A Must Win

The Pittsburgh Steelers have let their three-game lead in the AFC North Division evaporate and need a win tonight at St. Louis to clinch a playoff berth. Here's the breakdown:

PITTSBURGH – Since they beat the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 11, the Steelers haven't had to win a game, and it's showed.

The Steelers beat the Browns to forge a three-game lead in the division – and then they lost to the Jets, and edged the dreadful Dolphins and wretched Bengals, and then lost two more games.

The 9-5 Steelers' lead in the AFC North Division is down to their tiebreaker edge over the 9-5 Browns, and there's now a sense of urgency for tonight's 8:15 game at St. Louis against the 3-11 Rams.

No one in the Steelers' locker room is brimming with confidence. In fact, the player who guaranteed a win a few weeks ago is now on the bench. But there is that sense of urgency.

"I hope so," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "We do need to get our 10th win. We do need to get into the playoffs. I think everyone in here knows that and everybody should be ready to play."

"There's definitely a sense of urgency now," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "And we haven't been playing on the road, so there's a sense with us that we want to get things done in that regard. We definitely want this game because there's not a lot of room for error if we want to get in the postseason. We just need to worry about us and win this ball game."

To make the playoffs, the Steelers only need to beat the Rams. Should they lose, a win Sunday by the New York Jets at Tennessee would also do the job.

To clinch the division title, the Steelers need to win tonight and a Browns loss Sunday at Cincinnati.

Tonight, the Steelers play a team that's won only one of its last four games. However, quarterback Marc Bulger is back in the lineup. He left the Rams' Nov. 25 loss to Seattle with a concussion. He'd quarterbacked the Rams to their first wins of the season in the two weeks (New Orleans and San Francisco) before the injury. He returned last week and completed 20 of 39 passes for 219 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in a 33-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Bulger still has explosive receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt at his disposal. He also has 6-foot-2, 231-pound running back Steven Jackson to balance the offense.

Jackson rushed for 143 yards on 24 carries last week. The fourth-year pro out of Oregon State also put his power and speed together for a 46-yard touchdown run. Troy Polamalu saw that kind of run when they were in the Pac-10 together.

"He's big, strong, fast, an excellent running back," said Polamalu. "I know he ran me over once. I gave him a hard time about that when we were in Hawaii together."

The Rams' problem on offense has been an offensive line that's gotten quarterbacks Bulger and Gus Frerotte sacked 44 times, or one more time than Ben Roethlisberger's been sacked.

Injuries have crippled the Rams' line. Three starters – LT Orlando Pace, LG Mark Setterstrom, RG Richie Incognito – are out for the season. Backup RT Adam Goldberger is also out. The starters, from left to right, are Alex Barron, Milford Brown, Andy McCollum, Todd Steussie and Brandon Gorin.

Defensively, the Rams are 19th against the run, 17th against the pass and 17th overall. Coordinator Jim Haslett's unit has only 27 sacks -- seven by MLB Will Witherspoon and four by DT La'Roi Glover. Starters Tye Hill (CB), Pisa Tinoisamoa (LB) and Leonard Little (DE) are on injured reserve.

It's a game the Steelers should win … if they play a bit scared.

"I don't think scared is the right word, but there's urgency," said Ward. "It's not a must must win, but we do need to win this game. We definitely don't want to take this to the last game. We're veteran guys and I think we understand that."

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