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Scout: Steelers Get Poor Grades in AFC Title Game

<p>The Pittsburgh Steelers faced the reality of a bitter defeat on Sunday. A game which they shot themselves in the foot time and again, yet one, which was never really completely out of reach until the final period.</p> <p>The Steelers face the reality that a number of key players in this championship game likely will not be back with the team next season, including Jerome Bettis. Read more, try the <a href="">Free Trial </a></p>

Scout Report: Pittsburgh Steelers, Changes Coming Staff

Wide receiver Plaxico Burress not only sounds like a player who won't be back, he sounds like one who doesn't want to be.

Burress finished yet another underachieving season when he caught three passes for 37 yards and a meaningless last-minute touchdown in the AFC Championship Game won by New England, 41-27. He will become an unrestricted free agent in March if he's not signed by then.

"Just look at the whole season," said Burress. "You saw it. I thought I would have made a little bit of an impact. But that's the game plan."

Burress caught 35 passes for 698 yards and scored five touchdowns, missing five games with a hamstring injury. He caught one pass for 21 yards in the first playoff game against the Jets, giving him four receptions for 58 yards in two postseason games.

"I just don't feel like I'm involved," Burress said.

As the split end, Burress is the man they send deep most often and early-on, he and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seemed to have a connection going. That was broken when he missed five of the last six regular season games with his injury. Burress averaged 19.9 yards a catch during the season, second-highest in the NFL.

"If you got guys who can go out and make plays, you should give them an opportunity to go out and make plays," Burress said. "Put some onus on our shoulders."

With the Steelers on the Patriots' 2-yard line, trailing by 14 points in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger lobbed a pass into the end zone that Burress dropped.


  • The Steelers' fourth loss in five AFC Championship Games, all at home, over the past 11 seasons has changed the feeling in Pittsburgh since the City of Champions days. Neither the Steelers nor baseball's Pirates has won a league championship since January 1980.

    "I just feel sorry for the city of Pittsburgh," WR Hines Ward said.

  • Bill Cowher has plenty of practice at this: He and his staff will coach the AFC in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii for the fourth time in 11 years.

  • Sunday's AFC title game was the second-coldest ever played in Pittsburgh. Only their Dec. 17, 1989 game against New England, played in 5 degrees, was colder.

  • QB Ben Roethlisberger threw 10 interceptions and six touchdown passes in his final five games, two of them playoff games. He did not wear a glove on his passing hand Sunday night, even though he has done so in the cold, dry weather since his high school days.

  • C Jeff Hartings, who made his first Pro Bowl, said he will return to play another season. There has been on and off talk over the past three years that Hartings might retire.

  • OG Keydrick Vincent probably played his last game in Pittsburgh. He becomes an unrestricted free agent. Former starter Kendall Simmons, out all season with a knee injury, will return to claim his old job on the right side.

  • RB Jerome Bettis, who had not fumbled all season, lost two fumbles in two playoff games.

  • OT Oliver Ross also might leave the team as a UFA. He started all 16 games but the Steelers had rookie Max Starks, a third-round pick, in the wings to take over.


PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Ben Roethlisberger set the tone for the day when he threw poorly with his first pass and it was intercepted and turned into a 3-0 New England lead. His numbers don't look horrible in black and white: 14 of 24 for 226 yards, two TDs, three interceptions, just one sack and a 78.1 passer rating. But much of his production came in the second half after the Steelers feel behind 24-3. Plaxico Burress did not help him by dropping one touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and tripping while going for another pass.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Again, the numbers lie. It says the Steelers ran 37 times for 163 yards, a 4.4-yard average and one touchdown. But they could not do it when it counted, failing on fourth-and-one in the first quarter when they sent Jerome Bettis (17 of 64) into the line. They failed again in the fourth quarter when they ran it twice after getting first down at the Patriots' 4 and ended up kicking a field goal. Plus, 45 of those yards came on five scrambles by their quarterback. Bettis averaged 3.8 per carry. Duce Staley added only 26 yards on 10 carries.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- Tom Brady did what he wanted against the Steelers. He threw high on several out patterns along the sidelines. The Steelers never stopped him. Brady completed 14 of 21 for 207 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, two sacks and a 130.5 passer rating. It looked as if he could have thrown for 400 yards if he wanted to put it in the air half a dozen more times. He had plenty of time and he went deep, short, sideways.

RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Patriots averaged only 3.9 per carry, but they rushed for two touchdowns, both around end - WR Deion Branch had one for 23 yards on an end-around and RB Corey Dillon swept right end for a 25-yard score. Dillon was held to 73 yards on 24 carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- No one can blame this loss in the AFC title game on the special teams. They were excellent. The Patriots' longest punt return was six yards and longest kickoff return was 29. Antwaan Randle El averaged 13.3 yards on three punt returns. Chris Gardocki outkicked former Steelers punter Josh Miller. There were no breakdowns. Jeff Reed was 2-for-2 on field goal tries from 43 and 20 (as was Adam Vinatieri, from 48 and 31).

COACHING: D -- You lose at home for the fourth time in five tries in the AFC Championship Game and it brings down your overall grade. Coach Bill Cowher's decision to kick a field goal early in the fourth quarter from the 2-yard line and trailing by 14 points was the worst call of the day. That brought the Steelers back to 11 points and they still needed two scores and a two-point conversion to tie it. The defense didn't play up to snuff but that may not be a coaching thing. Ken Whisenhunt was handcuffed in his play-calling on offense in the first half because of the way his quarterback was playing and how the Patriots were stopping the ground game.

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