Nothing changes but the number on the right

Bill Cowher opened his press conference by discussing the travails of Marvel Smith and ended it by offering hope for a fading season. <br><br> In other words, it was the same ol', same ol', except, of course, there's a new number in the loss column. <br><br> The coach of the Steelers took his sixth loss in the last seven games on a chin he continues to thrust defiantly in front of the camera Tuesday . No, he won't make changes. No, he won't quit on the season.<br>

Defiance may be about all Cowher has left as the Steelers fell back into last place in the AFC North Division with a 3-7 record following Monday night's 30-14 loss in San Francisco.

"Helplessness will solve no problems," Cowher said. "Right now we've just got to keep fighting and keep going out there and working and preparing and believing and trusting. When the circumstances are as they are, you are tested in trying to take that approach, but that's the job we have to do. That's the only approach you can take right now."

Cowher and the rest of the Steelers coaching staff went straight from the airport to the team's South Side practice facility early Tuesday morning to prepare for Sunday's game at Cleveland. The Steelers are the only team in the NFL this season to play a road game the week after a Monday night road game. The last time they did so, in 1996, they followed a 24-17 win at Miami with a 31-17 loss at Baltimore.

"We'll work the rest of the week, travel Saturday and get back on a normal schedule next Monday," Cowher said. "This will be a big game. It's a big game for us. It will be a tough atmosphere to go into. There's a lot of sacrifice everybody has to make. We talked about it last week. We knew what these two weeks were going to entail."

The Steelers were defeated by the 49ers Monday night in a game the Steelers felt they could win at halftime. The Steelers' opening drive of the second half closed the deficit to 10-7 and then moved once more into 49ers territory before the roof caved.

Kevan Barlow then ripped off a 78-yard touchdown run - the longest run against the Steelers since Dec. 18, 1999 - and an Antwaan Randle El fumble on the kickoff was followed by a 28-yard touchdown pass to fullback Fred Beasley.

The two touchdowns, 14 seconds apart, broke the game open.

In spite of the loss, the Steelers remain only two games behind division co-leaders Baltimore and Cincinnati. Cleveland is 4-6.

"You can't start questioning things. You can't stop trusting and you can't stop believing, and you've got to play hard. They are doing that," Cowher said of his players. "Like I said, the opportunity we have is real in regards to where we are in this division. Certainly it's an uphill struggle, no doubt about it, but it's there. We have to seize that one week at a time."

Cowher was asked if it was conceivable to lose Sunday in Cleveland and still be in the division race with a 3-8 record.

"Yes, it is," Cowher said.

"So," the reporter theorized, "there is room for error."

"Whatever you say," Cowher said without any trace of a smile.

As for Smith, the tackle who's missed the last seven games with an inflamed nerve in his shoulder and neck area, Cowher said he would begin practicing full-time this week and "hopefully we'll be able to upgrade him as the week goes on."

Tight end Jay Riemersma will be listed as doubtful with a bruised sternum. Cowher also said that wide receiver Hines Ward has a sore neck but should play Sunday.

"Everyone else should be able to go, hopefully, by the end of the week," Cowher said.

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