|Ward puts the team first before individual accomplishments. (Getty Images)|
Posted by Ryan Wilson
For the first time since Week 1 of the 2000 season, a span of 184 games, a healthy Hines Ward wasn't in the Steelers' starting lineup when Pittsburgh faced Cincinnati on November 13. Instead, second-year wideout Antonio Brown replaced Ward and that doesn't look to change anytime soon.
Through 10 games, Mike Wallace leads the team with 53 catches and 922 receiving yards. Brown is second (44 catches, 626 yards), followed by tight end Heath Miller (38, 465) and then Ward (27, 268).
But Ward, one of the most popular and productive players in Steelers history, is just 19 catches short of 1,000 for his career, which has been accomplished just seven times previously. With six games left on the schedule, it's reasonable to think he could reach the milestone by January, but as his role diminishes so too will the opportunities.
Days after Brown replaced him against the Bengals, Ward was accepting of his new role.
"It's not about me, it's about the team," he said on November 16, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "The bottom line is, we won the (Cincinnati) game. …
"It's a different role. 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."
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But it wasn't just the case of Brown starting over Ward. Jerricho Cotchery, signed to a one-year deal during free agency, got Ward's snaps as the slot receiver, and he even scored a touchdown against the Bengals. But Cotchery called Ward "my biggest supporter."
Wallace, who Ward has taken under his wing, added: "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,'. 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?"
Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked Tuesday about Ward's place on the depth chart.
"That is to be determined," he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. … "Obviously, Hines is a very capable man, as are some others. We will do what is best in terms of giving us an opportunity to win this game."
Ward's touches could be even tougher to come by going forward. One of Pittsburgh's other young wideouts, Emmanuel Sanders, is expected to return to the lineup either this Sunday or next after missing time with a knee injury.
For now, though, Ward seems to have come to terms with his fate. And it hasn't gone unnoticed.
“On this team, there are a lot of great players who have an opportunity to put up big numbers and stats,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, via the Beaver County Times. “As Coach (Arians) touched on, for us to be a true Super Bowl contender, people have to put their own personal goals and Pro Bowl things and things like that on the back shelf for the betterment of the team. I think Hines has done that.”
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