The Other Side

Coach Bill Cowher wants victories over experimentation in the Pittsburgh Steelers' final two, meaningless games of the season. At 5-9, Pittsburgh is out of the playoff picture for the first time in three seasons. That doesn't mean they will lay down when they play the San Diego Chargers this weekend.

Meaningless games at the end of a season aren't rare in Pittsburgh, but usually they come after the Steelers have already clinched a top seed in the playoffs. Instead, they've clinched their third losing season in 12 under Cowher, who is determined to avoid the designation of coaching the Steelers' worst record in the past 34 years, 5-11 in 1988.

"We are going to do whatever it takes to win these final two games," Cowher said. "You don't have a choice. It is an obligation that you have to this football team, and to this organization and to the game itself. You have an obligation. It is a privilege to be in this league and to have these jobs. It is an obligation to go out there and try to win every week."

Cowher's proclamation came two days after Dan Rooney, the Steelers' chairman, said he'd be watching the team's final two games closely.

"Now's the time for these guys to get together, stand up and show their character and play every game to win," Rooney said Sunday after the Steelers lost to the New York Jets 6-0 to officially eliminate them from the playoff race.

Cowher dismissed all suggestions that he use the final two games as a way to evaluate some of his young players.

"I think it is very important at this point, that we play to win games and not play to evaluate players," Cowher said.

Cowher was dumfounded when he was asked if he might take a look at backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who has played briefly in three games in two years and makes more money than starter Tommy Maddox.

"For what reason?" Cowher asked. "I think I just stated it, and I will state it again: We are going to play the players that give us the best chance of winning. That will be the only prerequisite that is made in terms of who plays."

Cowher could make several moves for the future if he wanted to. Top draft pick Troy Polamalu has played in the nickel and dime defenses all season but has not started a game, and the man ahead of him, veteran strong safety Mike Logan, probably will leave as a free agent after the season. No. 2 pick Alonzo Jackson hasn't dressed since the second game of the season after the Steelers drafted the Florida State linebacker as an outside linebacker and a pass rusher. Center Chukky Okobi could move into a starting job next season and rookie halfback Dante Brown hasn't played all year after leading them in rushing in the preseason.

Rookie cornerback Ike Taylor plays behind starter Dewayne Washington, who probably will be released after the season.

Cowher has rested his veterans in past meaningless game at the end of the season, but that's when his team had locked up a top seed and he wanted to rest them for the playoffs. Still, he's the one who cited the "obligation" the Steelers have to the game and to the league to try to win, even against the 3-11 Chargers this Sunday.

Why is it more important to win a meaningless game now when his team is out of it than win a meaningless game when his team was heading to the playoffs? Cowher said it was merely common sense, but it may be more than that, it may be ego. Who wants to be known as the coach of a 5-11 or even 6-10 team? A 7-9 record can easily be explained and it goes down more easily.

Not too many coaches that had 5-11 records and never won a Super Bowl, were voted into the Hall of Fame.

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