The Ravens intend on attacking a strong Buffalo Bills run defense with a backup plan.
With All-Pro running back Jamal Lewis serving a two-game suspension, Baltimore will hand off the bulk of its offense to Chester Taylor, a third-year reserve who has never been a featured back.
The Ravens, though, have said they will continue to rely heavily on their running game, which ranks second in the league and represents 57 percent of the team's offensive snaps.
The challenge will come against a Bills defense that is fifth in the NFL against the run. Only three running backs have reached 100 yards against Buffalo in the last 21 games and none in five games this season.
"I really think it's time for Chester to show what he's really made of," Ravens running backs coach Matt Simon said.
Taylor, who is much smaller than Lewis at 5 feet 11, 213 pounds, has averaged only four carries a game over his brief NFL career and has never ran the ball more than 10 times in a game.
"The only question of Chester is the extended play," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "When he gets into that 20th, 25th or 30th carry, that's the one thing he really hasn't done for us. The fatigue factor you have to take into account and monitor."
Taylor slipped that far in the draft because he doesn't have the prototypical numbers NFL teams look for in running backs.
He didn't run the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. He wasn't 6 feet tall. He wasn't 230 pounds.
The Ravens, though, saw beyond everything Taylor wasn't.
"He has some intangibles that are very difficult to measure," Simon said. "If you were to evaluate Chester purely on vision, his numbers would be off the chart. He can see things that 90/th/percent of the running backs I've ever been around, including the ones in this organization right now, cannot see."
What the Ravens lose with Lewis is having a back that can break a long touchdown on any carry.
Taylor doesn't have that same breakaway speed but he can be just as elusive. His peripheral vision combined with his exceptional, short burst allows Taylor to move in and out of holes to escape tough jams at the line better than any Ravens back.
After five games, Taylor has the best rushing average of any back on the team, gaining 5.9 yards per carry. What Taylor has to prove is the ability to produce yards over the long haul.
"That's everybody's dream: To start in the NFL," Taylor said. "I've been waiting for three years. I know I'm ready."
SERIES HISTORY: 2nd meeting. The only game between the franchises came in 1999, when the Bills beat the Ravens, 13-10. Doug Flutie threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Linton with 1:35 left in the game to propel Buffalo to the comeback win. The Ravens jumped out to a 10-0 lead before turning the ball over twice, which led to 10 points for the Bills.
--The Ravens signed Patrick Johnson on Monday, a homecoming the seventh-year receiver hopes will relieve him of his journeyman status.
Johnson, 28, was drafted by the Ravens in the second round in 1998 but left the team as a free agent after the 2001 season. Johnson has since spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals.
"It's difficult going from one team to another, then to be expected to play when you have to learn an offense," said Johnson, who will not play Sunday against Buffalo. "I wanted to go somewhere where I could stick. Bouncing around is not always good. When I left here I really wasn't mature enough to handle situations. I said some things I probably shouldn't have."
--Coach Brian Billick wants the NFL to change the rule that prevents Jamal Lewis from appearing at the team's training complex during his two-week suspension. The All-Pro running back was suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy after he pleaded guilty on Oct. 7 to using a phone to set up a drug transaction in 2000.
Lewis, who will miss his first game Sunday against Buffalo, can maintain contact with the Ravens by phone during his suspension, but is not permitted to enter the training complex.
"We can talk to him, but he's not allowed to be in the building, which I really think has to be revisited during the offseason," Billick said. "When you have an athlete in this position, this is when he needs the organization most. He needs to be around the counseling and the mentoring we have here.
"To totally isolate a guy from the team, I don't think is in the best interest of the team, it's not in the best interest of the athlete, it's not in the best interest of the league."
--As has been the case this season, Billick defended Boller during his weekly news conference. Billick was asked how he plans to protect Boller from negative commentary from fans and media.
"I tell him not to listen to you all," he said. "That sounds over-simplistic, and I understand it. The whole league is replete with observations. ... I basically just try and keep him at arm's length from it."
Boller said the time off during the bye week should help get him back on track.
"I want to be the quarterback everybody wants me to be," Boller said.
--Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti had neck surgery last week but said he plans to attend the game.
Bisciotti, who visited the team for the first time since it moved into the new complex, had two vertebrae in his neck fused and is expected to be in a neck brace the next two weeks.
Former Ravens majority owner Art Modell also made his first appearance at the new complex.
--The Ravens are 33-8 when they score 21 or more points.
--Linebacker Ray Lewis has recorded 10 or more tackles in 13 straight games.
--There are just seven players on the Ravens (Peter Boulware, Cornell Brown, Mike Flynn, Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Jonathan Ogden and Matt Stover) who were on the roster the last time the Ravens played the Bills (in 1999).
BY THE NUMBERS: 41 -- Percent of the Ravens' offense accounted for by Jamal Lewis, who will miss the next two games due to league suspension.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think the biggest thing he's going to have to fight through is to not press right now. It's going to make him mentally tougher as we move through this because I think he's going to be an outstanding quarterback." Ravens senior consultant Jim Fassel on struggling quarterback Kyle Boller.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The NFL's worst ranked passing attack gets a boost with the return of receiver Travis Taylor. He aggravated his groin injury in the opener and has not played since.
Taylor doesn't have the greatest hands but he can stretch defenses. His 16.2-yard average per reception led the Ravens last season.
The Ravens haven't announced how his return will affect the starting lineup. Taylor likely will start along with Kevin Johnson, pushing Randy Hymes more into a third receiver role.
--QB Kyle Boller is 29th among NFL quarterbacks in rating (61.3) and 13th in the AFC in efficiency (56.9 percent).
--WR Kevin Johnson has not caught more than two passes in a game since the opener.
--P Dave Zastudil ranks 15th in the AFC in punting, averaging 40.4 yards per kick.
--PR B.J. Sams leads all NFL punt returners with a 14.8-yard average. He has returned a punt for a touchdown the past two games.
--LB Terrell Suggs has 17 sacks in 21 career games.
--SS Ed Reed has scored five touchdowns in 37 career games.
GAME PLAN: The Ravens need to establish the run to take the pressure off struggling quarterback Kyle Boller. The key is the offensive line, which needs to open holes for Chester Taylor, who is taking over for the suspended Jamal Lewis. Taylor can dart through openings but won't break many tackles.
Defensively, the Ravens will look to apply heavy pressure on Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe, a stationary pocket passer. The Ravens have recorded 14 sacks this season but hasn't had to play risky to create a rush. They usually send five players half the time and rarely bring six.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Ravens RB Chester Taylor vs. Buffalo run defense: Taylor is playing his first game as the Ravens' featured back as he fills in for the suspended Jamal Lewis. He is a more shiftier back but runs with less power than Lewis. The Bills have held teams to 3.7 yards per carry, which is No. 6 in the league.
Ravens pass rush vs. Buffalo quarterback Drew Bledsoe: The Ravens can come from anywhere and have nine players with at least one sack. Bledsoe has been sacked 20 times behind a lackluster line.
Ravens returner B.J. Sams vs. Buffalo punt coverage: Sams has scored touchdowns off punt returns the past two games. The Bills are tied for 19th in the NFL in punt coverage, allowing 9.4 yards per return.
--C Mike Flynn (broken clavicle) is out for one more week and will be replaced by Casey Rabach.
--TE Todd Heap (sprained ankle) is out one more game. He will be replaced by Terry Jones.
--WR Travis Taylor (groin) is questionable but will return after a four-game absence.
--FB Ovie Mughelli (hamstring) could return to provide depth on special teams.
The last time the Bengals played a home game on Monday night, the first George Bush was president. Boomer Esiason, who has broadcast Monday night games on TV or radio since 1998, was Bengals quarterback.
The date was Sept. 25, 1989, and Esiason threw three touchdown passes -- two to tight end Rodney Holman, who has since come and gone as a Bengals assistant strength coach -- and the Bengals defeated Cleveland, 21-14.
The Bengals last played on Monday night in 1992. They lost to the Steelers, 20-0, at Three Rivers Stadium on Oct. 19.
That season was the second in the current 13-year run without a playoff berth, a streak that appears headed to a league long 14. The Bengals are 1-4 and showing few signs of snapping out of an unexpected early slump.
"You can figure it out," Esiason said when asked why the Bengals have been absent from the NFL's biggest regular season show since 1992. "A lot can be traced to Cincinnati being a small-market team. They have not had much success. It's been horrendous, really."
The Bengals have had just two non-winning seasons since last making the playoffs in 1990.
The matchup against the Denver Broncos couldn't be much less promising for the Bengals.
Denver is experienced on Monday night. While the Bengals have played 23 times on Monday night, the Broncos have played 51 times, and the game this weekend will make it 13 consecutive seasons with at least one appearance.
The Bengals are 7-16. The Broncos are 22-28-1.
From a pure football perspective, the Bengals are in trouble. The danger exists for an embarrassing night.
Denver is first in the NFL in rush offense at 151.7 yards a game. The Bengals are dead last in run defense at 160.4 yards. Denver coach Mike Shanahan will want to run the ball consistently, and when the Bengals safeties creep toward the line, look for the Broncos to throw deep.
The flipside isn't much better. Denver's defense is ranked first in yards allowed and second in points allowed. The Bengals offense is ranked 25th in total yards and 24th in points scored.
"The motivation is we can't win our second game until we go out and do it," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "This week we play on Monday night, and it's the biggest stage in the NFL. We must go out and put together our best football. It's a good week to do it."
-- Carson Palmer attempted another 36 passes Sunday against the Browns and has thrown 190 passes in five games - an average of 38.
Coach Marvin Lewis continues to support Palmer and resist calls from some fans to play backup Jon Kitna.
The Bengals are 1-4, and Palmer has four touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
"Right now, our lack of production offensively is not coming from the quarterback position," Lewis said. "Our lack of production comes from dropping balls, from not running the ball successfully all the time and consistently. Last year, people were questioning what Jon (Kitna) was doing, saying he wasn't getting the job done. People asked why I stuck with him. But the quarterback position is not why we're fouling out at times."
-- Palmer (USC, 2002) and Denver's Jake Plummer (Arizona State, 1996) will be a meeting of quarterbacks who were Pac-10 Offensive Players of the Year.
-- The Bengals lost their third consecutive game to an AFC North opponent Sunday. They are 0-3 this season and 3-12 since realignment in 2002.
-- Left tackle Levi Jones has started 33 consecutive games at the line's most important position, in spite of a series of injuries.
-- The Bengals were 2-2 in games against the AFC West last season. They lost to Denver and Oakland to open the season and defeated Kansas City and San Diego.
-- After Shayne Graham kicked a 32-yard field goal in the second quarter Sunday, the Bengals led for the final 6:10 of the quarter - until Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia tossed a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Shea on the last play of the half. They have now had the lead for just 44:13 in 300 minutes this season.
-- The Bengals were penalized 10 times against the Browns, including three offside calls on the offense.
-- One team's junk is another team's treasure.
Bengals cornerback Deltha O'Neal was happy to get out of Denver in the offseason.
In training camp, O'Neal was so grateful to be with the Bengals that he appeared ready to kiss the ground at the team's Georgetown (Ky.) College site. The Broncos traded O'Neal, a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2001, to the Bengals on April 9. The Bengals swapped their No. 17 overall draft pick for Denver's 24th and 117th (fourth round).
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan had moved O'Neal to wide receiver late in the season.
"We were trying to move up in the draft. We had two guys targeted (including eventual pick D.J. Williams, a linebacker who leads the club with 39 tackles), and we didn't think we could get either one with the 24th pick," Shanahan said Wednesday.
O'Neal made six starts at cornerback before the move to offense. He also led the Broncos with a 9.5-yard average on 33 punt returns.
"There was one or two games there where he had lost some confidence (on defense)," Shanahan said of O'Neal, a former first-round draft pick. "I saw him catching the ball one day, and I thought since he wasn't going to be one of the two top corners and was such a great athlete, I wanted to take a look at him at a wide receiver position."
O'Neal played in two games offensively with two receptions.
"He's got such quickness and great hands I wanted to take a look at him for an extended period," Shanahan said. "But he loved the defensive back position, so therefore it was just a one-week or two-week experiment."
O'Neal has played well in four starts, coach Marvin Lewis said, though O'Neal was beat for a 99-yard touchdown reception by Andre Davis in Cleveland on Sunday.
Both of the Bengals starting cornerbacks, O'Neal and Tory James, are former high-round Denver draft picks.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2-13 - Bengals' combined record after five games in the last three seasons.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's absolutely no magic that will produce something like that again, but as we're hurting from our situation right now, it tells us there's a lot of football still to be played." -- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, whose team is 1-4 for the second consecutive season. In 2003, the Bengals won seven of their next nine games to move to 8-6 and into first place in the AFC North, based on tiebreakers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he called defensive plays on Sunday at Cleveland. The former defensive coordinator at Baltimore and Washington, Lewis took over duties from coordinator Leslie Frazier.
"Our guys were looking for something a little different," he said. "Everyone wants to question what we're running. I took that question of doubt out of everybody's mind. It's not what is called, but how you execute what is called. I wanted to give the players a little heightened attention to that."
Frazier declined to comment when reached about the development of Lewis making defensive play calls.
Players noticed Lewis' involvement.
"You're going to do that if you're the leader, right?" said safety Kevin Kaesviharn, who returned a fumble three yards for a touchdown. "Does it hurt us as players thinking who's in charge? Well, we know Marvin is in charge, and whatever he wants is what we'll do. Leslie knows the same thing. At the same time, we can't have conflicting ideas on how something should be run. If you want to go with something, go with it, and we'll run it. I'm not saying that's what's been going on, but that can happen."
Lewis prefers a more disciplined, assignment-oriented defensive scheme that forces offenses to score on long, multi-play drives, increasing the likelihood of turnovers. Frazier played for Buddy Ryan in Chicago and coached under Eagles coordinator Jim Johnson, both of whom like blitz-oriented schemes.
-- TE Matt Schobel is the only receiving threat the Bengals have at that position, and he should be on the field more often. He is not a liability as a blocker, either.
-- RB Kenny Watson is tied for the NFL lead among running backs with nine third-down receptions.
-- RB Chris Perry, the team's first-round draft pick, has touched the ball five times. He has two carries for one yard and three receptions for 33 yards.
-- LB Caleb Miller is likely to start again this week after subbing behind fellow rookie Landon Johnson at Cleveland last week.
GAME PLAN: Keep the ball away from Denver, but how? Against the Browns, a significantly less stingy defense than Denver's, the Bengals had six three-and-out drives ending in punts. They were 1 of 13 on third down. Denver is ranked first in overall defense and first in rush offense. They should be able to control the ball against the Bengals on the ground. The Bengals have to hope for some turnovers. The Broncos are minus-3 in turnover differential.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bengals WR Chad Johnson vs. Broncos CB Champ Bailey. Johnson was embarrassed by his three-catch, three-drop game at Cleveland. The Broncos like to put Bailey, one of the league's top cornerbacks, on the other team's best receiver. That's Johnson.
-- Bengals last-ranked run defense vs. Denver's top-ranked run offense. Reuben Droughn's should add mightily to his 369 rushing yards in the past two games.
-- Bengals coach Marvin Lewis vs. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. Lewis owns Shanahan's book on coaching and motivation and counts him among the best coaches in the league. Lewis will need to pull out every coaching trick he knows to keep his overmatched team in this game.
INJURY IMPACT: The absence of wide receiver Peter Warrick, listed as doubtful for the Monday night game, continues to hurt the offense. T.J. Houshmandzadeh will start if Warrick doesn't.
Safety Rogers Beckett (concussion) is out. Kevin Kaesviharn should start again at strong safety.
Cornerback Rashad Bauman (Achilles) is doubtful.
Probable for Denver are defensive linemen Carl Powell (knee) and Duane Clemons (chest), linebackers Landon Johnson (concussion) and Marcus Wilkins (neck) and cornerback Terrell Roberts (illness).
Jeff and Terrell, reunited.
Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens were teammates with the San Francisco 49ers. They went to the playoffs together and the Pro Bowl together. Well, maybe not together, but at least wearing the same uniform.
But Owens chafed at what he perceived to be Garcia's weaknesses. This summer, he even insinuated that Garcia was gay, which the quarterback denied. Just last week, on HBO's "Inside the NFL," Owens was back at it.
"He threw the ball behind me, out of bounds," Owens said. "I left a lot of touchdowns on the field throughout the last two or three years."
So this week, it's not surprising that the Owens-Garcia feud is the top story concerning this week's Browns-Eagles game.
Garcia doesn't hide his frustration that Owens can't let bygones be bygones.
"It definitely crosses my mind," Garcia said. "I don't know what motivates him in that way. I don't know why there's such a tendency or a want to beat me down the way he has."
But Garcia said he is not dwelling on Owens and his comments.
"I'm not worried about it being a distraction because I'm not necessarily paying any attention to it," he said. "My challenge is not T.O. My challenge is the Philly defense.
"I've always said positive things about the guy. We had a great career together in San Francisco. It led to playoff games. It led to Pro Bowl appearances. He's moved on. He's having a great year for Philadelphia."
While Owens has six touchdown passes and is third in the NFC in receiving yards with 487, Garcia continues to make a bumpy transition to Cleveland.
He still is not completely in sync with the Browns' system, though his 310-yard performance last week against Cincinnati was a hopeful sign for him. But Cincinnati's defense is a far cry from Philadelphia's.
Philadelphia has allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL and has averaged four sacks per game.
"They're a team that's going to force you into making mistakes," Garcia said. "They're a very active, very talented defense. They're going to be a tough defense to go against."
Especially with the Browns short-handed at wide receiver. The trade of Quincy Morgan for Antonio Bryant may be a smart move in the long-term, but Bryant won't know enough of the playbook to make much of an impact this week. Cleveland's other starting receiver, Andre Davis, may not play because of a sprained toe. Dennis Northcutt and Andre King are likely to be the starters.
Garcia may be short of help on the field, but his teammates are supporting him off the field in terms of the Owens' criticisms.
"You hear it because he's got a big mouth," tight end Aaron Shea said. "It's unfortunate that he says the stuff that he says (when it) isn't true. Jeff's the bigger man. Why get in a war of words when stuff isn't true? I think that's stupid and childish on (Owens') part."
Surprisingly, Owens took a pass at throwing another barb at Garcia.
He refused to be on the conference call with Browns media and threatened to end an interview in Philadelphia after three questions.
"It shouldn't even be about me and Jeff," Owens said. "I just want to come out here this week and practice and get ready for the game. I'm not going to be on the field at the same time he's going to be on the field, so it shouldn't even be about us."
SERIES HISTORY - 46th meeting. The Browns lead 31-13-1, including 17-5-1 in Cleveland.
--Jeff Garcia faced the Eagles in each of the last three seasons while with San Francisco. He completed 58 of 104 passes for 645 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
--The Browns are 3-0 at home for the first time since 1973. The last time the Browns won their first four home games was 1963. Until this season, Cleveland was 11-29 at Cleveland Browns Stadium since returning to the NFL in 1999.
--Phil Dawson is 13 for 13 this season on field-goal attempts, extending his streak of consecutive kicks to 23. That's the longest current streak in the NFL and is Dawson's personal best. Dawson is the most accurate kicker in Browns history, making 97 of 116 career attempts (83.6 percent).
--The Browns last played the Eagles in 2000, losing 35-24. That game was most notable for the creativity shown by coach Chris Palmer.
With injuries having ravaged the Browns, Palmer used wide receivers Kevin Johnson and Dennis Northcutt at quarterback before finally turning it over to journeyman Doug Pederson. Gimmicky, yes. But the Browns were so awful that season that the change of pace gave a needed spark.
--The Browns got a first down on their first possession last week against Cincinnati. In their first five games this season, the Browns' first possession ended in a three-and-out.
BY THE NUMBERS: 390. Number of yards Donovan McNabb threw for in Philadelphia's victory over Cleveland in 2000.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The four deuces were here. It was, `Four deuces and a guy'. I was `a guy'. (Now) the guy gets a shot." -- WR Andre King, when asked about his rise from being a seventh-round draft pick to starter status after being stuck behind four second-round draft picks for most of his career.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Browns swapped receivers with Dallas, trading Quincy Morgan for Antonio Bryant at the trading deadline.
Morgan underachieved in Cleveland. This year, he had only nine catches. Bryant had only 16 catches (in one fewer game), but the Browns believe he has more upside. In Dallas, Bryant was stuck behind Terry Glenn and Keyshawn Johnson and clearly in Bill Parcells' doghouse after throwing a sweaty practice jersey at the coach during minicamp.
At 23, Bryant is still maturing on and off the field. He is under contract through 2005. Morgan would have become a free agent after this season.
--The Browns promoted Frisman Jackson from the practice squad to provide depth at receiver and also signed offensive lineman Javiar Collins. Collins spent three years as a backup for Dallas.
To make room, the Browns waived running back/kick returner Dee Brown and offensive lineman Bo Lacy.
It's not known who'll return kicks for Cleveland with Brown gone. Andre King is the most likely candidate, though the Browns may be reluctant to use him in that capacity because he's likely to start at receiver this week. Running back James Jackson is another possibility, though he has seldom if ever returned kickoffs.
--LB Barry Gardner did not practice this week and won't play this week because of a groin injury.
-- RG Kelvin Garmon did some limited things in individual drills but did not practice with the team. He sustained a quadriceps strain and a concussion against the Bengals. He said he expects to play Sunday.
-- WR Andre Davis has a sprained big left toe. He was in a cast Wednesday, but also expressed optimism he might be ready Sunday.
--G Paul Zukauskas was inactive last week in part because of a sprained knee, but he should be able to play Sunday.
--CB Daylon McCutcheon had to leave the game Sunday briefly because he took a blow to his broken middle finger, but he returned and is certain to play Sunday.
GAME PLAN: This would be a tough game under any circumstances for the Browns. The trade of Morgan makes it even more difficult. That's not because Morgan is a great player - he isn't - but because his departure leaves the Browns very thin at receiver with Andre Davis' availability in question. If Cleveland is to pull the upset, William Green and/or Lee Suggs will have to have a big game. Defensively, the Browns must find a way to put pressure on McNabb, which won't be easy. Then, of course, the Browns must contain Terrell Owens.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Browns CB Anthony Henry, who has three interceptions this season, vs. Eagles WR Terrell Owens. Henry has played well this year for the most part. Henry had primary responsibility on Owens last year when the Browns played San Francisco. Though Owens had eight catches for 90 yards, Henry kept him from taking over the game. Henry has the size and strength to match up with Owens and has a knack for making plays on the ball.
Browns OL, which has given up 14 sacks, vs. Eagles DL, which has 20 sacks. The pass protection has slowly gotten better, but they haven't faced many pass rushes as tough as the Eagles. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is a master at confounding blocking schemes, and the Browns don't have the most athletic group of linemen around. Right tackle Ryan Tucker is the best of the Browns' linemen. He'll face a stern test from Jevon Kearse, who's far quicker than Tucker.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Andre Davis might be able to play despite a sprained toe, but his speed - his best asset - will be affected, and he'll have a hard time making sharp cuts.
RG Kelvin Garmon's strained quadriceps will limit his mobility, and the lack of quickness is his biggest liability even when healthy.
At 5-1 entering their off weekend, the Steelers are not in unfamiliar territory. This is the third time a Bill Cowher team has won five of its first six games, although only the sixth time in Pittsburgh's 72-year history.
The Steelers opened 5-1 in 2001 and compiled their second-winningest season at 13-3. They reached the AFC Championship Game, where they were upset in Heinz Field by the New England Patriots, who went on to win their first Super Bowl.
Cowher, while happy to be in such a position today, isn't dwelling on it this off week and his players are following suit. In the past, they might have been crowing about the fact they got off to such a fast start, but not this team. Perhaps going 6-10 last season drummed some of the cockiness out of them.
There's also the matter of them losing their Pro Bowl nose tackle, Casey Hampton, for the season with a knee injury. Hampton was a run-stopper extraordinaire, and someone who kept the linemen off the inside linebackers in the 3-4 defense.
But good teams - New England last year, Philadelphia this year as examples - overcome serious injuries and keep winning. Those two teams also happen to be the Steelers next opponents, both in Heinz Field, when they resume play Oct. 31.
"We don't plan on wallowing in our own pity about the guys that are injured," Cowher said. "No one's going to sit around and feel sorry for you."
Cowher has slipped into a Bill Belichick-like mode. It's a subtle change from his approach of years past. Nothing is more important than the game at hand. Their accomplishments mean little. Celebrating victory lasts hours, not days. There is absolutely no talk about the playoffs from him or his players.
"How good a team we are, I don't know," Cowher said. "That remains to be seen. There's so much football left to be played and we've created a good situation for ourselves. You just have to continue to play, not take anything for granted and that's what these guys have done."
One thing the fast start has done is rebuild their confidence after a 6-10 record in 2003, tied for the worst in Cowher's 12 full seasons as their coach.
-- The Steelers' 5-1 record is a long way from a record fast start. In 1975, they started 12-1 and finished 12-2 and won the Super Bowl. In 1978, they opened 9-1 and ended 14-2 and won the Super Bowl. In 1973, they started 8-1 and finished 10-4.
-- This time last season, the Steelers were 2-4 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. They've never gone 6-1 under Cowher, losing 13-10 to Baltimore at home in 2001 in the seventh game of the season, and 23-13 at Houston in 1996 to start a 10-game stretch in which they went 5-5.
-- WR Plaxico Burress on the how the team accomplished a 5-1 start: "We keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting. When everybody thinks we're down and out, we still have a little more left in the tank and we just keep playing."
-- Two Steelers won the most recent NFL players of the week - rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on offense and linebacker James Farrior on defense.
-- The way Roethlisberger is playing, he can earn up to an extra $4.875 million in performance bonuses as a rookie to go with his $230,000 base salary and $9 million in bonuses that are payable to him through March 1.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 - Rushing touchdowns by Jerome Bettis on seven goal-line opportunities. He leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns but has only 64 yards on 37 carries.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Go back to the first game, that tells you a lot. If I'm not upset during the first game, why should I wait six games down the road to be upset about something I can't control?" - RB Duce Staley, on being replaced by Jerome Bettis in goal-line situations.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Steelers practiced on Wednesday and Thursday and Bill Cowher gave them a three-day weekend off. They will return Monday.
--Injuries forced four moves: NT Casey Hampton is out for the season with a knee injury and former Steelers NT Kendrick Clancy was signed. DE Kimo von Oelhoffen likely will move to nose tackle and backup DE Travis Kirschke will replace him as the starter on the right side. S Mike Logan was placed on injured reserve with a severely torn hamstring. The Steelers signed former Vikings safety Tyrone Carter. CB Chad Scott has a torn quad tendon in his right leg that will sideline him 4-6 weeks, and he will be replaced by 12-year vet William Williams on the left side.
--Among veterans who worked out for the Steelers on Tuesday were quarterbacks Joe Germaine and Cory Sauter and wide receiver Ron Johnson. They have no plans to sign them, however.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Tommy Maddox could return for the Nov. 7 game against Philadelphia. He's been out since his right arm was injured in the second game of the season. He has not started throwing yet. LB Kendrell Bell could be ready to practice in two weeks. He had hernia surgery and has not played this season. RB Duce Staley has a slight ankle injury. NT Casey Hampton was placed on injured reserve with a torn ligament in his knee. CB Chad Scott is out indefinitely and will be replaced by rookie Ricardo Colclough.
AFCN Notes (Fri.)