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Steelers hope to straighten things out during bye week



Published: Mon, September 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Pittsburgh doesn't play until Sept. 29 when the Browns invade.

VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

PITTSBURGH -- The 2001 New England Patriots proved a team can start 0-2 and still win the Super Bowl.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, picked by many to win the AFC, can only hope lightning strikes twice within 12 months after an 0-2 start has them tied for last place in the AFC North Division with the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.

"People say we're Super Bowl contenders," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who caught seven passes from quarterback Kordell Stewart for 92 yards in Sunday's loss to Oakland. "Right now, we're not playing that way.

"Luckily, we have this week off to go back and look at it, and come back with our minds right," Ward said.

Browns up next

The Steelers have a bye next weekend with a Sept. 29 against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. Coach Bill Cowher said the time off can't hurt.

"Hopefully, we can rectify this," Cowher said. "When you talk about winning the three areas you have to control, [they] are turnovers, third downs and big plays.

"The big plays didn't hurt us in this game, and we had a few ourselves," Cowher said. "But we lost the turnover battle and we lost the third downs."

The Steelers fumbled four times, including three times in the fourth quarter. Two came after long gains on pass receptions.

In the fourth quarter with the Raiders ahead 27-17, Ward caught a pass for a 21-yard pickup when Oakland cornerback Charles Woodson delivered a jarring hit for a fumble.

"You can't turn the ball over, especially in crucial situations," Ward said. "I fumbled the ball -- it won't happen again."

For the second straight week, the Steelers all but abandoned the running game that powered them to the AFC's best record last year.

Jerome Bettis had 10 carries for 41 yards as the Steelers' ground attack was held to 72. In last Monday's 30-14 loss to the Patriots, Bettis had just eight carries for 35 yards.

The Raiders immediately seized control of the game as 37-year-old quarterback Rich Gannon completed his first six passes to move the Raiders to the Pittsburgh 27. After one incompletion, Gannon completed three more to set up first-and-goal at the 6.

Penalties forced the Raiders to settle for Sebastian Janikowski's 41-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Only lead of game

The Steelers responded for their only lead of the night as Stewart completed his first five passes, including a 34-yard touchdown to an uncovered Ward down the left sideline.

The Raiders continued their air assault as Gannon completed five consecutive tosses. Then on the Raiders' second run of the game, Garner broke free for a 36-yard touchdown and 10-7 lead.

The Steelers had another golden opportunity after pass interference against Woodson gave the Steelers first-and-goal at the 3. But Stewart couldn't control the snap and Raiders safety Rod Woodson recovered.

Late in the half, the Raiders drove 90 yards on 15 plays and took a 17-7 lead when Gannon hit Jerry Porter with a 21-yard touchdown.

"We're disappointed -- we have high hopes," said Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, who led the team with 11 solo tackles and picked off Gannon twice.

Asked why the Patriots and Raiders chose to throw so many passes, Porter said he doesn't know.

"Obviously, they feel like they have mismatches out there with us in coverages," Porter said. "The bottom line is [if] we get off the field on third down [by] making some tackles, we're not having this conversation.

"It's all about fundamentals -- making the tackle, getting yourself in good body position," Porter said. "I missed some tackles myself, so it's not one person -- it's the defense, it's the whole team. We have to tackle better."




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