SteelNotes, Season Over

<br><br>These are the thoughts of a sportswriter who can't wait for next season if this playoff season has been any indication of the new and courageous Pittsburgh Steelers:

  • It's always the most difficult task for a writer, that of telling die-hard fans that it was only a game, but really if you are truly a die-hard you should be proud this morning. For the most part, the Steelers showed skill, character and class not only on the field but off it.

  • And then we come to the leader. Bill Cowher's whining after Saturday's loss to the Tennessee Titans was too much. Except for the part about Dewayne Washington running into the kicker, Cowher would be right. It would've been a bad call. But Washington, with his head down, bumped into a kicker who had not taken extra steps. Sure the idiot kicker admitted to acting, but the call was right. Cowher should be more experienced at taking big losses, but that might be the problem. He appeared to be a coach who's at his wit's end, and you never, ever give that impression. Ask Jim Mora.

  • The secondary sucks. Anyone who's watched 1/16th of the season knows that. And they don't have a championship running back. Those points were made the first week of camp but no one wanted to hear it. Amos Zereoue has certainly improved since his awful camp, and you can probably win with Zereoue as the starting back in this wide-open passing attack, but he's not the kind of back who will kill a clock in a playoff game, and that's Cowher's style. That's what he wants to do and can't. Otherwise, the Steelers should be happy about where they stand organizationally. They have a defensive front seven with two exceptional young players in Casey Hampton and Kendrell Bell, and they have an offensive wall with depth. They certainly have a quarterback and three exceptional receivers. Throw in the kicker and a front office that'll be together into its third draft and you, die-hard, have reason for optimism. This organization still ranks among the elite.

  • The strong possibility exists that linebackers coach Mike Archer will leave, and there's a chance that offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will leave. On Archer, he's been a defensive-coordinator-in-waiting since 1996, but the guy who, at 32, became the youngest D1 college coach at LSU is probably tired of 1.) Putting up with his demanding head coach and 2.) Waiting for a job that won't come open since Tim Lewis will not be in demand this off-season. Archer can put "Linebackers Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers" on his resume, go back to a place he enjoyed earlier in his career, watch his son pitch in the SEC for a few years and then rejoin the NFL rat race at any time because of that resume.

  • As for Mularkey, why would he commit career suicide by joining a Cincinnati Bengals organization that refuses to pursue college talent properly?

  • It's obvious Bengals boss Mike Brown is looking for a coach who'll work tirelessly to beat the Steelers. Marvin Lewis, the man whom Archer had replaced as linebackers coach in 1996, is the frontrunner for the job. If Mularkey doesn't get the job, rest assured that beating the Bengals will become part of his life's work. Nothing like being shunned from the worst job going.

  • Would you rather have Mularkey instead of Cowher as head coach? Mularkey entertains the hell out of me with his play-calling, but remember that Cowher does an outstanding job in his own way. Sure, he can have everyone in the organization hacked off at once, but here's what one career personnel man had to say: "Bill Cowher listens. That's the best compliment I can give a coach. He's the boss, no doubt, but he listens to his personnel people. I don't think people appreciate that as much as they should."

  • That may be true, so let's get past his embarrassing post-game actions and file them away under the title of "Understandable Post-Game Frustration."

  • Sorry, but I thought the bad calls went both ways. I thought the Titans were robbed of two pass interference penalties because the passes were ruled uncatchable. Sure they were uncatchable. The receivers were being mugged. If it's not pass interference, it's illegal contact. Also, the personal foul on Albert Haynesworth was lousy and important. They went both ways. Sure, it's tough for a playoff game to be decided by incidental contact, but for crying out loud, Dewayne, lift up your head and take a look around you. We won't even get into that hideous missed tackle.

  • Hampton is turning into one of the league's more disruptive forces. At least opposing running games will be quiet for the next few years, but I do worry about his longevity. That spine's under a lot of pressure because Hampton's shoulders come closer to his butt than any human I've ever seen.

  • Speaking of nose guards, is that Joel Steed wearing No. 93 for the Philadelphia Eagles? Oh, God no, that's Levon Kirkland. Wow.

  • Could the Paper Champions actually take the we're-begging-to-be-beaten Eagles? The Paper Champions in the Super Bowl? Hey, now I can understand Cowher's frustration a little better.

  • The best question put forth to Cowher after the game was "What did you see?" The question and subsequent answer made it seem as if Cowher was on trial. Hey, it's a game! You can't be fired from your $3 million-a-year job! Take it like a man!

  • Whew, hopefully I'm afforded the opportunity to use exclamation points. It's just post-game steam. Really, I do think Cowher is a good coach, but please, Bill, just coach. You're not one of the guys. Let them handle defeat in the manner they see fit.

  • Seven Titans left the game with injuries. Three didn't come back. We all know the injury count on the Steelers side. We all know how tough they played and how difficult it was to win on the road against a team sitting through a bye. The odds were extreme. The average margin of victory for the other three bye teams was 20 points, yet the beat-up Steelers took it to the brink. It all added up to one of the great games in football history. Don't let the ending change any of that.

  • The top post-game quote came from Titans superstar Jevon Kearse. "I've never seen anything like this game," he said. "It was the longest 60 minutes of football."

  • The math was wrong but you get his point.

---Jim, Wexell

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