Steelers Inside Slant

Pittsburgh still doesn't control its destiny as far as the playoffs are concerned, but the Steelers look a lot brighter today than they did before Sunday's games.

Their victory over Chicago, combined with last-minute losses by San Diego and Kansas City left the three teams tied at 8-5 with three to go. Jacksonville is one ahead. The Steelers would earn a Wild Card playoff spot if they win their final three games, provided the Chiefs also don't win their next three. But Kansas City must play the Chargers again, plus they have games against two other contenders -- the Giants and the Bengals.

The Steelers play at Minnesota Sunday, and follow with games at Cleveland and at home to Detroit.

"No, we can't control (what other do), only what we can do," linebacker James Farrior said. "We have to focus on each game in front of us, let it play out and see what happens."

Jerome Bettis, who rushed for 101 yards to help beat the Bears Sunday, knows there's little margin for error over the next three games for his team.

"No question, we're a desperate football team in the sense that (lose) one game and you might be going home," Bettis said. "That's the way we look at it. We can't afford to lose any games. We put ourselves in this position by losing some games early in the season and going on a three-game losing skid.

"We understand the position we've put ourselves in. We're a desperate football team and we're going to play like it for the rest of the season."

Problem is, they play another desperate team on Sunday in Minnesota. The Vikings have won six straight to improve to 8-5, one behind the Bears in the NFC North and tied with Dallas for the second and last Wild Card playoff spot in their conference.

"This is where we're at right now," coach Bill Cowher said. "This is what we're facing. This is what we're dealing with. We have to play that way (desperate). We're going to play that way in the nest three games and see where it takes us."


-- The Steelers can avoid becoming the first team in franchise history to miss the playoffs after a start of 7-2 or better. They have missed the playoffs more times than any team since 1978 after a 7-5 start, according to Stats LLC. They've missed four times after going 7-5 -- in 1980, 1981, 1987 and 1998.

-- RB Jerome Bettis did not expect to ever rush for another 100-yard game. He had 100 in the second half against the Bears, giving him 101. "Absolutely not," Bettis said. "My role is to come in and spell Willie (Parker)."

-- Cowher added to his phenomenal record when his team leads by more than 10 points: He's 97-1-1 in those situations.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Oh, yeah, I was surprised," -- Coach Bill Cowher on Bears coach Lovie Smith's decision in the second quarter to take a penalty and give the Steelers another chance to make it on third down. Pittsburgh made it and wound up continuing to their second touchdown and a 14-3 lead.


-- CB Deshea Townsend was reportedly alright following a concussion and a neck injury from a hit he put on Bears QB Kyle Orton Sunday.

-- WR Hines Ward caught his 10th touchdown pass Sunday. That ranks second in the AFC behind only Marvin Harrison's 12.

-- TE Heath Miller did not catch a pass, dropping the only one thrown to him Sunday. It was only the third game this season that he has been shut out.

-- QB Ben Roethlisberger was not intercepted Sunday and has only seven interceptions this season.

-- RB Jerome Bettis had his 50th 100-yard rushing game with the Steelers, the most in franchise history. It was the 61st overall of his career, fifth-most in NFL history.


PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- These are the numbers the Steelers love to see from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: 13 of 20, 173 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, no sacks, 109.0 passer rating. No flash, no dash, just enough to keep the defense honest. Hines Ward caught his 10th touchdown of the season, breaking several tackles on a 14-yard excursion with a screen pass.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- They compared these Bears to the '85 version before the game and the Steelers ground them into mince meat. They ran 46 times for 190 yards and two touchdowns, both by Jerome Bettis. The Bus had 101 yards on 17 carries, 100 of them on 16 carries in the second half in the snow. Willie Parker started and ran 21 times for a tough 68 yards but it was his 45-yard run with a screen pass on the second play of Pittsburgh's first series that set their tone on offense.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Bears rookie Kyle Orton threw for 207 yards and was not intercepted, but he completed less than 50 percent of his attempts and he was sacked three times. He hit two long consecutive passes that set up Chicago's only touchdown, a 1-yard run. The Steelers also put a lot of pressure on Orton.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Bears did not do badly on the ground with a 4.6-yard average per carry. Thomas Jones averaged 5.1 a carry and had 72 yards, but he ran only 14 times and the Bears ran just 18 times, three of them on Orton scrambles. They gave up on the ground game after they fell behind.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- The Bears had no returns more than 19 yards on kickoffs and 9 on punts and they missed an extra point attempt. After they performed so poorly on kick coverage the past several games, they were solid. The Steelers had returns of 19 yards by Ike Taylor on one punt and 12 by Antwaan Randle El on another.

COACHING: A -- Ken Whisenhunt, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, had a great game plan against an aggressive defense. He deployed screens, ends around and misdirection plays to thwart their aggressiveness. Roethlisberger took quick drops and threw quickly, completing only one pass longer than 17 yards -- that on a short screen that Willie Parker took 45 yards.

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