Archive for Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Cowher refuses to quit

Steelers coach won’t concede team is out of playoff picture

November 19, 2003

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— Bill Cowher held his second news conference in 12 hours on opposite coasts to discuss the same game. The Pittsburgh coach's demeanor Tuesday nearly was identical to his team's predicament.

He wished he wasn't where he was. He wasn't exactly sure how he got there. He clearly would have preferred to be any place but there.

There was no hiding from the 30-14 loss Monday night in San Francisco that left the Steelers (3-7) with their worst 10-game record in 15 years, and a short work week before Sunday's division game at Cleveland (4-6).

"We've got no margin for error," Cowher said.

For Cowher and his assistant coaches, no sleep, either. The coaches got off the team charter about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday and immediately drove to their practice complex to begin working on the Cleveland game plan.

Cowher expressed dismay last week that the Steelers were the only team this season that traveled again the weekend after playing a Monday night road game. His mood certainly wasn't any better by Tuesday.

"There is no normality to this week," Cowher said, and not happily. "We've been here since we landed. We will work the rest of the week and travel on Saturday."

Maybe being tired and irritable caused Cowher to be a bit defiant, too. He insisted for the umpteenth week that the Steelers very much remain in the AFC North race, despite six losses in seven games and their worst record since they were 2-8 in 1988.

"Right now, we have to keep fighting and keep going out there preparing, believing and trusting," Cowher said. "Obviously, when circumstances are the way they are, you are tested in trying to take that approach. But that's the only approach you can take right now.

"You can't start questioning, you can't stop believing."

Pittsburgh Steelers players Amos Zereoue, left, and Plaxico Burress
sit on the bench. Despite Monday night's 30-14 loss at San
Francisco, Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher won't say the Steelers
can't make the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers players Amos Zereoue, left, and Plaxico Burress sit on the bench. Despite Monday night's 30-14 loss at San Francisco, Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher won't say the Steelers can't make the playoffs.

Maybe they should stop looking at the standings, too. Asked if he felt the Steelers were in the race, wide receiver Hines Ward said Monday night, "Would you still feel in it at 3-7?"

The Steelers not only must start winning -- and they haven't won consecutive games since Dec. 23 and Dec. 29 -- they also must hope everyone else in the division keeps losing consistently. Given the large number of intradivision games remaining, that might be next to impossible.

Each team has three AFC North games left, with Cleveland (4-6) and Baltimore (5-5) playing twice more at home against division teams. The Steelers and Cincinnati (5-5) both have only one more division home game.

The Steelers also have no consistency in their running or passing games or on defense. Tommy Maddox passed for 327 yards Monday, but missed several open receivers, including Plaxico Burress on a potential deep scoring pass. Several other passes were dropped.

Despite a nearly invisible running game that was held to 44 yards and averaged only 2.2 yards per carry, Cowher suggested the offense's biggest flaw was the inconsistency in throwing the ball.

"We are just not in sync right now," Cowher said. "He (Maddox) puts the ball on sometimes and we drop it, then we get a couple of steps (on a defender) and the ball is two yards overthrown."

If the Steelers don't win Sunday, Cowher might have trouble getting anyone in his locker room to believe the Steelers truly are in the race.

"The players are tired, they're sore ... but it's a big game for us, obviously," Cowher said. "It is going to be a tough atmosphere to go into. There is a lot of sacrifice everybody has to make. We talked about it last week, and we knew that's what these weeks were going to entail."

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