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AFC North notebook: With little fun in Pittsburgh, Steelers' Tomlin takes away team's games

Desperate times apparently call for harsh measures inside the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room, a once-vibrant place where fun and games not involving football have now been outlawed.

With his team winless through four games and in last place in the AFC North, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin took the unusual step of banning pool, table tennis and shuffleboard at work.

Previously, only veteran players were allowed to play. Earlier this season, older players said the games were off-limits to rookies until they first earned their stripes on the field. Now the ban is team-wide as the Steelers focus on more important tasks like blocking and tackling.

Games in locker rooms are not uncommon. Cornhole is a popular pastime inside the Ravens' facility, and the team has a players' lounge that includes video games, pinball and bubble hockey. Then again, the Ravens have made the playoffs for five consecutive seasons under coach John Harbaugh.

While Tomlin polices his locker room, frustration inside it is becoming obvious.

During a appearance on ESPN last weekend, veteran safety and defensive captain Ryan Clark said of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: "We have to tone Ben down in a sense and say, 'Hey, right now, we're not a good enough football team for you to try to extend plays, for us to take sacks, for us to have turnovers.'"

A day later, Clark clarified his remarks to Pittsburgh reporters.

"When asked a question about Ben, I said we need to protect Ben," Clark said. "When I say that, [I mean the] defense, we need to make plays so he doesn't feel like he has to do everything. Offensively, we need to protect him so he can get the ball out on his fifth step; receivers need to get open, running backs need to run the ball. I feel like he needs to understand that, as constructed right now, we aren't playing well enough right now as a team to where we can take sacks and have turnovers. So, as a team, that's a team solution."

If they continue to lose, the Steelers could target a quarterback like Louisville star Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 NFL draft.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert reportedly traveled to Louisville to scout Bridgewater this week.

Bengals seeking road win

Unfortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, they don't play all of their games at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals (3-2), undefeated at home, have lost both of their road games this season.

That could change as soon as Sunday, when the Bengals travel to Buffalo to play a Bills squad missing rookie quarterback EJ Manuel (knee). Former practice squad quarterback Thaddeus Lewis will start for the Bills.

The Bengals play four of their next five games on the road.

"It's only a problem if we don't win this week," coach Marvin Lewis said when asked about the Bengals' road woes. "It's going to be important that we do well on the road coming up. We had five games that were going to be physical and mentally testing, and then we had four out of five on the road.

"We've got to put our road warrior hats on and go to work. Last year, you were blowing smoke up our butts, telling us how good we were on the road, so I'm waiting for you to do that."

The Bengals could exploit the inexperience of Lewis, a former Duke quarterback who made his only NFL start last season for the Cleveland Browns, completing 22 of 32 passes for 204 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a loss to the Steelers.

"From what I've been told, he's very smart, has good intellect and understands football very well," Lewis said. "Against Pittsburgh last year, he was able to complete some deep out throws, both to his left and his right. That was impressive. He's had quite a few naked [bootlegs], which I'm sure we'll see some of. We're going to need to knock the heck out of him every chance we get."

Browns deny Gordon trade speculation

With the Cleveland Browns (3-2) tied for first place, the idea of trading wide receiver Josh Gordon doesn't seem to make much sense.

Big and talented, Gordon has 18 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns since serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. His future in the league is precarious, however. With another failed drug test, Gordon will receive a year's suspension.

Still, Gordon remains a frequent topic of trade speculation, with the latest reports linking him to the San Francisco 49ers.

"I'm not going to get into any specifics about rumors and all those type of things," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said during a press conference. "I will say we are not shopping Josh and we have no plans of trading Josh."

awilson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/RavensInsider

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