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12-12-2006, 12:00 PM
Who wants it?

By Mike Prisuta
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Coach Bill Cowher has no illusions about the predicament his Steelers continue to confront, despite the help they received over the weekend from the Bills, Ravens and Chargers.

"Certainly, we understand where we are," Cowher said Monday. "It's the same place we've been."

That would be in a win-or-else predicament, as the Steelers have been since falling to 4-7 via a 27-0 shellacking on Nov. 26 in Baltimore.

Anything less than 9-7 isn't going to cut it as far as the playoffs are concerned. And even a successful navigation of Carolina, Baltimore and Cincinnati might not be enough.

That much hasn't changed.

But what makes the quest compelling is the inability of the rest of the AFC field to distinguish itself over the long haul.

As Steelers linebacker Larry Foote has observed, "It's easy to lose two or three games in a row in this league."

The Steelers have done so twice this season.

They'd benefit greatly if similar misfortune would befall the Jets, Bengals and Jaguars.

Could such a thing happen?

If it could happen to the defending champions twice, it could happen to anyone once.

The Jets are already a third of the way there.

They surrendered a 57-yard run, a 77-yard pass and a 58-yard interception return, all for scores, in a 31-13 loss at home Sunday to Buffalo.

If they lose at Minnesota and at Miami, we'll know for certain before the regular season ends.

The Bengals are streaking in the other direction, having won four in a row following a three-game slide. Next is a two-game swing through Indianapolis and Denver.

As fast as the Colts and Broncos appear to be fading, it should surprise no one if both suddenly rediscover what it is they do best (for Indy, that's catch Peyton Manning's passes; for Denver, it's play something resembling defense) at Cincinnati's expense.

The Jaguars, like the Bengals, are suddenly surging and coming off a dismantling of Indianapolis. Yet on three previous occasions this season, the Jaguars have followed up just such a signature win with a hard-to-figure regression into mediocrity.

They beat the Steelers, 9-0, on Sept. 18, only to lose, 21-14, at Indy the following week.

Jacksonville blasted the Jets, 41-0, on Oct. 8, then came off a bye and lost, 27-7, in Houston.

And the Jaguars dominated the Giants, 26-10, during a "Monday Night Football" coming-out party on Nov. 20, but followed it up with a confounding 27-24 loss in Buffalo.

The Jaguars finish at Tennessee, against New England and at Kansas City.

Attempts to figure out Jacksonville are maddening.

The Broncos are impossible to quantify.

Denver, once 7-2 and cruising, permitted just two defensive touchdowns in its first six games.

Those same Broncos surrendered six in Sunday's 48-20 loss at San Diego, including three to LaDainian Tomlinson, while falling to 7-6.

The Broncos have also lost two in a row with rookie Jay Cutler at quarterback.

Wonder if anyone in Denver still has Marlin Briscoe's phone number?

Or Bubby Brister's?

The Chiefs are somehow still a factor, but must visit San Diego -- the one and only real deal in the AFC -- after dropping consecutive games.

Amazingly, the Steelers are still looking up at all of the above.

The view hasn't changed, even as the landscape around them has shifted significantly.

Three weeks remain.

Trying to gauge the likelihood of the Steelers getting enough help to back-door themselves into the postseason went out the window a long time ago.

Having a chance, any chance, is all that matters.

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