Steelers looking to get back in contention

Pittsburgh's second trip to San Diego in one calendar year could determine whether the Steelers' Super Bowl hangover takes over for the long haul or whether the Steelers can put themselves back into contention.

The Steelers likely cannot afford a third straight loss to an AFC contender and remain in the playoff hunt, especially since Baltimore is 4-0 and Cincinnati 3-1. It was in San Diego last Oct. 10 that the Steelers saved their season when they won by two on a field goal with six seconds left. That got them off to a 3-1 start on way to a 7-2 start.

Despite that good first half of the season, the Steelers needed to win all four of their final games in order to squeeze into the playoffs as the sixth seed. A 1-3 start could make their final four games this season a moot point on mute playoff chances.

"We're in a hole, digging our way out," said guard Alan Faneca. "When you start out 1-2, you can't leave any stone unturned. You've got to somehow turn the tide, because you definitely don't want to go 1-3."

Hines Ward was quoted to the effect that a 1-2 start would be difficult to overcome.

"You don't want to overemphasize one early game," Sports Illustrated quoted him as saying the day before Pittsburgh lost to Cincinnati. "But let's face it -- if you get two games behind two teams, you're probably not going to win the division and you're going to be fighting to make the playoffs."

Ward this week denied the comment.

"I didn't say that. It's too early. It's not a must-win situation."

Not must win, perhaps, as they play in San Diego Sunday night, but a better-win situation. The Steelers return for a game the following week against Kansas City, then must travel to Atlanta and Oakland to kick off a stretch of playing four out of six on the road. Starting 1-3 would likely mean they would have to go 9-3 the rest of the way to have a chance at qualifying for the playoffs.

"I feel like we have more of a sense of urgency because we're 1-2 and Baltimore's winning," linebacker James Farrior said. "Cincinnati lost, but they already beat us. It's not time to push the panic button, but we have to pick it up. We don't want to try to dig ourselves out of a hole this time."

Coach Bill Cowher told his players this week not to worry about what any other teams are doing and concentrate on themselves.

"The biggest thing is the players not to get caught up in looking at Baltimore or what Cincinnati's doing," Cowher said. "We've just got to get better as a football team. That's the biggest thing, getting better on a daily basis in practice. And then consequently taking that onto the playing field. Each individual and each unit try to improve on the previous week.

"There's too much football left to get caught up in all those other things except for us."

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