"I do know one thing, we have to win this game on Sunday to assure a bye,"
Cowher said Monday. "It's the only thing that matters."
Two starters with hamstring injuries, receiver Plaxico Burress, who has missed the past four games, and halfback Duce Staley, who has missed five of the past seven, were listed as questionable for Sunday's game against the Ravens by Cowher on Monday.
"I'm encouraged by Plax and Duce," Cowher said. "More encouraged than discouraged.
Whether they play is another matter. Cowher listed linebackers Kendrell Bell and Clark Haggans out of the game against Baltimore, each with groin injuries.
-- The Steelers have no sacks in the past two games but coach Bill Cowher said he's not concerned with any lack of a pass rush that had produced an NFL-high of 36 sacks after 12 games.
"I feel he was sitting back there comfortable," linebacker Joey Porter said of Giants QB Eli Manning. "I would have liked to have rattled him more. But they did pick up the blitzes and they did some good things offensively."
-- Ben Roethlisberger has slipped from second to fourth in the AFC with a 96.3 passer rating but he's second in the league when it comes to passing in the fourth quarter with a 118.5 rating.
"He's been making good decisions with the game on the line," Cowher said. "You look at this guy in the fourth quarter, he has a feel for the game, he understands the game, he manages it very well. He's grown up quite a bit."
-- RB Jerome Bettis will make his sixth start of the season Sunday. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in his five previous starts and has taken over the team rushing lead with 824 yards, in sight for his first 1,000-yard season since 2001.
-- CB Chad Scott is given a 50-50 chance to play in his first game since his quad was torn Oct. 17. He is listed as questionable this week after returning to practice last week for the first time since his injury. If he plays, though, he will not start.
-- LB Dedrick Roper, who has spent the season on the practice squad, could be put on the active roster later in the week because of injuries to three other linebackers - Kendrell Bell and Clark Haggans, both out, and Clint Kriewaldt, who is doubtful.
-- K Jeff Reed has converted 10 consecutive field goal attempts, although none has come from beyond 37 yards. He has made 13 of the past 14. Overall, he is 21 of 26.
-- WR Antwaan Randle El has claimed second place on the team with 33 receptions, one more than Plaxico Burress.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. GIANTS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Count Antwaan Randle El's 10-yard shovel pass for a touchdown and the Steelers had a 97.8 passer rating. Ben Roethlisberger had his first 300-yard game, completed 18 of 28 for 316 but he threw two interceptions to go with one touchdown. He also was sacked three times. His rating was 84.8. Once again, though, he came up big in the fourth quarter when he was 6 for 7 for 74 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Jerome Bettis, getting younger with every carry, ran 36 times for 140 yards and one touchdown. Overall, the Steelers ran for 160 yards against the Giants and averaged 4.1 per carry. At the end of the game, when they needed to run out the clock, the Steelers got the ball with 3:19 left. Bettis ran twice for seven yards, Roethlisberger threw for a first down, and then Bettis ran two more times for 12 yards and another first down and the quarterback took a knee to end the game.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- No sacks for the second straight game and two touchdowns passes by rookie Eli Manning, who played his best game. Manning had a passer rating of 103.9, completing 16 of 23 for 182 yards. But near the end, with the Giants moving toward a possible score, cornerback Willy Williams intercepted Manning at the Steelers 18.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Tiki Barber ran 18 times for 76 yards and a touchdown but other than one 35-yard run was not effective. The Giants had 96 yards on 21 carries for a 4.6-yard average.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Steelers allowed a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game and gave up 259 yards on eight kickoff returns. However, Jeff Reed was perfect on four field goal tries and Chris Gardocki never had to punt.
COACHING: B-minus -- Pittsburgh's defense failed to confuse Manning with its blitzes or coverages. They never did adjust to stop Manning or the kickoff returns. However, they put just enough on Ben Roethlisberger's shoulders when needed and that made the difference.
The Ravens are finishing the season like they're finishing drives.
Losers of three of their past four games, the Ravens have struggled putting up points against winning teams this season.
In Sunday's 20-10 loss to Indianapolis, the Ravens crossed into Colts' territory nine times and came away with 10 points.
This futility has become a trend for the Ravens this season. They have managed just two touchdowns combined in the team's games at Philadelphia, New England and Indianapolis.
"Getting down in the red zone, that's when you have to be the most efficient and get the ball in the end zone against a great team like that," said QB Kyle Boller, who was 19 of 40 for 210 yards on Sunday.
Against Indianapolis, the Ravens ran nearly half of their plays (33 of 71) in Colts' territory but averaged only 2.7 yards a play past midfield. They left with as many turnovers (two interceptions) as scores.
"The pivotal part of the equation is you can't turn the ball over, particularly on the road," coach Brian Billick said. "For us, the exchange of points is going to get you beat against a good team. That's exactly what happened."
Meanwhile, linebacker Ray Lewis broke his wrist Sunday although he missed just one series. He will likely have to wear a cast or splint against Pittsburgh.
"There's little doubt that he will play on Sunday," Billick said.
Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh interviewed for the head coaching job at the University of Pittsburgh and is considered a finalist.
"We're excited for Matt," coach Brian Billick said. "Matt has been a huge part of the success we've had here. In my opinion, I've never been around a coach any more ready to be a head coach than Matt Cavanaugh."
--CB Chris McAlister has not played like a Pro Bowl cornerback since signing a new contract in October.
He has struggled in man to man coverage, which was the problem Sunday night when he got turned around on head fake by Colts receiver Marvin Harrison. Left alone on Harrison, McAlister bit on a fake to the sideline while Harrison ran to the inside and had no Raven within 10 yards of him. It was only the second passing touchdown of more than 20 yards given up by the Ravens this season.
"It was just one-on-one pretty much and Marvin got open," McAlister said.
--Down 13-3 late in third quarter, the Ravens looked to chip into that lead with a 31-yard field-goal try. The kick by the usually automatic Stover, however, hit Ravens lineman Bennie Anderson in the helmet.
Stover's second miss of the season was returned 24 yards to the Ravens' 31-yard line. Five plays later, RB Edgerrin James ran basically untouched from 3 yards to extend Indianapolis' advantage to 20-3 with 28 seconds left in the third quarter.
"To give a true evaluation, I'm not sure," Stover, who is 26-for-28 this season, said of possible penetration by the Colts' Larry Tripplett. "It looked like Bennie was back in the backfield a little bit and I kicked it a little low. It was a combination of both."
--RB Jamal Lewis aggravated his sprained ankle on the RCA Dome AstroTurf but is expected to start Sunday in Pittsburgh. He recorded his third 100-yard game of the season Sunday in Indianapolis.
--LB Ray Lewis broke his wrist and might have to play with a cast Sunday in Pittsburgh. He missed one series Sunday in Indianapolis.
--TE Todd Heap aggravated his ankle sprain and was limited in the final minutes of Sunday's game in Indianapolis. He is expected to practice this week and start.
--TE Darnell Dinkins has received increased playing time and has moved in front of Terry Jones as the No. 2 tight end behind Todd Heap.
--WR Clarence Moore has been hesitant about absorbing a hit when running across the middle. He is most effective in the red zone when he can outleap defenders in the end zone.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. INDIANAPOLIS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- QB Kyle Boller was inconsistent and inaccurate. He often threw late and high to receivers. He had a 33-yard pass to Travis Taylor late in the half, but on the next play threw late and way behind tight end Darnell Dinkins at the Colts' 15. Boller had an interception late in the half, which led to a 33-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt with one second remaining. Boller's last-minute interception by Cato June sealed the Indianapolis win.
When Boller was on target, his receivers couldn't pull in the ball. Tight ends Todd Heap and Darnell Dinkins as well as Taylor all had critical drops. Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden may have had his worst day as a pro, getting consistently beaten by Colts end Dwight Freeney.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Jamal Lewis hasn't fully recovered from a sprained ankle but he showed enough power to rush for 130 yards on 20 carries. If the Ravens had more control of the game, they could have continued to run Lewis in the second half. His 47-yard run in the second quarter was vintage Lewis, running around and through players. Lewis and backup Chester Taylor have developed into a productive tandem.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Ravens held Peyton Manning to just one passing touchdown. They played dime most of the game and Deion Sanders and Chad Williams were effective. The Ravens seemed to rattle Manning by getting pressure on a variety of blitzes. But the Colts tightened up their production in the second half and the Ravens failed to get pressure. Chris McAlister made the biggest mistake of the secondary, getting beat badly on a long touchdown pass to receiver Marvin Harrison.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- The Ravens contained Edgerrin James, the NFL's leading rusher, to 69 yards on 22 attempts. Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas may have been the best linebacker on the field. Several times he ran down James from the far side and play side. He played containment well on the outside. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis was steady and finished with 11 tackles. The Colts, though, discovered they could run inside and began attacking nose tackle Kelly Gregg.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kicker Matt Stover had his streak of 18 straight field goals end when he got a 31-yarder blocked. Returner B.J. Sams returned a kickoff 64 yards to set up a second-half score. Punter Dave Zastudil placed four of his five kicks inside the 20-yard line.
COACHING: C -- The Ravens are in a downward spiral, losing three of their past four games. The offensive play-calling was suspect once the Ravens got into Indianapolis territory. They crossed midfield nine times and came away with 10 points. Defensively, the Ravens had an excellent scheme to keep Manning off-balance.
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