Steelers in need of Christmas miracle



PITTSBURGH -- "Nothing ends."
So snapped Steelers coach Bill Cowher when asked if his team's playoff chances are over following Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals that featured a spectacular defensive collapse in the final 65 seconds.
Anyone watching couldn't help but think of the reaction of Boone and Otter in "National Lampoon's Animal House" when Bluto declares "nothing is over" and asks if it was over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.
"Germans?"
"Relax, he's rolling."
Rolling, Cowher isn't. Seething? That's another story.
At 4-8 with four games to play, the Steelers are mathematically alive as they trail the first-place Bengals and Baltimore Ravens (both 7-5) by three games.
But barring an unlikely tie when the Ravens and Bengals play this Sunday in Baltimore, one of those teams soon will have eight wins.
The best the Steelers can do is finish 8-8, which means they could only win the AFC North Division with a tiebreaker.
"Nothing is over until we decide it is," Bluto said.
Or not.
Poor performance
It's not like Cowher's team deserves anything. Four of their losses (to the Chiefs, Titans, Browns and 49ers) were blowouts by the time the fourth quarter began.
The other four (including losses to the Broncos, Rams and Seahawks) featured fourth-quarter defensive failures.
And they are 2-4 in six home games this season.
'Tis the season of giving, but not on Pittsburgh's North Shore.
"It is disappointing, but to get beat physically, it's another thing when you give it to them," said Cowher, his jaw protruding in anger, his Christmas spirit lacking after the Bengals rallied for a 52-yard touchdown drive that took 52 seconds.
The sad thing about Sunday's defeat was it came on a day when the Steelers -- for most of one half -- looked like the team that won 23 regular-season games in 2001-02.
"It's been that type of year for us -- nothing has bounced right for us," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who caught 13 passes for 149 yards to move into the team's fifth place in receiving yards. "I can't put my finger on a reason why, but nothing is going right for us out here."
Ward shook off pains in his back, head and ribs to catch a 16-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tommy Maddox to put the Steelers ahead 20-17 with 65 seconds to play.
Good drive
On that fourth-quarter scoring drive, Ward, easily the Steelers' best player in a miserable season to forget, caught five passes for 46 yards.
"Starting off the drive, I kind of got kneed in the back," Ward said. "Tommy threw an out-route and [the defender] slammed me in the head.
"He threw an in-route right before the touchdown and [the defender] knocked the wind out of me," Ward said. "He hit my ribs and I scored the touchdown, and it was just adrenaline.
"As a child, I always wanted to catch the game-winning touchdown," Ward said. "The electricity that I felt, I just knew we were going to win the game.
"For Cincinnati to drive back down, that has just been our year all year," Ward said. "Nothing went right for us. We fought our tails off. Nobody gave up and that's encouraging. It shows a lot of character for this team to continue fighting to the end.
"We just fell short."
Over?
"When the going gets tough, the tough get going," Bluto said.
Maybe in the movies.
For the Steelers, they'll prepare to play three of the AFC's worst teams in a meaningless December.
And pray for the ultimate Christmas tie that would keep their horrible season alive.
X Tom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.

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