Around the league: Steelers not satisfied

Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher finally broke down the door to get back to the Super Bowl, but he and the Steelers aren't satisfied because they snapped their personal jinx in the AFC title game.

"We need to go and win one more game," Cowher said. "no one ever remembers who lost the Super Bowl."

The Steelers became the first real Super Bowl dynasty when they won four in six seasons in the 1970s, but they've been back only once since then and have not won a Vince Lombardi Trophy in 26 years.

"Getting there is good," owner Dan Rooney proclaimed, "but we're going there to win. This is just another stop."

A good one at that. It was ironic that the Steelers became the first sixth playoff seed to reach a Super Bowl and only the second team to win three playoff road games to get there. This after they lost four out of five AFC Championship Games the previous 11 seasons, all at home, including one last January in Heinz Field to New England after they became the first AFC team to go 15-1 in the regular season.

"The toughest route they said to take was the scenic route and that ended up being the best route for us," said linebacker Joey Porter, who had a monster game. "We went to three different cities and shocked the world three different times. We weren't supposed to be in this situation but we pulled it off. We pulled it off everywhere we went."

Only one player on Pittsburgh's 53-man roster has ever been to a Super Bowl, veteran cornerback Willie Williams, a starter when the Steelers made their fifth appearance in the 1995 season and lost to the Dallas Cowboys.

Cowher has been dogged by his lack of success in the postseason. He won 141 games in the regular season but was 8-9 in the postseason. He is now 11-9 and can put the personal demons to rest for good Feb. 5 in Detroit.

"It hasn't gnawed at me," Cowher said. "I can't do anything about it. I don't want other people to be stuck to me. You can say anything you want about me and the failures I have had. That's fine. I understand it's part of this business.

"I try to seize each year and take each game and this group of guys and make them be as good as they can be."



The Seahawks are right where they want to be: headed to Super Bowl XL as underdogs against a storied franchise with a reputation for being more physical and battle tested.

There will be plenty of time for the Seahawks to ponder their matchup with the Steelers in Detroit. For now, Seattle can revel in its 34-14 victory over a Carolina team with a hot quarterback and highly ranked defense.

"It seems like every time an obstacle came up this year and they said, The Seahawks can do that, they can't beat St. Louis, they can't win on the road, they can't win a big game, they can't come back,' this team said, 'Well, OK, let's just see,'" first-year team president Tim Ruskell said.

"This was a continuation of that."

The Seahawks thrived on the perception that their 16th-ranked defense might be exposed against a Carolina team featuring the highest-rated playoff passer in league history.

Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme had posted a 108.4 rating while compiling a 5-1 playoff record as a starter. Wide receiver Steve Smith had caught 22 passes over his last two games, leading many to label him as unstoppable.

Seattle's defense met the challenge, and then some, by pressuring Delhomme into three interceptions while limiting Smith to five catches for 33 yards. Backup Seattle quarterback Seneca Wallace had a 28-yard reception that nearly matched Smith's production.

"This is the most serious team I've ever been around for getting the job done, working at it, coming in early, doing extra film, doing extra things," Ruskell said. "I've never been around a group that their concentration was on every week.

"It's been an amazing thing to watch and I think it's because they like each other and they are looking after the other guy and watching out for their back and the coaches do the same thing and they picked up on it and it just kind of build upon itself, got some momentum and I think that propelled us to the 11-game win streak and then to these tough games."


The Seahawks dominated on both sides of the ball during a 34-14 victory over the Panthers in the NFC title game. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck posted a triple-digit passer rating for the sixth consecutive game, softening up the Carolina defense for running back Shaun Alexander, who rushed for 132 yards and two 1-yard touchdowns.

Seattle's defense got pressure without blitzing, forcing Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme into three interceptions. The defense also shut down wide receiver Steve Smith, holding him to five catches for 33 yards.

Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (two sacks) and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu one interception) had big games.

Hasselbeck picked apart Carolina's third-ranked defense, spreading the ball around to eight receivers. Seattle's coaching staff put together a brilliant game plan, showing off a bit by finding backup quarterback Seneca Wallace for a 28-yard catch against former Seahawks cornerback Ken Lucas, who now plays for Carolina.


--QB Matt Hasselbeck tossed two touchdown passes and did not commit a turnover during his second consecutive strong showing in the playoffs. Hasselbeck spread the ball around to eight receivers.

--RB Shaun Alexander rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns in by far his best postseason performances. Alexander had struggled in three previous playoff games but he found openings in Carolina's defense as the Panthers had to respect the pass.

--DT Ricky Bernard collected two sacks as Seattle got a pass rush without blitzing. Bernard had 8.5 sacks during the regular season. He is a free agent after the season.

--MLB Lofa Tatupu picked off a pass and knocked Panthers RB Nick Goings from the game with a hit that seemed to hurt both players. Tatupu suffered a mild concussion during the game and was off-limits to reporters afterwards.

--FS Marquand Manuel collected one of three Seattle interceptions on Panthers QB Jake Delhomme. Manuel has stepped up big this season after the team lost FS Ken Hamlin to injury.



The Denver Broncos know they let a great opportunity slip past in Sunday's AFC Championship Game. The Broncos were one home win away from making the Super Bowl and lost 34-17 to Pittsburgh. \

"As of now, we failed," Broncos rookie cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "That's the bottom line. We failed."

The Broncos' first pressing issue is finding a new offensive coordinator.

Gary Kubiak will leave to become the head coach of the Texans. Kubiak did a good job tutoring quarterback Jake Plummer and Plummer said he will miss him.

"One of the main reasons I came here to Denver was to be coached by him," Plummer said. "With him as a head coach, I think he'll do a great job."

The Broncos also have some key free agents and have to cut some salary to get to the projected cap. Center Tom Nalen and offensive linemen Matt Lepsis can void their contracts, end Courtney Brown has a large option bonus the Broncos might not pick up and defensive tackle Gerard Warren is a free agent. It will be difficult for the Broncos to retain all of those players.

The Broncos have two first-round picks and need to fill some holes through the draft.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Broncos found a solid mix on defense. They had a strong line, fantastic linebackers and ballhawking defensive backs. The Broncos need to build off of that success, and also retool a defensive line that could lose a couple of players.

Quarterback Jake Plummer had four turnovers in the AFC Championship Game, but that shouldn't overshadow the fine season he had. Plummer cut down on his mistakes and took a lot of positive steps.

The Broncos will continue to work on making him as mistake-free as possible.

One of the most positive developments for the Broncos this season was the progress of their three rookie cornerbacks. Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth were constant presences in the base defense. Karl Paymah didn't come along as fast but he is a good athlete. The Broncos used their first three picks in last year's draft on cornerbacks and filled a big need.

WHAT NEEDS ATTENTION: The Broncos need to find some more playmakers on offense. Rod Smith had a great season but is getting older. Ashley Lelie hasn't become the every down threat that the Broncos hoped to get when they used a first round pick on him. The Broncos found out in the AFC Championship Game what happens when they put too much on Jake Plummer.

Denver needs to groom a featured tailback. Tatum Bell has shown flashes of being good but he needs to be consistent. Mike Anderson is 32 years old and seemed to slow down a bit late in the season.

The Broncos also need to keep adding to the defensive line, which could lose Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren in the offseason. The Broncos did a very good job piecing together their defensive line this season.


The Broncos turned the ball over four times and were dominated at home in a 34-17 AFC Championship Game loss to Pittsburgh. Jake Plummer had two interceptions and two fumbles, all of which either led to Steelers points or killed Denver's momentum.

The Steelers led 24-3 at halftime. The Broncos had to ditch the running game and put Plummer in positions to make mistakes. The Broncos never cut Pittsburgh's lead to less than 10 points in the second half.

The Broncos had no answer for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger completed 21 of 29 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Steelers confused the Broncos by using many play-action fakes to get receivers open downfield.

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