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Old 11-21-2006, 03:54 AM   #1
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Default Still hanging on: Steelers not yet out of playoff race

Still hanging on: Steelers not yet out of playoff race

By The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 21, 2006


They bought themselves another week.

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't close the sizable gap between them and AFC North leader Baltimore despite scoring three touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to beat the Cleveland Browns 24-20 on Sunday.

Nine teams lead them in the race for six AFC playoff spots, and five are ahead of them by at least three games with six to play.

The Steelers (4-6) prevented all-but-mathematical elimination for at least another week, though a loss next weekend at AFC North leader Baltimore (8-2) would leave them five games down in the division with five to play.

Clearly, the Steelers need the kind of desperation, late-season stretch drive that hasn't been staged in the NFL since ... well, last year. Then, the Steelers had to win their final eight games to reach the playoffs and win the Super Bowl and accomplished exactly that.

The Steelers have won two games in a row for the first time this season and they won Sunday on the road for the first time in five games.

For now, they are hanging their hopes on putting together a comeback run.

"We're just trying to win one week at a time," coach Bill Cowher said. "I don't know if we have dug too deep a hole, but they are playing hard. To come back two weeks in a row after being down, I think that shows a lot."

The problem is they're running out of time.

"There is no tomorrow," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We know what's at stake."

The Steelers have two games remaining against the Ravens, whom they have beaten seven times in their last 10 meetings. The Ravens also have a tough closing stretch, with games at Cincinnati, Kansas City and Pittsburgh, plus home games against Cleveland and Buffalo.

Pittsburgh has two games remaining against losing-record teams, Tampa Bay (3-7) and Cleveland (5-5), but also plays Baltimore (8-2), Cincinnati (5-5) and Carolina (6-4) on the road.

Until last season, the Steelers hadn't made such a frantic stretch drive to reach the playoffs since 1989. Then, after being 6-7, they won their final three to sneak into the playoffs, upset Houston on the road in a wild-card game and lost at Denver 24-23 in a divisional game.

This time, to replicate what they did last season, the Steelers almost certainly have to win 12 in a row: their final eight regular-season games, plus four more in the playoffs. Currently, they're only two games into that theoretical 12-game streak.

Before the season began, most Steelers players would have laughed at any suggestion they would be so far down in the division race this deep into the season. Linebacker Joey Porter poked fun at several publications for picking the Steelers to finish third in the division, yet that's where they are.

One stretch drive worry appears to be alleviated: safety Troy Polamalu's condition after he sustained at least his sixth career concussion, against New Orleans. Not only did he play against the Browns, he had one of the best games with seven tackles and a sack.

Ben Roethlisberger also displayed the resiliency he had during the playoffs last season, shaking off three interceptions in the first half ? two on tipped balls ? to lead three long scoring drives.

Roethlisberger still leads the NFL with 17 interceptions, five more than any other regular, but showed championship qualities in rallying the Steelers from a 10-point deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining.

"It was a sense of urgency," Ward said. "We were behind the 8-ball. I can't say enough about Ben. He rose to the occasion and made a big play when it counted."

Now, the challenge is to play this way six more weeks in a row.

"We have the confidence we can come back in a close game," Ward said.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pitt.../s_480704.html
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