Are the Steelers ready this time for playoff football? Are they ready for the Cleveland Browns?
Pittsburgh wanted to know and the press danced around the direct question that everyone wanted to ask. There is always the indirect method.
"Last year, with the playoffs," one reporter asked, "you were the favorite. Is it better going in this way?"
Cowher stumbled, "Yeah. I mean, I don't know."
"But I think everyone else is kind of getting in," Cowher deflected with a discussion about this year's AFC playoff group, "and they all feel pretty good about themselves. We'll see what happens."
Cowher feels pretty good about his Pittsburgh Steelers right now. And save the questionable appearance of LB Kendrell Bell in Sunday's playoff game, he should.
The line of questioning about the Steelers this week centers on the team's competitive fire. Will Pittsburgh fall flat once again and underachieve in the postseason? Will there be a war of words such as in Tampa or will the Steelers sleepwalk until late in the game as they did against Baltimore?
Cowher feels the former is more likely than the latter. Finding a way to beat Baltimore without their "A-game" was no small feat. The Steelers finally won a game that they probably should have lost.
While the health of Bell should give many Steelers fans pause for thought, the depth of this team should instill confidence in even the most cynical observer.
Heading into this big game against the Browns, the Steelers are a dramatically different team than the one that fell flat on its face against the Patriots last January. There is a new QB in Tommy Maddox and a passing game remarkably akin to the 1995 Super Bowl version. And the injuries that have plagued Bell all year continue to dog Jerome Bettis and have already placed PK Todd Peterson, P Josh Miller, and TE Mark Bruener on the IR.
Cowher does acknowledge that Cleveland has matured as a team, but he's quick to add so have his players. If the Browns have taken two steps forward as of late, the Steelers have taken at least three.
Cowher gushed after beating his nemesis Brian Billick, "I think there is a lot to be said because we did not play our A game on defense, but we were able to come back in the fourth quarter. That was big. To be down 11 points to a very solid team, to score the two touchdowns that we did, our kicking game was very instrumental."
The stage is set and Cowher couldn't be happier. Despite playing the favorites against the Browns, the Steelers are dogs in the overall playoff picture. He hit the lottery with Reed and Rouen. And save Scott and Bell, the entire team is relatively healthy.
Cowher is more confident about his team than he has been all season long. Get ready Steelers fans, another Super Bowl run is beginning.