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|Rookie LB Keith Rivers lasted only four plays before being knocked out by a Hines Ward block.|
Ward knocked Rivers down with a straight-up hit Sunday on the fourth play of the Steelers' 38-10 victory. Rivers, a first-round draft pick, stayed down on the field for several minutes before walking off without assistance. Tests found the fracture.
Ward, a former Super Bowl MVP, is known as one of the league's toughest blockers. He wasn't penalized for the block against a player who is 2 inches taller and about 35 pounds heavier.
"I'm not doing anything illegal," Ward said. "It was a clean hit. I didn't stand over the guy or anything. I just celebrated the same as a guy does when he gets a sack.
"We'll see. I'm not going to change my ways. If they're going to keep fining me for that, then I'm going to get fined all year. I don't know if I hurt him or not, but that wasn't my intention."
Ward was fined $15,000 by the league for non-penalized hits on consecutive weeks earlier in the season. Team chairman Dan Rooney and coach Mike Tomlin contacted the league about the fines last week.
Safety Troy Polamalu also spoke out last week, saying the league was turning the game into "flag football, two-hand touch" by taking such a hard line on hits.
The latest came on the fourth play of the game Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger completed a 6-yard pass to Matt Spaeth near the right sideline, and Rivers tried to chase him down. Ward was farther downfield, saw the linebacker coming and leveled him.
"I'm not going to wait around until you hit me," Ward said. "It was a clean hit. I didn't get penalized for it."
Rivers was the Bengals' second-leading tackler for the season, starting every game. Linebacker Brandon Johnson will get more playing time with Rivers out. Johnson finished tied for the team lead with seven tackles on Sunday.
Johnson saw a double standard at work.
"No flag came out because it wasn't a quarterback," Johnson said. "If he was a quarterback, then they definitely would have thrown the flag. If it was a receiver, they definitely would have thrown the flag. It's just something that comes with playing defense. If you play defense, then you're pretty much expendable, I guess.
"It's part of the game. It was a good block. If I was in Hines Ward's shoes, I probably would have taken the same shot. You can't really blame him."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press