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Steelers battling Super Bowl blues



Published: Sat, October 28, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Pittsburgh is struggling to repeat its success from last season.

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Warren Sapp has been where the Pittsburgh Steelers are right now: a Super Bowl champion struggling to defend the title.

Three years ago, Sapp's Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished with a losing record after winning it all, unable to overcome all the distractions that come from being Super Bowl champions.

"I guess the egos would be the biggest thing," Sapp said. "Because you fight so long and so hard to get to that pinnacle. And once you get there, sometimes you lose sight of what it took for you to get to that point. Now you got to set aside that everybody has a car dealership, everybody has a commercial. Everybody's a superstar now. Everybody's a champion. So you just got to focus in on the things that took you to that championship. Sometimes that becomes difficult."

The Steelers (2-4) have their own problems as they come into Oakland to play Sapp's Raiders. They've lost four of five games and are trying to avoid becoming the eighth Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record the following season.

Similar situation

Sapp's Bucs were one of those teams, finishing 7-9 in 2003. Raiders coach Art Shell also experienced it as a player when Oakland followed its 1980 championship season with a 7-9 mark.

"The most difficult thing is that you can't relax and you can't think you can play like you played last year," Shell said. "You have to play better than you did last year because everybody is geared up for you. They watch every single tape from last year, game-planning you. ... They have the bull's-eye on your back and it's difficult."

That's something the Steelers have been dealing with this season. They've struggled to understand how a team like Jacksonville could shut them out one week and then give up 36 points to Washington and 27 to Houston.

Or how Atlanta managed to score 41 points against Pittsburgh with Michael Vick looking like a Pro Bowl passer a week after the Falcons scored just 14 in a sloppy performance against the Giants.

Now they face a Raiders team that's 1-5, but looking at this game as a way to validate themselves.

"We notice things like that," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We watch film and, obviously, check other games out, and you see how tough it was playing against a team and then you watch them the following week, or two weeks later, or three weeks later, and it's like, where was the team that we played?"

Injury issues

Roethlisberger, who won 27 of his first 31 NFL career starts, had seven interceptions and no touchdown passes in his first three starts. But he's found his rhythm lately, completing 32 of 41 passes for 476 yards with five TDs the last two games before being knocked out with a concussion against the Falcons.

Roethlisberger is hoping to play, but the Steelers have Charlie Batch ready if Big Ben can't go. Batch is 24-for-39 for 410 yards, five TDs and no interceptions.

No matter who plays quarterback, the Steelers can afford few more losses; it's likely they will need at least 10 wins to make the playoffs.

"There's only one way to look at it -- they're the world champions," Sapp said. "I mean, 2-4 doesn't mean you're out of anything. It's just one game ahead of us, to put it in a record point of view. But they're the champions until somebody takes it from them or wins the next one. That's something you can't take from a team, the hard work that you have to put in to get in that situation."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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