Iron man streak to end

Dewayne Washington has started 120 consecutive regular-season NFL games, 127 counting the playoffs, but the streak will come to an end Sunday. <br><br> Washington, the Steelers' right cornerback the last five-and-one-half seasons, has been benched and will be replaced by Deshea Townsend, a sixth-year veteran out of Alabama who has nine career starts, including last year's playoff game against the Cleveland Browns.

"Right now it was just, in my opinion, a change that needed to be done," said Steelers Coach Bill Cowher. "(It was) not just based on one game but based on performance and based, in my mind, on the state of mind Dewayne's in. I think he needs to sit back and look at it right now."

Cowher yanked Washington out of last Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter after he missed a tackle on Darrell Jackson's 43-yard gain that set up Seattle's game-clinching, one-yard touchdown run by Shaun Alexander.

The Steelers had pulled to within 16-13 on a touchdown pass to Hines Ward, but Jackson's play on the next series allowed the Seahawks go jump back on top by 10 points with 7:21 remaining in the game. The Steelers lost, 23-16.

Cowher didn't want to talk about the play, which was Washington's last that day. He was replaced by Townsend, who previously was beaten twice for potential touchdowns, but both Seattle receivers dropped the ball.

Cowher was asked what he meant by Washington's "state of mind."

"I think there's a lack of confidence right now," Cowher said. "I think that has more to do with it than anything."

Cowher hasn't determined whether Washington will enter the field in the nickel or dime packages, the latter being Townsend's primary role with the team. Cowher did say, though, that rookie cornerback Ike Taylor, who played defense only one year at Louisiana-Lafayette, could receive more playing time.

"That's a very strong possibility," Cowher said.

In Townsend, the Steelers will start a better cover cornerback, but one who doesn't support the run quite as well as Washington. However, the Steelers need help in coverage. They rank seventh in the NFL in average passing yards allowed per game (195.5), but are 32nd in opponents' completion percentage (64.4), 29th in opponents' passer rating (89.6) and 23rd in yards allowed per pass attempt (6.95).

Washington doesn't have an interception this season and has broken up just three passes. The 10th-year veteran has 28 career interceptions, 18 with the Steelers.

Townsend, who has five career interceptions, becomes the third player moved into the starting lineup in the last three weeks. After the bye week, Cowher benched running back Amos Zereoue for Jerome Bettis, and after the subsequent loss to the St. Louis Rams right tackle Todd Fordham was benched for Oliver Ross.

There likely will be a fourth change made next week if tackle Marvel Smith returns from a pinched nerve that has kept him out of all but three plays the last five games.

"I'm going to list him as out this week, but he's made great improvement," Cowher said. "Barring any setback this week there's a strong possibility that he will be participating in full-contact practice next week, so that's the kind of timetable we're on."

Tight end Jay Riemersma (knee) and back-up linebacker Clint Kriewaldt (hamstring) are questionable for Sunday's home game against the Arizona Cardinals. Listed as probable are wide receiver Plaxico Burress (shoulder), back-up cornerback Chidi Iwuoma (groin), back-up receiver Lee Mays (back) and Taylor (finger).

On snapping out of the five-game losing streak that's dropped the Steelers to 2-6, Cowher said, "Anything can happen. The most important thing right now isn't the big picture but right now it's the next team. The task at hand is Arizona. Looking at how they responded last week in practice and how they played in the game, we fell short but certainly there was a lot of great effort. We just couldn't make the play here or there. I think if we keep that same approach, hopefully we can get a win and get on a roll and see what happens."

Steel City Insider Top Stories