Bill Cowher held his final Tuesday press conference of the regular season and the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach talked about the past, the future and said a decision regarding his future could come as early as next week.
Opening Statement: OK. The injury situation heading into our last game in Cincinnati is that we have two players who are out: Ryan Clark with his groin; Max Starks with his knee. One player is doubtful, that's Clark Haggans, who's got a grade two MCL on his knee. Questionable is James Harrison with his shoulder. And we have six guys who are probable: Andre Lott with his ankle; Clint Kriewaldt with his neck; Ben (Roethlisberger) with his shoulder; Deshea (Townsend) with his hand; Jeff (Hartings) with his knee; and Troy (Polamalu) with knee. Obviously, just real quick, the Baltimore game was a very disappointing outcome considering everything was at stake. It was a game, I think, if you look at the first half of that game, offensively we were 0-of-7 on third down. And even like I said after the game, we had some third-and-makeables that we didn't convert. Consequently we never got into any rhythm. Defensively, we gave up some big pass plays. They scored the one touchdown on a short field, a 45-yard drive. We got back in it with the takeaway and the score at the end of the first half. And in the second half, one of the big plays was that third-and-13, we missed an assignment and they converted and then hit the 25-yard touchdown pass. Then we battled back. One thing I'll say, the fumble took the wind out of our sails, it took away any chance we had with 13 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. We had a chance to get that back to 21-14 with Willie (Parker's) fumble at the 2-yard line. Like I said, it's disappointing. Where we are right now is we're going into Cincinnati. I know they are still mathematically are in it. Our goal is to go down there and get this taste out of our mouth and more importantly finish the season at 8-8. We'll do that. Playing Cincinnati with a game like that, there's a lot at stake, just pride-wise. It's always been like that. That's where we are.
Mr. (Dan) Rooney mentioned after the game that new players are needed, perhaps better players are needed, is that an opinion you share?
I'm not ready to reflect on next year (especially since that's impossible). I'm getting ready for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Willie Parker has had a good year statistically, but he's kind of been feast or famine. He's had some great games, some below average games, is he the type of back that you need in your ball-control offense?
I think he's a good back. I don't know if there's a prototype that you need in this offense. I think he is a quality football player. I do believe you need more than one back in this business if you're going to run the football and do it through a 16-game season. I think Willie Parker is deservedly going to the Pro Bowl. I think he is one of the better backs in the National Football League. He's the one guy in this running game that we've had since I've been here, the only time we've had big-play possibilities in the running game. But you do need to be able to be able to monitor him through a season and I do think we were able to do that this season. I don't look at that being an issue. If you want to look at this year and reflect, it still comes back to turning the football over. Say what you want, but we're 29th I think in turning the football over in the National Football League. But we're probably tied for eighth in takeaways. We're taking the ball away like we did the other day, but we're turning it over. That has resulted in losing some close games this year that in the past we've won by being that way. It put us in the hole we had in a conference where it's probably going to take 10 wins to get in.
Do you look at it as being a couple of plays away from going for your 11th win this weekend?
I think there's a fine line. We could have been sitting here a year ago with some of those games we had a year ago and been talking about not getting in. That's the way the National Football League is right now. There is a fine line that exists. You have to have players playing at a high level, get on a roll and stay injury free. I think there is a fine line.
I know that you're concentrating on Cincinnati right now, but everybody in Pittsburgh wants to know, is Bill Cowher going to be back for a 16th season?
That's for next week. We'll talk about that next week. It won't go long. I'm not sure what the time frame is. But I think the most important thing is to focus on this game. There's so much, there's such a difference in my mind between 8-8 and 7-9. The fact that we lost last week, the sour taste in your mouth, it's a divisional opponent, all of those things, we're going to go down to Cincinnati with one thing in mind and that's to finish this thing off on a positive note.
(Stop, Ellis time) You mentioned 8-8 and 7-9, how much emphasis to people in this business put on how you finish these kind of seasons off?
To me it's not how people perceive you, it's what you can take into that next season. I go back to the year we were 6-10 in 2003. You can look at the year as 6-10, I look at the second half of that season and we were 4-4. We just couldn't put together two straight wins. We couldn't get over that hump. This year has had a little bit of that same feel to it from the standpoint that we dug that early hole and you didn't leave yourself any margin of error as the season went along. It's what you do internally. The perception of other people, I really don't care, to be honest with you. I don't care what the perception is. It's the reality of what you have in front of you to be able to make objective decisions and try to create that sense of going forward and building something and being realistic of where you are. That's the thing you want to do and that's why I said finishing strong is very important because that's what you take into next year.
Aside from the personal pride aspect, how important is it to injure a divisional opponent and knock them out. Is that an extra motivation?
Let me just say this, misery loves company. We're looking for company.
(A Paulie Walnuts sighting) Has this been a strange season in that when you would identify a problem and sure it up, something else would crop up?
It's kind of the hole in the wall, dike thing, whatever the saying is. Yeah, it's been that. But those are the things to me, and I just go back to reflect a little bit about the early part of this season - no excuses for our two games against Baltimore, those were opportunities that they played a more dominating game than we did – but early in the season, it took us a while to find an identity. And in the course of that, we lost some games that we could have won and probably should have won. Because you're going to have that in the early stage of the game, those are the games to me that are important. As you start to develop, as you start to kind of find your own niche about who you are the roles that players have - understanding that they can change - you to win some of those close games. The Oakland, the Atlanta, those kind of games come back to haunt you. The first Cincinnati game, again, you go back to those games, you're going to go back to turnovers. Whether it be in the kicking game or on offense or be a pass play that we couldn't make a play on early in the game - it seemed like we couldn't make a play on a fade ball, it seemed like every game early in the season, the jump ball situation, we were losing every one of those. There is that fine line that we kind of talk about, but it exists. But it is part of a season as it unfolds. A lot of teams are probably saying the same thing, a play here, a play there, can turn the season around.
Given that you mentioned those two games against Baltimore, are you surprised your team was dominated the way it was?
Yeah. Yeah. I am. Surprised and disappointed. I thought this past game we played better, but not to the extent of … We were down 14-7 and you come out with a chance to get back into the game and we give up the drive. We do come back and we were just fighting an uphill battle. There's nothing more you can really say about it. They clearly outplayed us in both games.
You've often said that training camp is the foundation for a season. Did you have concerns about this team coming out of training camp?
I think given how the situation opened up on a Thursday night and that shortens camp. The fourth preseason game takes on a little different significance because you're opening up sooner than everybody else. You had a few of the setbacks that we had. Hines (Ward) didn't have any training camp because of his hamstring. Ben had the setback right prior to going to training camp. I really didn't think coming out of it that we were that far away. I think, again, it's a couple of those early season losses, a play here or a play there, if you can contribute that to a bad training camp, not getting a hand on a ball in San Diego; having a 17-14 lead and them punting the ball to us at home against Cincinnati. Those games were big games. You go down to Jacksonville and it was 9-0, but it was 0-0 late in the third quarter. It's hard to say. Probably we didn't going offensively as soon as you would like because of some of the injuries that I said. Hines and Ben probably completed their first week of practice together before the Jacksonville game for over a month.
(Walnuts) Does it give you an appreciation for how tough it is to repeat?
There is. You become the barometer every week. You've got to bring your A game. I say that, but the year before, we were 15-1. People looked at us the same way, so we've been there before and understood that. I think the scheduling part of it, a 4 o'clock game, an 8 o'clock game, a Monday night game, a Thursday night game, I think last week was only our second 1 o'clock home game. But you know what, that's all part of it. That's part of this profession, I think everybody goes through that. And if you're having those, you're having those for all the right reasons. I think that's kind of stretching looking at that. It still comes back to the execution and doing the little things to win football games. We walked that fine line. You walk that every year, we just didn't walk it very well this year.
How did Willie Colon play?
He did OK at times. I thought he did better as the game went on. It's like anything, kind of like I said last week. You can watch film and see it on the practice field, but until you get into the game and have to apply it at game speed in a very short period of time, then you get acclimated to it. I thought he played better as the game went on.
(Walnuts again) Did you think at the time when Baltimore acquired (Steve) McNair that it would be a problem for you given his success against you?
I don't know if it was just his success against us, he's been pretty successful in the National Football League. But he's a good quarterback. But like I said, their offense is good, their defense is special. A lot of those guys were hurt a year ago. They got everybody back, they've stayed healthy and they added a couple of pieces. Getting (Haloti) Ngata as a first-round pick, Trevor Pryce was a great addition. Bart Scott was kind of an addition because he got a year to play without Ray (Lewis) and kind of came into his own last year. They're a special defense, they really are. And Steve McNair is a good quarterback. Yeah, we gave up some passes, but the one thing I'll say is that when you look around the National Football League, there are windows that are there and the good ones make you play the minute you open one up. He exploited some defenses that we had. To his credit he did a good job with it. He made the throws when he needed to make them.
Are you satisfied with the physical nature of your team?
I thought we played fine from that standpoint.