Notebook: Road warriors

PITTSBURGH – The Steelers can lose another game, perhaps two, even three, and still make the playoffs. But if they lose today in Cincinnati, it's unlikely they'll recover in time to host the AFC Championship game.


Yes, the Steelers just might be a better road team these days, as evidenced by their 1-3 record at Heinz Field in their last four games there, and their 9-game road winning streak. The streak matches the 1974-75 Steelers as the franchise record.

Why are they so good on the road?

"The No. 1 reason is definitely talent," said center Jeff Hartings, "but it starts with the difference between this organization and most: It starts with coach (Bill) Cowher. He's so consistent and he knows the team so well. He always knows what buttons to push. I have a lot of respect for him and give a lot of credit to him."

The Steelers went to San Diego as 3-point underdogs (same odds today) and came away with a tough win. Did Cowher push a specific button?

"No, he just kind of sets the course," Hartings said. "He always makes sure he has a lot of veteran players to go out and perform. A lot of teams are continuously starting over with a coach and general manager and it's hard to build a team that way because you maybe don't get those guys who've been on this team for six, seven, eight years. I looked once and they darn near drafted everyone that starts on this team. That's very unusual."

"Like he (Cowher) always says," said fullback Dan Kreider, "when you go into somebody's house you have to have an us-against-them mentality and feed off the crowd, let it get you pumped up. It comes down to the things we do well, like take care of the ball, running the ball. If you can do that, you can win anywhere I guess."


The Steelers have made some terrific defensive stands this season, and last week's may have been their best.

Against the Jaguars, the Steelers stuffed a first-and-goal series from the one-yard line. The key, besides awful Jaguars play-calling, might have been Larry Foote's coverage of defensive tackle-turned-tight end John Henderson. The incompletion followed a second-down timeout.

"I told him, damn, boy, you really had your antennae up on that play," said linebacker James Farrior.

"I saw them huddle on the sideline," said Foote, "and then they came back and huddled again and I thought something was up. I was still playing the run first, but coach (Keith) Butler always runs that play on us every day, even if it's not in the practice plan. But I just saw it."

"They had us fooled; they didn't have Foote fooled," said Farrior. "He saw it the whole way. It didn't fake him out one bit. Everybody else was dumb."


Chris Gardocki hasn't had any of his 1,067 pro punts blocked, officially, but Rashean Mathis of the Jaguars got a hand on punt No. 1,065. It rolled nine yards past the line of scrimmage to keep the record streak alive.

"That was the first time anyone's got a hand on one and it was almost full blown," said Gardocki.

His immediate reaction?

"You don't even think about it. I was just trying to find the ball," he said. "Then you're thinking about holding them out of the end zone."

The Jaguars took over at the Steelers' 16, but were held to a field goal after the Steelers' goal-line stand.

The block turned into three points. One interception of Tommy Maddox went for six points, and another interception, returned to the Pittsburgh 21, resulted in seven points. The Jaguars scored only seven points on a sustained drive.


• Defensive end Aaron Smith on whether his roughing penalty on a third-and-16 incompletion last Sunday was a worse call than his holding penalty on a third-and-17 incomplete screen pass in the last AFC Championship game:

"This one was worse than the screen pass, to be honest with you. This one I just brushed him and he did a nice job of falling down. But they're going to call it. That call against New England, that was horrible. I mean, in a big game like that? To make that kind of call? I couldn't believe that. They should not influence the game. Make the calls and let some stuff go that doesn't matter."

• Free safety Chris Hope on Chad Johnson's hit list:

"You've got to respect him, but it adds another level of competitiveness to the game. He says he's going to dance or he's going to beat you, you try that much harder not to let it happen so you can say, well, he didn't dance on us. It's kind of like stopping LaDainian Tomlinson from scoring a touchdown. It's just another challenge that, as a competitor, you rise to meet."

• Cornerback Ike Taylor on whether he'll be asked to cover Johnson:

"I just line up. If he comes over, he comes over."

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