Steelers face tough road to get to playoffs
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A three-game losing streak has the Steelers teetering on missing the playoffs, which would become their biggest collapse in club history.
No team in the franchise's first 72 seasons started 7-2 or better and missed the playoffs. No. 73 could end that.
Their task is difficult yet clear: If they win their next seven games, they likely will play in the Super Bowl. They have to win their final four regular-season games -- no team has missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record in 20 years -- to earn a wild-card playoff spot. Then they would have to win three in a row on the road to make the Super Bowl.
Simple, but unlikely, so it appears another season will go by without the first Super Bowl dynasty claiming another Vince Lombardi Trophy. That would make 26 seasons, and counting. At least the Steelers won't get another chance to lose an AFC championship game at home this season.
Coming as it did after a 15-1 record and their fourth loss in the conference title game at home in 11 seasons, and after a 7-2 start in this one, a failure to make the playoffs would be a letdown of large proportions, not only for Steelers fans but for ownership as well.
It was March 20 when team president Art Rooney II announced that time was at hand for the franchise to win another Super Bowl.
"I think for the people who have been around for a while now, I think we all feel like it's time," Rooney said at the NFL meetings that day. "We've been close and we have to take that last step.''
Added Rooney, "We're in a position we can do this now ... In our business, the bottom line is, did you win a championship? So that's still the way you measure your success by."
Jerome Bettis hasn't said it, but he must be thinking, "And I came back for this?''
What he did say after Sunday's loss was that there are no guarantees.
"You understand that," Bettis said. "You take the good with the bad, the bitter with the sweet."
No players waved a white flag of surrender in their locker room despite looking down the long odds of salvaging something out of the season.
"You put yourself in this position," Bettis said. "But you still have an opportunity. We may have to go on the road, but that's never been a problem for us. You have to deal with it and go forward."
The Steelers are not eliminated from the AFC North division title race yet. That would happen if they lose to Chicago at Heinz Field Sunday and the Bengals beat Cleveland at home.
Things could get complicated in the playoff race over the next month if the Steelers continue to win. At the moment, they are behind Jacksonville (9-3), and San Diego and Kansas City, both with 8-4 records. They almost must hope Jacksonville keeps winning and somehow they wind up ahead of the Chiefs and at least tied with San Diego.
The Chiefs have a brutal schedule that includes games at Dallas and the Giants the next two weeks and then home against San Diego and Cincinnati. They'd figure to lose at least two of those.
The Chargers play at home to Miami, then go to Indianapolis and Kansas City and finish at home with Denver, which leads the AFC West at 9-3.
The Steelers lost to the Jaguars yet beat the Chargers. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition unless there's a three-way tie (Jacksonville and San Diego do not meet). Then it goes to wins in the conference and the Steelers right now fair poorly there at 6-5 compared with the Jaguars at 7-2 and the Chargers at 6-2.
The best way for the Steelers to make the playoffs as it stands now would be for them to win all four to go 11-5, have the Jaguars finish 12-4 or 13-3 and claim the first wild-card berth, have the Chiefs lose two, and finish better than the Chargers or tie them.
Their biggest obstacle is not getting help from other teams so much as it is themselves. They must beat Chicago (9-3), win at Minnesota (7-5), win at Cleveland (4-8) and beat Detroit (4-8).
If they pull it off in that scenario, the Steelers would land the second wild-card berth, or the sixth and final seed in the AFC.
As such, they would need to buck large odds because no team below a fourth seed ever reached the Super Bowl since the NFL expanded the playoff teams from five to six in 1990. Since then, only five of 30 Super Bowl teams were not among the top two seeds.
As Alan Faneca noted last week, it's not a pretty picture any way they look at it even if they make the playoffs.
"We have a whole month ahead of us," cornerback Ike Taylor said yesterday. "We can't control what [happens]; all we can try to do is control what we do against Chicago, and that's our next opponent."Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
After the Steelers' three-game losing streak, running back Jerome Bettis, who pondered retirement at the end of last season, might be thinking "And I came back for this?"
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First Published December 6, 2005 12:00 am