AFC NORTH Cowher isn't conceding season



Cincinnati has more wins in its last six games than Pittsburgh does at 4-7.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Bengals have started selling playoff tickets. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher said there's plenty enough time remaining to make sure that Cincinnati's fans don't get to use them.
The Steelers, only 3-7 a week ago, need a first-of-a-kind comeback to overtake the Bengals (6-5) and Baltimore Ravens (6-5) and win the AFC North title that was virtually conceded to them before the season started.
But while the Bengals have more victories in their last six games -- five -- than the Steelers (4-7) have all season, Cowher stubbornly refused again Tuesday to give up on this season. Or the division title. Or the playoffs.
Outlook
His take on it: Stranger things have happened in the NFL during this age of parity than a team rallying from being four games under .500 to win its division in a span of just six weeks.
Like the Bengals being in first place during Thanksgiving week, perhaps?
"We have three of the last five at home, and we are going to have a chance to play the two teams in front of us again," said Cowher, whose team is 3-1 in the division but 1-6 outside it. "There's still a lot of football left. Every game has a lot of importance to it."
For a change, this is the first time in Cowher's 12 seasons on the job that a late-season Bengals-Steelers game has more meaning in Cincinnati than Pittsburgh. The Bengals haven't had a winning season since 1990, finishing within two games of the division lead only once since then.
That's why sweeping the Bengals and the Ravens in their season series is a virtual must for the Steelers. Even one loss in the next five games would mean they could finish no better than 8-8, a record both the Ravens and Bengals can reach by winning only two of their final five.
And while the Steelers have spent most of the season frantically trying to patch up the NFL's second-worst rushing offense, their passing game suddenly has become just as big a concern.
Tommy Maddox is coming off his worst game statistically in his 1 1/2 seasons as a starter, going only 9-of-24 for 73 yards in Sunday's defense-driven 13-6 victory in Cleveland.
Maddox has thrown for 160 yards or fewer in three of his last five games as defenses, no longer in fear of Pittsburgh's run game, have turned to increasingly more complicated coverage schemes to slow receivers Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress.
Ward is tied for fourth in the league with 65 receptions, but made only one Sunday and has just five the last two weeks. Tight end Mark Bruener has only one catch in more than a year, yet has as many scoring catches (1) as Burress.
Breakdowns
Cowher said there were "breakdowns" in the passing game Sunday, but wouldn't specify what they were.
"One thing here, one thing there," he said. "For some reason we were not able to convert. But we did have some opportunities. We're just not doing things on a consistent basis ... we're not able to convert on third downs."

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