Worst ball at the worst time

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Baltimore Ravens in a meaningless regular-season finale. But while the loss didn't affect the Steelers' playoff seed, the way they lost does not bode well for the team.

BALTIMORE – The score – 27-21 – of the Steelers' loss to the Baltimore Ravens wasn't the most embarrassing set of numbers to come out of Sunday's game. There were these:

The Ravens outrushed the Steelers, 180-46.

Bruised, battered and beaten is no way to enter the playoffs, is it?

"Ready or not, here we come," said Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin before the team limped home with a 10-6 record.

The Steelers must now find a way to stop a team in the playoffs that actually gouged them for more rushing yardage.

Two weeks ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars rushed for 224 yards in a 29-22 Jaguars win that wasn't nearly as close in the trenches as the score might indicate.

The Steelers are playing their worst football of the season at the worst time. Their playoff opener against the Jaguars is scheduled for Saturday at 8:15 p.m., but Tomlin said he's not concerned about coming off of another poor game.

"We don't tote baggage from performance to performance," he said. "If we came out and played stellar today, it wouldn't mean nothing in terms of what we've got to do next week. We'll prepare, evaluate, move on the way the way we always do."

The Steelers have a tradition of running the ball and stopping the run, but they'll enter the playoffs off their lowest rushing output of the season and their second-worst performance against the run.

Hines Ward watched it all from the sideline and said he's not concerned either.

"We fought back hard and had a chance to win at the end," he said. "All our guys weren't in there. I wasn't in there; Ben wasn't in there; Faneca didn't play the full game. It's playoff time. You can't go by this game. Just like Jacksonville -- they lost to Houston. Is that going to affect the way they come out and play? No it's not."

But can the huge disparity in physical dominance the Jaguars displayed against the Steelers be overcome?

"It can," Ward said. "I don't see Fred Taylor doing that to our defense twice in a row. They've got a great team and it's going to be a challenge, but we'll see them Saturday night."

Taylor was the main headache for the Steelers on Dec. 16. He rushed for 147 yards on 25 carries. His backup, Maurice Jones-Drew, gained 69 yards on 12 carries.

In the following game, Steven Jackson of St. Louis rushed for 85 yards on only 12 carries against the Steelers. On Sunday, Musa Smith of the Ravens gained 83 yards on 22 carries and Cory Ross gained 72 yards on 12 carries.

The problem would seem to be the loss of defensive end Aaron Smith. He's missed the last three games on injured reserve. But Tomlin said the problem with the run defense has more to do with maintaining gap integrity while applying pressure on the quarterback. Several players echoed his sentiments.

"It ain't just Aaron's replacement," said Larry Foote. "It's a combination of things. We're not executing. Guys are trying to do too much."

"We're not accustomed to giving up that many yards but I feel good about my group," said James Farrior. "We're going to try to correct the things we're not doing right and get it going."

"We'd had better or we're going to be watching the playoffs," said Brett Keisel, who likes the fact the Steelers are getting another crack at the Jaguars.

"Anyone likes a chance to get at someone that knocked you out," he said.

Keisel also understands that no one will give the Steelers a chance, and he likes it that way.

"We kind of like being the underdog," he said. "We played well in that role before, and hopefully we can again."

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