Rooney Would Like Review of Playoff, OT Rules

<b> PITTSBURGH -</b> The Steelers were picked by many preseason publications as the team to beat in the AFC this year. But even though the team fell two games short of the Super Bowl, team president Dan Rooney said Monday he was pleased with head coach Bill Cowher's performance and how the season went.<br>

"Very, very much so. I think that Bill did an excellent job, maybe one of his best jobs," said Rooney of Cowher and the Steelers, who were defeated 31-28 in overtime Saturday at Tennessee. "The way things came out, everybody automatically had us in the Super Bowl without playing any games. We struggled a little bit in the beginning because of the change in the way people were attacking us. (Cowher) came on and brought them back. We changed quarterbacks and showed the ability to come back in games and really did well."
"If you look at it, if we beat the Texans, an expansion team, maybe we get the bye. It's one of those things that it's a very, very close competitive league. I think that we were right there and that Bill Cowher did a great job of keeping us there and motivating the team."

The Steelers finished the regular season 10-5-1 after a 1-3 start in which they lost to New England, Oakland, and New Orleans, allowing 30 or more points in each of those games. But Cowher changed the team's offensive philosophy, inserting Tommy Maddox at quarterback in place of Kordell Stewart before the game against the Saints, going to a more wide-open passing attack.

The Steelers lost the game at New Orleans, but won nine of their final 12 regular season games to capture the AFC North Division. They did not, however, earn a first-round playoff bye, and were forced to play at Tennessee Saturday after beating Cleveland the previous Sunday in the opening round of the playoffs.

All four teams that had byes in the first round of this year's playoffs - Tennessee, Oakland, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia - won, giving teams who had a bye a record of 53-9 in the Divisional Playoffs since 1990.

Rooney said that is something he feels the league should look at during this off-season, along with its overtime rules. "The bye really gives an advantage to a team," Rooney said. "If you look at it, every team that had the bye won. And every team but us got blown out. We can take that solace. But the bye is a tremendous advantage."

"I think we should definitely look at it. I'm not for adding more teams (to the playoffs) or things like that, but we have to figure out a way to do that."

As for overtime, Rooney said that might be easier to fix. Counting Saturday's loss at Tennessee, the Steelers were involved in three extra period games, losing one, tying once, and winning once.

Saturday's loss was especially difficult for Rooney because of when it occurred and because the Steelers never got the ball after losing the coin toss at the beginning of the period. Titans place-kicker Joe Nedney missed his first attempt to win the game from 31 yards, but Steelers cornerback Dewayne Washington was penalized for running into him. Nedney then booted a 26-yard field goal to win the game.

"Overtime's OK," Rooney said. "I think we've talked about maybe giving the team that loses the toss a chance to get ball back. For instance, you could say that if a team wins the toss and goes down and scores, the other team gets the ball and has to do better. For instance, if they score a field goal, you have to go for a touchdown."

"There will be discussions. I don't know if it will pass."

Odds and end zones
Running back Jerome Bettis said Monday he will have surgery Jan. 27 to repair torn cartilage in his injured left knee. Bettis, who played most of the second half of the season with a knee brace on his left knee, first injured it Oct. 21 against Indianapolis…. Lee Ann Robinson, the wife of secondary coach Willy Robinson, died Sunday in Pittsburgh after a long bout with cancer…. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will meet with Cincinnati Bengals officials this week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., for a second interview for that team's vacant head coaching position. Mularkey and Washington Redskins' defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, a McDonald native and Fort Cherry High School graduate, are the two finalists for that job…. Linebackers coach Mike Archer has been contacted about the defensive coordinator position at the University of Kentucky.

--Dale Lolley

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