Notebook: Ward not buying Raven domination

The Steelers this year suffered the worst margin of defeat to a division opponent in a season series since 1950, but they don't look at it as a signal that big changes should take place this off-season.

"Did they outplay us? Probably, but it was more of what we did," said Hines Ward. "We didn't focus or execute our game plan the way we were supposed to. I don't really look at the talent difference. Yes, you look on paper and say this and this and this, but when you line up and play, and you're just playing, we just didn't execute."

As an example, Ward points to the Willie Parker fumble inside the five-yard line in the fourth quarter with the Baltimore Ravens leading by 21-7 last Sunday. The Ravens went on to win 31-7.

"That's a different ball game," Ward said. "Down there, they had a great defensive scheme against us and they got pressure on us. We really couldn't get into a rhythm but this game, it was a great game. [Steve] McNair made two good throws that went for touchdowns. We were battling back and forth. We took a drive that started at our own four-yard line. We went all the way down there and turned the ball over. That's the difference right there. At 21-14, now you're playing at two different levels."

The Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers by a combined 51 points. That's the margin by which the Cleveland Browns beat the Steelers in 1950. The record is 66 by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1945. The 1940 Washington Redskins beat the Steelers by a combined margin of 57 points. None of those three Steelers teams came back the following season with a winning record.

"We're not a bad team. We're just a good team that's playing bad football," Ward said. "The nucleus of this team is still intact. I think you've just got to mould and adjust. Did everybody on the team play up to their caliber? No, we all were inconsistent, from every position. From what we went through, we can all grow and get better from it. I think it's going to help each and every player."

MORE MILESTONES

•Parker needs a touchdown to tie Louis Lipps' team record of 15 touchdowns set in 1985; he needs 71 yards to tie Jerome Bettis (1,431 in 1996) for third-best rushing season in team history; he needs 16 rushing attempts to tie for fifth most attempts in a season and 20 attempts to tie Bettis (320 in 1996) for fourth.

• Ward needs 46 receiving yards to reach 8,000 in his career.

Ben Roethlisberger needs 91 yards passing to tie for the third most in a Steelers season, 167 to have the second most (Tommy Maddox , 3,414 in 2003) and 476 to tie Terry Bradshaw's record (3,724 in 1979; he needs 31 attempts to tie Bradshaw (472 in 1979) for second most single-season attempts; he needs nine completions to tie Neil O'Donnell (270 in 1993) for second most in team history; and four interceptions will tie Jim Finks' record (26 in 1955).

Jeff Reed needs two points to become the fourth player in franchise history to score 500 points. The others are Gary Anderson (1,343), Roy Gerela (731) and Franco Harris (600).

PREDICTING THE AFC CHAMP

The Ravens dominated both lines of scrimmage, but Steelers' linemen aren't predicting that they'll reach the Super Bowl.

"I think that San Diego's going," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "I just think they have an incredible offensive attack and their defense plays well enough to win the games. Their defense is pretty much just trying to give their offense the ball. They go sit on the bench and let LaDainian [Tomlinson] and those guys go do their job. I think Philip Rivers has played amazing this year. They're playing as well as anyone."

"It's going to be between Baltimore, Indy and the Chargers," said guard Alan Faneca. "If you made me put my finger on one, I'd say the Colts. I'd say it because they've been there, they've done that, it's not their first run at things. They definitely have some defensive issues to shore up, but I wouldn't put anything past Peyton [Manning] and what he can do to a defense. If you made me pick one, that's who I'd put my 20 bucks on."

Will the AFC win the Super Bowl?

"I would say," Faneca said. "We played the Saints and they've got a great offense but the AFC teams are just battle-tested. No matter how good an NFC team is, the AFC teams have faced more adversity, had tougher games, and been against better opponents more often."


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