Steelers Looking for Complete Game

In the previous 72 years of the Pittsburgh pro football franchise, no team that started out with a 7-2 record or better has failed to make the playoffs.

The 2005 version is on the verge of making history. The Steelers (7-5) believe if they do not win their final four games, they won't make the playoffs - and they might be right. But they're already tired of talking about it. One week after they lost what many of them called a must-win game against Cincinnati, which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger referred to as a "do or die" game, the Steelers are struggling to keep their heads above the water.

"We just need to go out and play football and not really worry about the playoff situation, not really worry about trying not to make mistakes," receiver Hines Ward said. "Just go out and play. We just went out and played (in the first nine games). It was too far down the line to think about playoffs. Now the closer we get, we need to get back to that, just go out and play, and if we do that, everything will take care of itself."

Coach Bill Cowher declared: "I still think we're a good football team."

The Steelers play the top of the NFC North over the next two weeks, starting with the 9-3 Chicago Bears in Heinz Field on Sunday. They play at Minnesota the following week.

"We recognize the importance of the game and where we are," Cowher said, "and the fact that we need to stop this three-game slide that we're on."

What does Cowher believe dragged his team down over the past three games?

"The three things in my mind that have come up have been the turnover/takeaway ratio - the first nine games was plus-10, the last three, minus-five," Cowher said. "Penalties - the first nine games we had 48 penalties, the best in the National Football League, an average of about five-something per game, the last three games we had 31 and averaged 10 a game. That's pretty significant.

"And I think special teams. The first nine games ... we were returning kicks, we were covering kicks, we were making kicks. The last three weeks I think the kicking game has not been (up to) the standard we set earlier in the season."

The Steelers have not played well on special teams in the past three games and have done poorly on either offense or defense in each as well.

"We just haven't been able to put a game together when it comes to offense and defense and special teams in one game the last three games," receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "If you have two out of three consistently, sometimes it works, but to have just one out of three doesn't work, and that's what's happened the last three games."

The Steelers, when they were 7-2, were high among most power ratings around the NFL. Now they're eighth in the AFC standings, with only six teams advancing to the playoffs.

"We have high expectations, the standards have not changed, the expectations have not changed," Cowher said.

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