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Old 12-02-2006, 05:01 AM   #1
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Default Steelers are eager to get back on track

Steelers are eager to get back on track
Final five games will test the team's character

Saturday, December 02, 2006

By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Putting forth a strong and determined face, Bill Cowher said what happened to the Steelers in Baltimore was an "aberration," that the performance he referred to as "pitiful" was not representative of his team and is something that won't happen again.

Or so he would like to think, he said.

It is still unclear if the Steelers (4-7) will approach the home game tomorrow against the floundering Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-8) with fingers crossed or the uncompromised determination of a wounded animal. Will they stand up and try to resurrect something from the ruins of a season that had its biggest implosion against the Ravens?

Or will they continue to spiral into the abyss that has swallowed their hopes and seemingly sapped their desire, now that just a mathematical nail stands between them and an official end to the season?

"Anything like that would surprise me," guard Alan Faneca said. "I don't expect it at all. You can't control the outcome of a game, but I can definitely tell you I think the guys in here are going to fight to the end."

"I don't think with the people we got in this locker room, on this team and in this organization ... we got guys who just don't sit around like this," defensive end Aaron Smith said. "I've been around here long enough. People around here are going to fight and fight until you tell them they can't fight anymore."

"I've been here with these guys. I know what the character is," outside linebacker Joey Porter said. "We're still holding on to our imagination that we're not out of it. The best thing we can do is try to finish 9-7 and see what happens. As far as just counting the days, that won't happen. It will never happen around here."

Beginning with the Buccaneers, another 2005 playoff team gone awry, the Steelers will try to win their remaining five games and, as Cowher said, "Let the chips fall where they may."

But, the only thing that has been falling through the first 11 games is their record, which is hovering on the precipice of being the worst by a defending Super Bowl champion (Denver, 6-10, 1999). Faced with the small window of beating the Ravens and remaining a possible candidate for the playoffs, the Steelers put on a performance six days ago as bad as any player can remember. "The worst whupping I can remember since I've been here," said Porter, who arrived as a third-round pick in 1999.

For the Steelers, using the slim mathematical probability of making the playoffs as motivation is a real long shot.

The fear of embarrassment should be a greater motivation.

"I'm not concerned about that at all, and I don't think this locker room is concerned about that," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "There's really not too much farther down we can go. If we look down, we can see the bottom right there. But we have to start playing better and that's going to have to start this weekend."

"That's not at all the type of team we have or the type of guys we have in the locker room," inside linebacker James Farrior said. "Even if you don't like the way things are going, you're still a professional, even if you don't have any other reason to play hard. Everyone in here loves the game of football and wants to win for coach Cowher."

For two years, during a 15-game victory streak in 2004 and an historic run to the Super Bowl last season, the Steelers touted commitment and resiliency as their defining elements. Even this season, when turnovers cost them victories against Cincinnati, Atlanta and Oakland, they remained convinced of their resolve.

But they had their chance to summon that resolve against the Ravens, and it was like stepping on the gas of a four-cylinder compact. There was nothing there.

"There's not too much good you can take from it," Porter said. "That's come and gone. It just lets you know the kind of mind-set you have to have. That's why I stay with the mind-set I have every time I'm out there.

"That's why I keep the chip on my shoulder. Anytime you go out there and play where you don't have the sense of urgency to play like you need to play, that type of stuff can happen."

The same could happen in the final five games, too, beginning against the Buccaneers. Cowher said such predicaments test a person's character, separate the conditional friend from the unconditional.

"Stand up for who you are and be accountable," Cowher said.

Or lay down.

It is up to the Steelers to decide.

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