Stand up and be heard

Clearing the air helped relieve the tension for the Steelers before their 38-31 win Sunday over New Orleans.

Aaron Smith was in tears. Joey Porter was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it any more.

They were just two of the players who stood up and spoke at head coach Bill Cowher's request Sunday morning as the team held its final meeting in preparation for Sunday's 38-31 victory by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the New Orleans Saints.

"Coach asked me if I was willing to speak and I thought it was appropriate to go out there and talk to the fellas," said Smith, who is not normally a vocal leader. "I think the general gist of everybody that spoke was just to rally around each other and just come out and play for each other."

It would seem to be a message that wouldn't need to be relayed, but at 2-6 entering Sunday's game, the Steelers were about as low as they've ever been under Cowher. And sometimes extreme circumstances call for extreme measures.

Asking certain players to get up and speak to their teammates to relay what they were feeling isn't something Cowher has normally done. But maybe given the mood the team was in finding itself in last place in the AFC North after winning the Super Bowl a year ago forced Cowher to go against the norm.

Cowher wanted to remind the players that they were not only out there playing for themselves, they were out there playing for the guy next to them as well. It was something he had tried to drive home with this team, but some things are better coming from another player rather than a coach.

"We had a lot of guys that stood up at that meeting and kind of spoke from their heart," said Cowher. "This is a very close group of players. I think a lot of that is from previous years. But certainly it is still strong despite the adversity that we've gone through to this point. I think a lot of that was exhibited today."

Coming off last Sunday's loss to Denver, running back Willie Parker questioned the team's hunger after achieving its goal of winning a Super Bowl last season. Wide receiver Hines Ward said the players would be auditioning for next season in their remaining eight games.

But Cowher had the team's leaders – Smith, Porter, Ward, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, offensive lineman Alan Faneca and wide receiver Sean Morey – express to their teammates the importance of not giving up on this season, not just for themselves, but for the guys around them as well.

"There were no Xs and Os, it was all from the heart," said safety Ryan Clark. "Sometimes you have to be reminded that we're a band of brothers and that we have to play that way."

Now that they finally have what had been an elusive victory under their belts, can the Steelers build off of this win?

Certainly Cowher can't expect one team meeting to change the fortunes of what has been, at least to this point, one of the most disappointing seasons in team history.

But at least for one day, this team rallied around each other and found a way to win a game.

"Guys could have easily folded their tents and started thinking about other stuff," said Porter, who earlier in the week guaranteed a win. "But that's not the makeup of this team. This is a close-knit team and we know what we have here in this locker room. … It's only one game, but it's one game that we needed."

© Roethlisberger is really starting to look like a quarterback on a roll. Even when faced with a blitzer in his face, he threw the ball to a spot where only his receiver would have a chanced to catch it.

I guess he's learned a little something.

© I thought the Steelers had figured out how to solve their punt return problems – never make the opposing team punt. But then Cowher sent Santonio Holmes out to field a couple of punts in the second half.

Was there any doubt that Holmes was calling for a fair catch on both occasions?

© Speaking of returns, Sean Morey was back to return kickoffs with Najeh Davenport.

But, as Cowher related after the game, Morey was only supposed to be blocking for Davenport, who was supposed to handle all of the kick returns. Nothing like having a 190-pound wide receiver blocking for a 250-pound fullback.

Morey ended up handling a couple of kickoffs, though, when the Saints foiled Cowher's plan by kicking off to him instead of Davenport. After Morey fumbled at the end of his first return - though I thought he was down by contact - I correctly assessed when he took off with his next return that he would simply run out of bounds. He did.

© If not for a blocked field goal by the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers would have found themselves just three games out of first play headed to Cleveland next week.

Oh well.

© Ryan Clark said he was directing traffic in the second half like a crossing guard.

As bad as the Steelers' pass defense was, especially in the second half when both Deshea Townsend and Troy Polamalu were out, it could have been worse. Had Joe Horn played for the Saints, it surely would have been worse.

The Steelers finally started doubling Marques Colston in the second half and forcing Drew Brees to beat them throwing to the likes of Aaron Stecker, Terrence Copper and Reggie Bush. He nearly did it.

© It's hard to believe the Steelers had never had a 200-yard rusher under Cowher. In fact, given how much they've run the ball over the years, it's hard to believe they've only had three 200-yard rushers – period.

Parker may not scare defenses physically, but teams will certainly look at film of Sunday's game and make sure their safeties don't get caught inside like New Orleans' did.

© In previous years Cowher may have gone to Jerome Bettis in the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead. This year, he was forced to run Parker. There's some dumb luck for you.

© The Steelers' kickoff coverage teams included the likes of John Kuhn, Anthony Madison, Ronald Stanley, Marquise Cooper and Anthony Smith.

That should be a hungry group of players.

But it also shows the difference between this year's coverage units and last year's since none of those players were on the active roster last season.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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