Notebook: Ward reflects on first quarter

<b> PITTSBURGH - </b> He wasn't the Hines Ward of old this week. He wasn't the guy with the smile who brings energy to the Steelers' practice field. <br><br> Instead, Ward stood off by himself, ran his plays when called and went back into the locker room and took a seat in the back of his locker, away from it all. <br><br> Was the hard hit he took last Sunday still bothering him?

"No. I'm good," said Ward. "It wasn't really a concussion. I got my bell rung. My head hit the ground and I was a little woozy. It's my neck more than anything, but I'm fine."

Ward explained that he wasn't tired, nor moody.

"Frustrated," he said. "We've got a great team and it's frustrating to see us at 2-2. Reflecting back on the first quarter of the year, there are things I could have done, we all could have done. But I've just been low key and reflecting back."

Ward, of course, lamented the loss to Tennessee in which the Steelers jumped out to a 10-0 lead, outgained the Titans by 178 yards and lost 30-13. It was similar to the Steelers' other loss two weeks earlier to the Kansas City Chiefs.

"It was a matter of us shooting ourselves in the foot, but there comes a time when you have to rectify that," he said. "We keep saying 'we're shooting ourselves in the foot' but we have to go out and get better. All this week I've been working on little things, like route running, things I can do to get open. Looking back, 31 catches, yeah, it's pretty good, but I could've done better at certain times.

"We're still first in our division. It's nothing to look down upon. But coming into this year I was expecting big things, to jump out 3-1, 4-0. I don't want to let this year slip by. I remember last year thinking if we'd have done this or that earlier in the year, we'd have been better off. Well this year, we have so much talent on the team it's scary sometimes, and for us to be 2-2 it's frustrating for me personally because I really thought at training camp that we could get off to a fast start. But the year's still long. There's nothing to panic about. I'd just love to be 3-1, 4-0." Can Ward find solace in the fact the Steelers have outgained their opponents in the two losses, and that those opponents just might be the cream of the AFC?

"Absolutely," he said. "It was like Houston last year. Mentally, we knew we beat the team. Even though it comes down to wins and losses, we felt good about our chances because we knew we dominated that game. It's just frustrating to come away with a loss. We have a great team. We really do. To let games slide away? We're supposed to learn from them. It's starting to get old."

Steelers Coach Bill Cowher talks about the fine line between winning and losing, but at his Tuesday press conference he walked that fine line of instructing his quarterback to tone down his aggressiveness, in terms of forcing the ball into coverage, but to remain aggressive enough to make plays.

"I think it comes down to the decision-making," Cowher said. "You can't force the issue. I think at times, Tommy (Maddox) has indeed forced it. He is the first to admit it after the fact. We have to get him to understand that while it is taking place."

"If quarterbacks realized it before the fact, there would never be any interceptions," responded Maddox. "Did I force it to Plax? Yeah, maybe I did. But he was my short receiver, so it wasn't like I was forcing it down the field. Most of the time when you're talking about forcing the ball, you're talking about forcing it into coverage. He was my conservative receiver."

What about reigning in some of that aggressiveness?

"I think if you ever go out and play this game and you're not aggressive, then it doesn't do much good to go out there," Maddox said. "You have to go out there and use good judgment as well. It's a fine line of how you go about doing that. If that ball gets batted down and not picked, we're not having this conversation. But it did; it happened. The next time you hope you use better judgment."

Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis set an NFL record with 295 rushing yards against Cleveland on Sept. 14. Steelers guard Alan Faneca watched tape of the game and was asked if Lewis was that good.

"Yeah. He called it," said Faneca, who explained what he saw on tape. "I think (the Browns) have a couple young guys out there who are feeling their way at the linebacker position. They're feeling their way and that's part of why they're getting better each week because they're getting playing time and they're getting used to playing with each other each week. They're moving in the right direction."

The three linebackers who started last year's playoff game against the Steelers - Earl Holmes, Dwayne Rudd and Darren Hambrick - have been replaced by second-year players Kevin Bentley, Andra Davis and Ben Taylor. Even linebacker coach Keith Butler was fired. He ended up in Pittsburgh, replacing Mike Archer.

After his Florida State Seminoles were beaten by Notre Dame, 34-24, last season, Alonzo Jackson told reporters at the post-game press conference that Notre Dame center Jeff Faine was "soft and overrated."

Faine is now with the Browns, and Jackson, a Steelers rookie, has changed his tune. "Aw, I was on Florida State last year. Everybody was talking then," he said. "I wouldn't say that about him now. That was a Florida State quote."

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