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12-31-2007, 06:31 AM
Loss felt like a preseason game
By Mike Bires, Times Sports Staff
Published: Monday, December 31, 2007 12:09 AM EST


BALTIMORE ? With water dripping off his cap and rain gear, Mike Tomlin stepped to a podium Sunday night and evaluated his team?s prospect for the upcoming playoffs.

?Ready or not, hear we come,? surmised the Pittsburgh Steelers coach as he spoke from the bowels of M&T Bank Stadium.

?We?re 10-6, won our division and have a home game against the five seed. We look forward to preparing for that.?

In their final act of the 2007 regular season, an AFC North Division game against the rival Baltimore Ravens (5-11), the Steelers didn?t exactly tune up for the Super Bowl tournament the way they had hoped.

Then again, their rain-soaked 27-21 loss almost had a preseason tone to it.

Two prime-time starters ? quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Hines Ward ? didn?t play even though they were healthy enough to do so. And in the second half as rain continued to pour down, veterans such as guard Alan Faneca, cornerback Deshea Townsend and running back Najeh Davenport retreated to the sideline and became spectators.

In addition, the Steelers played without strong safety Troy Polamalu, who?s nursing a knee injury, and kick return specialist Allen Rossum, who?s nursing a groin pull.

But on Saturday night when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars (11-5) in a wild-card at Heinz Field, the fourth-seeded Steelers expect to be as healthy as possible.

?Our losses in December are certainly a concern,? defensive end Brett Keisel said. ?As a team, you always want to finish strong. But January is what really matters.

?If you win some games in January, nobody will remember what happened in December.?

Certainly, Sunday?s game was nothing worth remembering for the Steelers.

With Charlie Batch starting in place of Roethlisberger, who was listed as questionable with a sprained ankle, the offense struggled.

Batch did throw for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but he also served up two interceptions.

?It was good to be out there and play. I was happy with some things, but disappointed with others,? Batch said.

?Ultimately, I didn?t lead the team to victory.?

While Batch?s sub-par performance was a factor, the Steelers had other issues as well.

They couldn?t run the ball, totaling only 46 rushing yards.

They couldn?t stop the run, allowing 180 yards, including 83 to third-team running back Musa Smith and 72 more to fourth-stringer Cory Ross.

Of course, it didn?t help the Steelers? cause that Willie Reid, filing in for the injured Rossum, fumbled away the opening kickoff.

Starting at the Steelers? 35-yard line, the Ravens marched in for a touchdown.

On their next possession, the Ravens made it 10-0 on a Matt Stover field goal.

On their third possession, after a poor, 25-yard punt by Daniel Sepulveda, the Ravens got a 32-yard TD run by Ross that made it 17-0.

As the Ravens celebrated Ross? score, Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton strutted off the field in obvious disgust and then slammed his helmet to the turf in anger.

Even though there was nearly three quarters left to play, the Steelers were done.

?We?re disappointed,? Tomlin said.

?We didn?t get the job done. It was a bad loss for us ? similar to a lot of our losses.

?We had lot of self-inflicted wounds early.

?The spirit and effort we played throughout the game wasn?t enough to bring us back at the end.?

So now, the Steelers turn their attention to Jacksonville.

?Are we ready?? Ward said. ?I hope so. But really, we have no choice.?