By Scott Brown, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Nate Clements(notes) #22 of the Cincinnati Bengals dives to stop Hines Ward(notes) #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during play at Paul Brown Stadium on November 13, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Hines Ward didn't pout. He didn't question the limited number of plays he was on the field for Sunday. And he didn't wallpaper the Steelers locker room with his resume in case anyone has forgotten he is the most decorated receiver in Steelers history.
If Ward has been supplanted by two wide receivers who are still behind him on the Steelers' depth chart, he is taking the demotion in stride.
"It's not about me, it's about the team," said Ward, who watched much of the Steelers' 24-17 win in Cincinnati from the sidelines. "The bottom line is, we won the game."
Ward did not start against the Bengals — Antonio Brown got the nod opposite Mike Wallace — and he had just one catch for 10 yards.
Ward said the coaches did not talk to him about a reduced role before the game. The 14th-year veteran said his health was not an issue, even though he had been knocked out of the previous week's game with concussion-like symptoms.
He said the Steelers went into the game with separate packages when they used two wide receivers: one for him and Wallace, and one for Brown and Wallace.
The Steelers mostly went with Brown and Wallace out of the two-wide receiver sets. Jerricho Cotchery played ahead of Ward when the Steelers used three wide receivers.
"Those are questions for the coaches," Ward said when asked about it. "I just have to move forward. I am not going to be angry. I have to go out and continue being the player I am and a leader on this team."
Ward, who is in his seventh season as an offensive captain, is not accustomed to being the odd man out.
Ward is a former Super Bowl MVP, and he holds almost every Steelers receiving record. The 14th-year veteran is on the doorstep of two milestones — 1,000 career receptions and 12,000 receiving yards — but his pursuit of those has turned into a crawl.
Ward would end the season with 999 career catches if he averages three receptions per game, something he did through his first nine games.
If Ward is frustrated about becoming less of a factor in the passing game, he didn't show it yesterday.
"It's a different role," Ward said. "I am still going to be the biggest cheerleader because I want to win. Whatever I can do to help this team win ball games, giving advice or when my number is called (by) making a play. Just continue doing that and have a positive attitude."
His teammates said he has been nothing but positive.
Cotchery, who made his first touchdown catch as a Steeler last Sunday, calls Ward "my biggest supporter."
Wallace said Ward has reinforced the message that nobody is bigger than the team with the way he stayed in the game at Cincinnati.
"As soon as I'd get to the sidelines, he'd be like, 'You should have done this, you should have done that. I saw this, I saw that,' " Wallace said. "He sees everything and knows everything that's going on. He's like an extra coach out there.
"When you have a guy that's been here and the situation he's in and he's still positive about it, how can I come to the sidelines and be down or mad or have anything bad to say?"
Ward, who is 35 and in the next-to-last year of his contract, said it would be premature to write him off.
"I still believe in myself, probably more than most people," Ward said. "I just have to continue being positive, continue working hard."