STEELERS VS. TITANS Former division rivals meet again
Tennessee is healthy, thanks to a first-round bye. Pittsburgh has some personnel issues.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Steelers wouldn't mind a little more rest. The Tennessee Titans have waited long enough.
The Steelers play their second game in seven days today, hoping their comeback victory over Cleveland helps them forget their aching bodies and provides some much-needed momentum.
The Titans are as healthy as they have been in weeks, thanks to their bye. Tennessee's problem is being overanxious in its AFC divisional playoff game, especially after watching games on wild card weekend.
"It didn't make us complacent," Titans defensive end Kevin Carter said. "It made us hungrier. It made us like, 'Wow, let's see who's going to come play us in Nashville this week.' "
That would be the Steelers, on a very short turnaround for a road trip after beating the Cleveland 36-33 in the wild-card round in the sixth-best rally in NFL history.
No time for wishes
Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said it's too late to wish for time off now.
"What you want and what you get -- it really doesn't matter at this point. This is the road that we've created for ourselves," he said.
If history is any guide, it won't be easy in this matchup of former AFC Central rivals. They traditionally beat up each other, especially under Cowher and Titans coach Jeff Fisher.
Pittsburgh has dominated the series, winning 40 of 67 games. The Steelers have won three playoff games, including two AFC titles when the Titans were the Oilers.
Pittsburgh's last playoff victory over the franchise came in 1989, coincidentally, the Steelers' last postseason victory away from home.
The Titans are interested only in the present. After a 1-4 start, Tennessee has won 10 of its last 11 games.
"We've come a long way, but right now we're within reach of our ultimate goal," Titans running back Eddie George said. "And that's going to the Super Bowl and having the opportunity to win."
A victory lets Tennessee play for the AFC championship for the second time in four years. Pittsburgh is looking for its fifth appearance under Cowher and 12th in franchise history.
No extra motivation needed
After losing in the AFC title game to New England last year, Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis said being this close will negate pain and exhaustion.
"If we need motivation in the playoffs, you're in sad shape. We've got plenty of motivation. This is really a defining game for us," he said.
The Titans might have the edge with a healthy Steve McNair. When Tennessee beat Pittsburgh 31-23 on Nov. 17, McNair was hampered by a sore right toe. He hasn't been this healthy since October.
Pittsburgh has Tommy Maddox, the quarterback who does not know how to quit.
The comeback player of the year rallied the Steelers from 17 points down last week. Now, he has a chance to erase the memory of his worst game this season, which included being hospitalized and temporarily paralyzed after a hit by Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck.
The Steelers and Titans rank first and second, respectively, in the NFL against the run. Both defenses have struggled against the pass this season.
Pittsburgh, which has given up 717 yards the last two games, likely will have cornerback Chad Scott back despite a broken right thumb.
"I know the one player that's going to be prepared to play this game is Tommy Maddox," Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress said. "All we have to do is go out there and make plays for him, and I think we'll do just fine."
Kearse will play
Titans cornerback Samari Rolle will be ready, too. He didn't like reading Burress' comments on how much help Rolle had holding him to four catches, despite playing man-to-man coverage in November.
Tennessee also will have defensive end Jevon Kearse. The Titans sacked Maddox just once in November while Kearse was sidelined with a broken foot. On Saturday, he will line up on either end for a defense that has given up just 15 points per game since Oct. 13.
The Steelers may wait until kickoff to see if linebacker Kendrell Bell can play with his sprained left ankle.
"We're not making any excuses," Cowher said. "We're going to go down with who we have healthy and see if we can find a way to win."