Steelers Notebook: Sacks record doesn't ease sting of loss

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- James Harrison did not throw out a hip celebrating his team-record 16th sack yesterday.

The sack actually came after the hip injury, which occurred in the first quarter and appeared as though it might keep the Pro Bowl linebacker out the rest of the game.

He returned briefly, left again for the rest of the second quarter but lined up and played the entire second half, when he had the Steelers' only sack of quarterback Kerry Collins.

Harrison's sack broke Mike Merriweather's 1984 club record of 15, and 16 is where it might remain because Harrison said he might like to rest in Sunday's meaningless home game against Cleveland.

Typically, he said the record was "nice" but "a win would have been better."

"It's real disappointing," Harrison said as his defense allowed 323 yards and failed to become the first to hold its first 15 foes of the season below 300. "That's not the way we play defense, not the way we're used to playing defense. They did a good job. They came out and imposed their will, and I guess their will is stronger than ours."

That sack moved the Steelers up another notch in the NFL history books as well. According to STATS LLC, the 37.5 sacks (of the team's 48) by Steelers linebackers this season tied their 1994 Blitzburgh linebackers for third place. They rank behind only the 2006 Chargers with 42.5 and the '96 Panthers with 38 among linebackers with combined sacks in one season.

Trampling the Terrible Towel

Some Steelers thought several Titans made mistakes by mistreating the Terrible Towel at the end of the game. Running back LenDale White stomped on one, as did linebacker Keith Bullock. Defensive end Jevon Kearse wiped his nose on one.

"We know the last time an opposing team played with our towel what happened," Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said.

Cincinnati wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh wiped his shoes with a Terrible Towel after the Bengals beat the Steelers at Heinz Field to claim the AFC North Division title in 2005. The Steelers then won in Cincinnati in the playoffs to start their march toward a Super Bowl victory.

"T.J. did kind of the same thing and you see where they went," Hines Ward said.

But Foote said he understood why they did it.

"Nothing wrong with that. They deserved it. They deserved to do that, they whooped us, they deserve to celebrate and, hopefully, we'll see them again."

Home field chances

The Steelers are locked in as the No. 2 seed in the playoffs behind No. 1 Tennessee. Both teams have byes the first week and play at home the second.

If they both win, the AFC championship game will be held in Nashville. If the Steelers win and the Titans lose, it will be in Heinz Field.

Already, there was talk of a rematch in the locker rooms yesterday, but most of it came in the form of questions by the media.

"No, not yet," Ben Roethlisberger said when asked if he thought about a rematch with the Titans, "because we have a game this week and no one knows what will happen in the playoffs."

Said Larry Foote of the chance of playing at Tennessee for the conference title, "I'd love to be at home. It doesn't matter. We can't get caught up in rematch, rematch. We can't wait. We have some mountains to climb. If we focused on coming back here to play them, we'll get knocked off."

To play or not to play

Yesterday's loss rendered the Steelers game against Cleveland at Heinz Field Sunday meaningless to their playoff chances.

Coach Mike Tomlin did not indicate what he would do against Cleveland, whether he will rest certain players or pull some early.

"We got the Cleveland Browns," Tomlin said tersely when asked about it. "Divisional opponent."

Short of 1,000

Hines Ward's 109 yards (on seven catches) gave him two 100-yard games in a row for only the third time in his career, second this season. He needs 27 yards to have his first 1,000-yard season since 2004.

What would it mean to him after four years and at age 32?

"I don't know, you guys tell me, does it mean anything?" Ward said to a few writers. "If I get it, I get it, if I don't, I don't."

Character counts

Yesterday's win left Titans quarterback Kerry Collins with a career record as a starter of 80-84.

"I think the biggest thing for us was just playing better than we did last week," said the 14-year veteran out of Penn State. "That was as bad as we played all year. We knew we were going to have to rise up to a big challenge this week against a really good defense. I'm proud of our guys."

Tennessee lost, 13-12, at Houston Dec. 14, scoring no touchdowns.

Quick hits

• In the so-called four major team sports, only Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox and Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan have coached one team longer than Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher got the job in 1994.

Ben Roethlisberger's 331 passing yards were a season high.

Injuries

Safety Ryan Clark reinjured his right shoulder, which was previously dislocated. He left wearing a sling. James Harrison has a hip injury, although he returned to play in the second half. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also wobbled off the field after he was twisted around on a sack and lost a fumble. Backup Byron Leftwich warmed up, but Roethlisberger did not miss a snap the rest of the way.

Inactives

Steelers: No. 3 QB Dennis Dixon, S Anthony Smith, CB Fernando Bryant, LB Bruce Davis, OT Tony Hills, NT Scott Paxson, OT Marvel Smith, DE Orpheus Roye

Tennessee Titans: No. 3 QB Chris Simms, WR Paul Williams, WR Chris Davis, CB Tyrone Poole, RB Chris Henry, OT Mike Otto, DT Albert Haynesworth, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com . Gene Collier of the Post-Gazette contributed to this report.


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