On A Roll

<p>PITTSBURGH - On the surface, the Steelers' 34-31 victory here Sunday over the Baltimore Ravens accomplished very little as far as the team's standing in the AFC playoffs. <br><br> But it did accomplish something as far as keeping its momentum heading in the right direction as the Steelers enter&nbsp; the stretch run of their season. <br><br> A loss Sunday to the hated Ravens would have been demoralizing for the Steelers. <br><br>

It would have blown a hole in the middle of all the confidence the team had gained by winning four of its previous five games. And to come back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit was yet another learning experience for this team.

Even though the Steelers didn't play especially well Sunday - something that was to be expected considering the very emotional victory the team put together last Monday night at Tampa Bay - they kept the ball rolling in the right direction. "We are playing with a high level of confidence heading into the playoffs," said head coach Bill Cowher, "and we will see how far that takes us."

It would be doubtful it could take them through anything else they haven't experienced this season.

This team recovered from an 0-2 start, a quarterback controversy, a tie in which it blew a 17-point fourth quarter lead, the paralysis of its starting quarterback, and a loss in a game in which it allowed just 47 total yards.

Perhaps those things are just what the doctor ordered. Opening losses to New England and Oakland brought the team down a notch after it spent much of the preseason reading the press clippings about how it was the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

And other bumps in the road along the way - the tie against Atlanta, quarterback Tommy Maddox's concussion at Tennessee, and the inexplicable loss to a Houston team that gained just 47 total yards - have made this an emotionally tested club.

Hence, the Steelers enter the playoffs battle-tested and prepared for just about anything that could happen to them. It's doubtful you could say the same thing about last year's team, which allowed two special teams touchdowns in the AFC Championship game against New England and was never able to recover from it.

They dominated most of their opponents throughout the season and were rarely tested.

This year, it is Oakland that enters the playoffs as the AFC favorite, even if it is only by the smallest of margins. And that puts all of the pressure squarely on the Raiders' shoulders.

In years past, the Steelers have choked as the AFC favorite, as can be witnessed by looking at Cowher's 1-3 record in championship games held in Pittsburgh.

They most certainly aren't the AFC favorite this season. "No, I don't think we should be the favorites," said linebacker Joey Porter. "We're not the favorites and we shouldn't be. " Cowher seems to relish in the role of the underdog. He lives for it and does some of his best work in that role, rallying the team with that "us against the world" mentality.

Now, Cowher's got exactly what he wants.

The "world" that Cowher likes to say is against his team will be watching.

--Dale Lolley

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