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lamberts-lost-tooth
11-25-2006, 09:38 AM
Saturday, November 25, 2006
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There is, within the vast and elegant and understated prose of Oscar Wilde, a passage that describes the approach to a haunted estate.

"As they entered the avenue of Canterville Chase," Wilde wrote, "a curious stillness seemed to hold the atmosphere."

The short stories of Oscar Wilde still occupy exactly zero percent of the typical playbook at 3400 South Water Street, the Super Bowl-haunted facilities of the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers, but few within its walls would deny a curious atmospheric stillness at the arrival of this weekend.

Tomorrow brings not just another nasty confrontation with the Ravens in downtown Baltimore, but a football game that is for the defending Super Bowl champions a moment of truth. On the other side of this curious stillness is either a play-out-the-string December for an underachieving 4-7 team, or a beam of light representing a potential five-game winning streak and a space where playoff talk is no longer a sure sign of psychosis.

"Don't be mistaken," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of the Steelers this week, "they are in the hunt."

Unless they leave Maryland with a victory tomorrow night though, the Steelers recognize the hunt as primarily theoretical, its only worldly parameters being that they simply can't lose down there for the fourth consecutive time.

"We can't have any setbacks," agreed offensive tackle Marvel Smith, "but there's no point in putting too much pressure on ourselves, more than we already have."

The pressure will come from every physical and metaphysical direction tomorrow:

From an 8-2 Baltimore team that would so dearly love to cast its most bitter rival into the abyss.

From a Ravens defense that leads the league in interceptions.

From the veteran quarterback Steve McNair, who has won four games in a row with a quarterback rating of 95.7 since Billick wrested the play-calling responsibilities from deposed offensive coordinator Jim Fassel.

From the maddeningly elusive B.J. Sams, the special teams' jet who piled up 212 return yards last week, and who must be nearly awash in saliva at the approach of a Steelers kickoff coverage unit that is among the league's absolute sorriest.

From the inevitable lack of oxygen brought about by the typical Steelers-Ravens encounter, nine of the past 15 having been decided by seven points or fewer, seven of those by three points or fewer, including the overtime verdict last year that went in favor of Baltimore, 16-13.

"We just have to approach it like we did the last two weeks," said safety Ryan Clark, a newcomer to this rivalry. "They're the No. 1 team in our division and they play a similar philosophy -- stop the run and control the ball, but I'm looking forward to playing in it for the first time. When I was with Washington, it was like this against Dallas."

Well, there is this parallel. The Redskins and Steelers are trailing the top team in their divisions by four games. Part of the brutal math tomorrow is that if the Steelers lose, they'll be five games behind the Ravens with five to play, which is no way to arrive in January wearing anything but an easy chair. Kansas City's victory against Denver and Jake the Fake Thanksgiving night might have plunged wild-card scenarios involving the Steelers irretrievably into fiction.

The Steelers got something of an emotional boost yesterday with the reappearance in practice of Hines Ward, who was injured Sunday at Cleveland and next to inactive since. Ward worked yesterday, and though he didn't look terribly fluid on a bruised knee, said he'd play tomorrow.

"We know what's at stake," he said after practice. "With me being out there, I'm going to do all I can to help this team win."

A healthy Ward is vital to an offense that went three quarters last week achieving only four first downs and, while Ben Roethlisberger unsheathed a brilliant fourth quarter that successfully toppled the Browns in the Ohio rain, the Steelers mostly gave off the aroma of a team more like the Browns than the Ravens.

The running game, in particular, is a far more pliable animal on the road, where Willie Parker averages barely 3 yards per carry. At home, he averages 5.5.

"We've got to play our best game -- ever," Parker said about tomorrow. "We've got to keep ourselves alive."

That's what they were thinking in Wilde's "The Canterville Ghost" as well, though maybe not at the exact moment of curious stillness. I think it turned out badly.

83-Steelers-43
11-25-2006, 09:47 AM
Steelers face must-win situation

Much like last week................and the week before that..............and the week before that.........

Jeremy
11-25-2006, 09:51 AM
They put themselves into this situation. The players and coahces have both performed more like a 8-8 team than the defending Super Bowl champs. One thing we know is that the bandwagon is pretty empty right now. There are talking heads all over America who are loving the fact that the Steelers are struggling and media darlings like San Diego and New England are on top.

SteelCityMan786
11-25-2006, 01:15 PM
They face must win situations every week. HERE WE GO STEELERS HERE WE GO!

Blitzburgh
11-25-2006, 01:30 PM
Steelers should have put thier big boy pants on for the Atlanta game, they didn't. They waited too long this season to get focused on playing ball.