December 31, 2011
Browns highlights against the Pittsburgh Steelers have been scarce in the Ben Roethlisberger era. One of them was produced Dec. 8 by Scott Paxson.
Yes, he was the guy who toppled the towering Pittsburgh quarterback with a low hit while Brian Schaefering hit him high. As Roethlisberger crumpled to the ground, the two backup defensive tackles fell on him.
"They hit him from opposite sides," Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "One of them was going down, and he just got twisted underneath them. It was really remarkable that [Roethlisberger] came back."
Roethlisberger was taken inside for X-rays. After halftime, he limped back to the Steelers' bench, hobbled by what later was diagnosed as a Grade I high ankle sprain. He heroically completed that 14-3 victory against the Browns with a bunch of short passes, one of which Antonio Brown turned into a long touchdown.
Roethlisberger hasn't shaken off the injury. After a painful performance in a loss in San Francisco and then a week off, he expects to play Sunday in the season finale at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"I hope there's much more to come [from me]," Paxson said of his impact on the Steelers' season. "I hope that's just the start."
Paxson doesn't hate the Steelers like the typical Browns fan, though he has good reason to.
As a high school star in Philadelphia, Paxson was recruited by most of the college football powers in the East. Western Pennsylvania wasn't on his radar.
"Pittsburgh didn't exist [in my mind]," he said. "Pittsburgh feels like 'We're real football' and Philly kids are just 'city kids.' "
Paxson signed with Penn State, thinking he'd be the next Kyle Brady, its legendary tight end. He wound up playing defensive end.
"One of our coaches sat me down once and showed me video of Courtney Brown," Paxson said of the 2000 Browns' No. 1 draft pick. "I was like, 'Coach, I'm sorry. I can't do those things.' I mean, Courtney Brown was a freak."
After Penn State, Paxson was signed as an undrafted free agent by, of all teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers. This was in 2006. In four years, the Steelers waived Paxson six times. Six times.
"At that time, they were the No. 1 defense," Paxson said. "One year, they were No. 3. Another year, they were No. 2 or No. 1. I was basically third string, second string, on the No. 1 or No. 2 defense. I played both [end and tackle].
"I filled in for [Casey] Hampton, [Brett] Keisel, played on special teams. Anything to keep my butt there, I was doing. It was a lot of learning.
"Those guys were a little better, and I couldn't find a situation where I could get on the field."
After the sixth release from Pittsburgh, Paxson spent all the 2010 NFL season "on the streets . . . doing odds-and-ends jobs and working out for teams."
The Browns worked him out and sent him home. In January, they called to offer what amounted to a training camp tryout.
He made the final roster but received little playing time until midway through the season. Lately, he's been averaging about 20 snaps a game in relief of No. 1 pick Phil Taylor and mainstay tackle Ahtyba Rubin.
"Pax is great," Jauron said. "He's a great teammate, a very solid player. He plays the one and three technique for us. Plays them well. He's always trying to do it exactly as he's told. He's got a feel for it. A very tough guy. He takes his reps, takes other people's reps, never complains."
Paxson, 28, is hopeful he has finally found a home in the NFL.
"A real good thing about me is just being a good character guy, a smart guy, knowing the defense, a reliable backup," he said.
In parts of four seasons with the Steelers, Paxson appeared in only one game and was never active for a game against the Browns.
"I would say this rivalry means a little more to me now because this is the team I'm with and I'm playing," he said.
Paxson's sack of Roethlisberger could ultimately affect the Steelers' season more than James Harrison's cheap-shot helmet hit on Colt McCoy affected the Browns' season. If Roethlisberger is subpar in the playoffs, the Steelers aren't going anywhere.
Still, Paxson wasn't deluged with Cleveland fan mail after the sack.
"I just got a couple of texts from my buddies in Pittsburgh telling me not to come back anytime soon," Paxson said.