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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Beating the Pittsburgh Steelers has paid off for Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles in more ways than one.

Cincinnati Bengals fans have been donating money to the Blake Bortles Foundation as a way to say thank you for the Jaguars’ 45-42 victory last Sunday, which knocked one of the Bengals’ biggest rivals out of the playoffs. According to the Blake Bortles Foundation, more than 100 fans have donated close to $5,000 since the game ended.
“Fans are at the core of the football experience and it’s truly exciting and rewarding when they band together, regardless of the team they cheer for, to make a positive impact in the lives of others,” Bortles said in a statement. “I greatly appreciate the support displayed by Bengals fans and they should know their support will make a difference.”

Bortles threw for 214 yards and a touchdown and led two critical fourth-quarter touchdown drives. His touchdown pass was a 14-yarder to fullback Tommy Bohanon, which came on a play that Bortles checked to at the line of scrimmage.

According to the foundation, Cincinnati sports radio host Mo Egger encouraged Bengals fans to donate as a way to pay it forward. Buffalo Bills fans donated more than $300,000 to Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s foundation (The Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation) in appreciation of the Bengal’s Week 17 victory over Baltimore, which gave the Bills a playoff berth for the first time since 1999.

Dalton threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd to give the Bengals the victory over the Ravens.

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PITTSBURGH — The NFL has suspended Pittsburgh Steelers starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert four games for violating the league policy against performance-enhancing substances.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said in a statement that the organization was “disappointed” and that Gilbert will not appeal his suspension.

Gilbert will not be permitted inside the Steelers’ facilities until after the suspension is served. He will be eligible to return to the team on Dec. 18, a day after the Steelers’ anticipated clash with the New England Patriots at Heinz Field.

Marcus Gilbert, suspended for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, will be eligible to return to the Steelers' active roster a day after the team's Dec. 17 game against the Patriots.

Marcus Gilbert, suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, will be eligible to return to the Steelers’ active roster a day after the team’s Dec. 17 game against the Patriots.

Gilbert issued a statement via his official Twitter account.

“I apologize to my teammates, coaches and the entire steelers family,” Gilbert wrote. “Regretfully I inadvertently took a banned substance. I promise to come back in great shape and will be ready to play when my suspension is over.”

The 29-year-old Gilbert has missed three games this season because of a lingering hamstring issue. He is in the third year of a five-year, $30 million contract he signed in 2015, and Gilbert’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, met with the Steelers last offseason about a potential contract extension down the road. His base salary for 2017 is $4 million, meaning he could miss up to $1 million during the four-game ban.

Though Chris Hubbard acquitted himself well in relief of Gilbert, the Steelers will be without a player offensive coordinator Todd Haley has called the best right tackle in the game. Many of the Steelers’ designed runs go to the right side behind guard David DeCastro and Gilbert, who’s played a big role in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s declining sack numbers in recent years.
Still, head coach Mike Tomlin recently used Hubbard as an example of his expectation to see no dropoff when subs play significant snaps.

“Marcus Gilbert missed a significant amount of time. Chris Hubbard’s play made it a nondiscussion,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t talk about it a bunch because his play was above the line. … You guys know our mentality. The standard is the standard.”

For insurance, the Steelers have second-year tackle Jerald Hawkins and have added tackle Jake Rodgers to their practice squad.

Gilbert is the third Steeler in as many years to miss multiple games because of suspension, joining Martavis Bryant (four games in 2015, all of 2016) and Le’Veon Bell (two games in 2015, three in 2016).

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PITTSBURGH — Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva blames himself for the image of him standing away from teammates during Sunday’s national anthem, saying he unintentionally separated himself in the moments leading up to the game.
Feeling the need to see the flag during the anthem, Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who toured several times in Afghanistan, asked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if he could stand in front of the tunnel to get a vantage point. Roethlisberger agreed, and Villanueva found himself too far out while trying to gauge where the flags were. He contemplated turning back, but the anthem had already started at that point. Only the team captains knew about this last-second attempt.

“When everybody sees the image of me by myself, everybody thinks the team, the Steelers, are not behind me, and that’s absolutely wrong,” Villanueva said. “I made Coach [Mike] Tomlin look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only. I made my teammates look bad, and that is my fault and my fault only.”

Villanueva got positioned for the anthem’s start at 12:57 p.m. ET, then turned around to “signal everybody else to come in so they wouldn’t leave me alone,” he said. But Villanueva saw a flag from a previous celebration passing by the tunnel, and the players were unable to exit. Walking back to his teammates “would have looked extremely bad,” Villanueva said.

Villanueva called the “national anthem ordeal … out of control” because of the way it portrayed him as an outcast and the team as not supporting the anthem. Villanueva said he understands why teammates would be frustrated with him. ESPN reported that many Steelers were surprised and confused by Villanueva’s isolation since he had said in Saturday’s players-only meeting he didn’t want to bring attention to himself.

“I see that picture of me standing by myself and I’m embarrassed to a degree because intentionally I left my teammates behind,” Villanueva said. “It wasn’t me stepping forward. I never planned to boycott. … At the end of the day, whether I want it or not, whether it was my intended plan or not, the reason I went out there by myself is the reason it’s causing all this distress.”
Villanueva will not stop standing for the anthem, and he said his teammates wanted to stand as well. Captains Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward said the team will be on the sideline during future anthem presentations.

“People die for the flag. There’s no way else to put it,” Villanueva said. “I wish I could stay at home. I wish we could all play Call of Duty and not have to go to war. But some men, some women sign up for this tough challenge and they have to do it for the flag. When I see a flag on the mission on the shoulder of a soldier, that reminds me that the guy’s with me … That’s what the flag means to me, that’s what the flag means to a lot of veterans. I think my teammates respected this thoroughly; it was just not communicated and the plan did not allow them the chance to go out and support me or maybe go back to the lab and sit five more hours before the game and figure out a plan.”

Villanueva’s place in the spotlight helped him learn more about a divisive issue that he believes shouldn’t be. People should realize taking a knee is not a direct protest of the flag or the anthem, said Villanueva, one of the first critics of Colin Kaepernick’s method of protest.

“I’ve learned that I don’t know what it’s like to be from Dade County, I don’t know what it’s like to be from Oakland,” Villanueva said. “I can’t tell you I know what my teammates have gone through, so I’m not going to pretend like I have the righteous sort of voice to tell you that you should stand up for the national anthem. It’s protected by our constitution and our country. It’s the freedom of speech. People felt, based on the comments the president made, they had to go out and protect and support Colin Kaepernick, and that’s completely in their right. But it was not something we were trying to do with the Steelers. We were trying to be unified.”

Dolphin QB Ryan Tannehill want to put knee problems rest

DAVIE, Fla. — Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is already growing tired of questions about his left knee. He was asked throughout spring practices and minicamp and couldn’t avoid the same questions during the first week of training camp.

“The knee is really good. It feels really good,” Tannehill said with a grin. “I haven’t had any changes since the spring. I was a full participant in the spring and still going really well.

Ryan Tannehill has no concerns about his knee and is instead focused on the bigger picture for the Dolphins.

Ryan Tannehill has no concerns about his knee and is instead focused on the bigger picture for the Dolphins.

“Now we don’t have to address that anymore, right? [Laughter.] We’re good?”
Tannehill suffered a sprained ACL and MCL and missed the final four games of last season, which included Miami’s playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many were surprised his knee didn’t require surgery. But the Dolphins and Tannehill, who is arguably one of the toughest players on the team, decided rehabbing the knee and wearing a brace was best.

Now, all eyes are on Tannehill to see if anything will change with his mobility and playing style. So far, he hasn’t missed any practice time, and it doesn’t look like last season’s knee injury will have a negative impact going forward.

Tannehill has perhaps the most complete supporting cast of his pro career. Miami has a Pro Bowl receiver in Jarvis Landry, a speedy deep threat in Kenny Stills, a talented former first-round pick in DeVante Parker, a red zone weapon in tight end Julius Thomas and a balanced running game led by Pro Bowl tailback Jay Ajayi.

The Dolphins are building an offense that’s flexible, depending on the opponent and Tannehill’s ability to be consistent in the passing game.

“You look at our toolbox, I think we’re pretty stacked,” Ajayi said of Miami’s offense. “Now we know what the weapons are. We all have to contribute. We have to play even more than what’s expected of us, and we’re excited to go do that.”

The flip side to having a plethora of weapons is Tannehill must also keep his skill players happy. Landry set an NFL record for most receptions (288) made during a player’s first three seasons and he demands plenty of targets. Parker is a budding talent and needs the ball more. The Dolphins acquired Thomas for a reason, and head coach Adam Gase said he’s not afraid to give Ajayi 300 carries this season if that’s what the defense dictates.

“It all evens out at the end if you do it right,” Gase said. “I’ve seen it before. I’ve experienced this before, especially in 2013 and 2014 [in Denver]. I mean, there were a lot of guys you had to get the ball, and everybody just kind of did what they were supposed to do and it works out right in the end.”

Last year Tannehill posted a career-high 93.5 passer rating and went 8-5 before the injury. A similar rating or better would go a long way to helping Miami make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, which would be a productive next step for both Tannehill and the Dolphins.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me on individual stats,” Tannehill said. “I want to win games, put us in the playoffs and win the division, be in the Super Bowl. That’s our goal. That’s what we set out each and every year to do is to win games, make the playoffs first, win the division and be in the Super Bowl.

“It’s tough to say what exactly is success. But for me, that’s my goal right now is to put this team in position to win and win a lot of games and compete for a championship.”

Le’Veon Bel did not report the Steelers Training Camp

The Pittsburgh Steelers reported for camp Wednesday, but Le’Veon Bell was not among those checking in. The two-time Pro Bowl running back is upset with his contract situation after receiving the franchise tag earlier in the year and is officially holding out from training camp.

Many holdouts have the goal of negotiating a new contract, but the Steelers can’t give Bell a new deal after failing to reach a long-term deal prior to the July 17 deadline. No matter how long Bell sits out of practice, it’s just a show of displeasure and can’t result in the contract he believes he deserves.

However, there will be no ramifications for Bell missing time. Because he hasn’t yet signed his franchise tender, he isn’t under contract and can’t be punished for sitting out.

While he told ESPN that he plans to play a full 16-game regular season, Bell can report to training camp whenever he wants and that means the Steelers may not see him until mid-to-late August, according to Adam Schefter.

Bell, 25, averaged 105.7 rushing yards and 51.3 receiving yards per game last season after starting the year with a three-game suspension. That offseason was also hampered by recovery from a knee injury that ended his 2015 season, so it’s probably a safe bet that Bell won’t need many (or any) preseason reps to get back into top form.

Last year, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry faced the same situation and didn’t sign his franchise tender until Aug. 28 — two weeks before the team’s regular-season opener. It didn’t negatively affect Berry’s play, and he earned First-Team All-Pro honors anyway before signing a six-year, $78 million deal in February.

Missing training camp time inevitably draws criticism, though. Even Bell’s teammate Antonio Brown called out the running back for not signing his franchise tender yet:
Regardless of the length or outcome of Bell’s holdout, he’ll make $12.12 million fully guaranteed on a one-year deal whenever he decides to sign his tender.

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ Leonard Fournette is the only running back who will make more in 2017 thanks to a front-loaded deal that gives the rookie about $18.35 million this year. But Fournette’s four-year, $27.15 million deal averages less than $7 million per year.

Bell is hoping for much more and told NFL Network he wants to be paid like the team’s No. 1 running back and No. 2 wide receiver. That probably won’t happen, but Bell does have a strong chance of getting a deal that resets the market for running backs. He just won’t have a chance at that contract until after the 2017 season.

For now, the Steelers are getting training camp started without Bell and can’t do anything except wait for him to show up when he feels ready to do so.