Ward symbolizes plight

This is a recording: The Steelers turned the ball over six times in losing Sunday, putting the defending champions in danger of falling out of the playoff race before it's begun. The Steelers hope to avoid becoming the worst defending champion since the Denver Broncos carried on without John Elway. Again, this has been a recording.

PITTSBURGH – The best player on the field made the worst play at the wrong time. Welcome to the world of the 2006 Steelers.

Hines Ward played one of the best games of his career, but it won't be remembered that way because it ended – just like the Steelers' season Sunday – with a thud.

After catching seven passes for 127 yards on the best cornerback in the game, Ward fumbled attempting to stretch for the 128th yard, and it cost the Steelers their last breath against the Denver Broncos in a 31-20 loss.

"We still had an opportunity," Ward said in a quiet locker room. "I tried to make a play, dove into the end zone. I thought the ball was over the pylon but I guess I was a yard short. That right there took everything out of me personally. I've just got to continue fighting hard and I'm going to do that. I'm not going to give up. It just sucks to be 2-6 right now."

The Steelers wrapped up the first half of their Super Bowl defense with that 2-6 record. Ward, the MVP way back on that good old day, symbolized the fall from grace by trying to stretch the ball over the goal line with 1:50 remaining. A touchdown would've brought the Steelers to within five points, but the fumble effectively wrapped up another turnover-prone loss.

Ward's 10-yard gain instead became the fifth of six Steelers turnovers.

"For me it just sucks because I put everything I had into this game and then to let my team down on the fumble really hurts a lot," Ward said. "So I've got to put a lot of work into it too."

The Steelers came into the game planning to throw on the Broncos, but in the first half Ward was little more than a decoy, just as Marvin Harrison had been the previous week against cornerback Champ Bailey.

Ward caught four first-half passes against short zone coverage before catching a short six-yarder on Bailey to start the second half. It set up the Steelers' longest play of the game.

Trailing 28-17 in the fourth quarter, Ben Roethlisberger threw another short pass to Ward in front of Bailey, but Ward shook off Bailey and bolted up the field. He then split a pair of defenders before finishing his 63-yard run at the Denver 17. From there, the Steelers jumped offsides, got sacked and kicked a field goal.

"To get down in the red zone like we did, we've got to come away with touchdowns and we didn't do that today," Ward said.

The Broncos added a field goal and the Steelers came back down the field. Right out of the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger threw a short pass to Ward who motored to the goal line before taking flight. John Lynch hit Ward's forearm just shy of the goal line and the ball came loose. It ended the game and realistically the season.

"It was disappointing because I felt like I did everything I possibly could to try to help this team win and I just let them down at the end," Ward said. "It hurts because I take pride in trying to be a complete player and try to play 100 percent. That's the one percent I didn't do well on. We score right there, get the two-point conversion and we're down a field goal. I've got to be smart about it. I apologize to my teammates. I let them down."

Where do the Steelers go from here?

"I don't know," he said. "I know I'm not even going to look at the big picture because it's game by game for me. I mean, two and six? You've got to play like you've got to audition for next year."


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