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Old 11-27-2006, 05:45 AM   #1
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Default Steelers' defense didn't have the answers, either

Steelers' defense didn't have the answers, either
Monday, November 27, 2006

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

BALTIMORE -- They didn't expect it to end like this, not with a performance as flat and uninspiring as a South Dakota prairie.

They didn't expect it to end with their quarterback on his back, their running game non-existent, or their offensive line in desperate search of a fire marshall to limit the amount of Baltimore Ravens in the backfield.

But, when it was all over yesterday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium -- not just the game, but the season -- the Steelers never really expected it to end with their defense getting moved around like office furniture.

At least, not when they still had some measure of hope, however small, of making a run at the playoffs.

"That's our niche," said linebacker Clark Haggans. "I was surprised they moved the ball as much as they did."

Coach Bill Cowher called it a "pitiful performance," and he lumped everyone under the umbrella -- offense, defense and special teams.

And, as bad as the offense performed in a 27-0 shutout loss to the Ravens, the defense was even more humiliated at the manner in which they were shredded for 30 minutes by two players who have tormented them in the past -- quarterback Steve McNair and running back Jamal Lewis.

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger had three more turnovers, raising his season total to 21, four of which have been returned for touchdowns. And Willie Parker, who can't seem to run on the road, had a season-low 22 yards on 10 carries, despite a 12-yard run on his second carry of the game.

In the end, though, when the Ravens put everything but the mathematical nail in the Steelers' season, it was the defense which performed like a Thanksgiving turkey.

"I got no words for this," Haggans said. "Just everything unpleasant."

"That one drive they had they just ran it right down our throats," said defensive end Brett Keisel.

"That's not what this defense is about."

It was against the Ravens, who sliced and diced the Steelers for 215 yards and 16 first downs in the first half. They did it on the ground when Jamal Lewis had 61 yards on 13 carries, including four runs of 8 yards or longer. They did it through the air when Steve McNair, who was not sacked, completed his first six passes and 13 of his first 17, including a 20-yard touchdown to tight end Todd Heap.

The statistics will show the Ravens finishing with just 275 yards offense, the fourth fewest yards by an opponent this season.

And their 161 passing yards were the third fewest by an opponent.

Those numbers, though, do not accurately reflect the manner in which the Ravens pushed the Steelers around when it mattered. Especially on first down.

"They had our number in every area -- defense, offense and special teams," said inside linebacker Larry Foote. "Defensively, they played more physical than we did. We just didn't match them.

"It definitely surprised me. Any time teams run the ball on us I'm surprised. It seemed like we got behind the eight-ball a little bit. In the second half we adjusted but it was a little too late."

And the Ravens didn't waste any time imposing their dominance.

McNair was 4 for 4 for 51 yards on the first possession that resulted in his easy 20-yard touchdown to Heap, a play in which cornerback Deshea Townsend bit on a double move.

After a 32-yard punt by Chris Gardocki gave the Ravens possession at the Steelers' 47, Lewis carried three times for 18 yards and fullback Ovie Mughelli carried twice for 13 yards to set up Lewis' 1-yard touchdown for a 14-0 lead.

"They ran the ball right down there," Cowher said, disgustedly.

"We had guys making contact and they were going 4, 5 yards at a clip. They had us off-balance in the first half."

Perhaps the final indignity came at the end of the first half when the Ravens used 12 plays, converting five first downs, to set up Matt Stover's 37-yard field goal with :08 remaining. It culminated a quarter in which the Ravens outgained the Steelers, 138 yards to minus-6.

"Knowing what we had at stake, what we could have done to help ourselves out, for us not to play at our best is disappointing," Townsend said.

The Steelers never really had a chance. The Ravens averaged 9 yards per first-down play in the first quarter, 5.8 yards for the first half. Because the Ravens were rarely faced with second-and-long, the Steelers never managed to get any blitz pressure on McNair, who wasn't sacked for only the second time this season. The first time they tried, he made them pay with the touchdown pass to Heap.

"I don't know if we were off-balance or what," Keisel said.

"We didn't play the way we expected to play," said cornerback Bryant McFadden, who started for demoted Ike Taylor.

Their coach would definitely agree.

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