on what they would like to see in a rebuilt lodge. Overwhelmingly, overnight lodging was the No. 1 priority for survey takers.
ODNR, along with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission, has started the process of selecting an architecture and engineering firm that will provide a design for the new facility over the next year. Before the design is finalized, ODNR will select a construction manager to complete construction on a schedule to be shared publicly.
This project is part of a statewide initiative ODNR has undertaken to repair and update recreational facilities across the state, and this new facility, along with the new visitors center, will welcome millions of visitors from around the world to Ohio’s most popular state park.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.