Steelers have to put Patriots loss behind them, shift focus toward Jacksonville
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A win and they're in, although the Steelers still have bigger plans than just making the playoffs even after the overwhelming favorites rubbed them out Sunday.
The Steelers looked like a june bug bouncing off the windshield of the New England Patriots' perfect season express, when they lost, 34-13, at Gillette Stadium.
Yet at 9-4, a victory at home against Jacksonville would clinch a playoff berth, and with three games left anything but a total collapse will crown them AFC North Division champions.
The Patriots clinched a playoff bye and likely are headed for the AFC's top seed, which means anyone who wants to upset their Super Bowl plans will have to do it in Foxborough.
"We have a long way to go for that to happen," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said Sunday night after the game. "We have to think about the next game, which is Jacksonville. We need to win that game and whatever happens, happens. But if we do make it back here, it would be nice."
The Cleveland Browns (8-5) remain on their tails because they beat the New York Jets Sunday. Because the Steelers beat the Browns twice, Cleveland must finish ahead of them in order to win the division.
The Browns would do it if they sweep their remaining three at home vs. Buffalo, at Cincinnati, and back home vs. San Francisco, while the Steelers go 1-2 with games at St. Louis and Baltimore after their final home game Sunday. Or, if the Steelers lose all three, the Browns can go 2-1 and win it.
At least a wild-card playoff berth can be had for the Steelers by winning Sunday against a good Jacksonville team that is 9-4 and also fighting for one of the two AFC wild-card berths.
"All we can worry about is Jacksonville," guard Alan Faneca said. "Go out and try to win a game. There's a lot of football left to play. Cleveland is still playing good ball. Nothing's a guarantee in this business."
Ouch, there's that word again. And again ...
"We're not guaranteed into the playoffs right now," linebacker Larry Foote said. "So we have to take care of home next week.
"We know Jacksonville's going to be tough. They won big [Sunday] and it's always a tough game when we play them. We have to get ready for Jacksonville -- we better, we don't have any choice."
The Steelers do have one thing in common with the Patriots -- they're unbeaten, at home, where they are 7-0. A win and a Cleveland loss would give them the division title Sunday, but it does not appear as if the revived Browns want to cooperate and their schedule looks a lot easier down the stretch.
"We have no margin for error," Keisel said. "We have to win the rest of our games. The ball is in our court, we just need to make the basket. I like our team, we just need to finish strong."
The Steelers say New England's dominance Sunday won't scar them as they put on their final push.
"We lost to a good team," linebacker James Farrior said. "They made more plays than us. We have to go back to the drawing board this week. We have a big game coming up, the biggest game of the year. We have to put this one behind us, make the corrections and move on."
The Steelers actually did not play poorly anywhere on the field except on pass defense and in special teams, again. Their lone turnover came on a poor New England punt that bounced off the Steelers' William Gay. The Patriots did not even try to run, with 22 yards on nine carries. Willie Parker got back on track with 124 yards rushing. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw one touchdown and no interceptions, although he was sacked another three times, putting the total at a record-threatening 38 with three to go. And the Steelers held the ball for nearly 35 of the game's 60 minutes.
"I don't think we had any turnovers," Roethlisberger said. "We took care of the ball, had time of possession. They were just the better team.
"Now we have to fight. We have a tough game this week. We still control our own destiny and that's what's most important. We have to make sure we continue to control that. A loss is a loss, it doesn't matter how bad you lose when you lose."