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NFL Indsider - Mark Maske

Cowher's Steelers Won't Lay Down Sunday

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 29, 2004; 3:46 PM

Bill Cowher is the anti-Andy Reid.

A day after Reid, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, sat down several of his best players to avoid injuries and watched his team get beaten soundly Monday night in St. Louis, Cowher said emphatically that his Pittsburgh Steelers will play to win in Sunday's regular season finale at Buffalo and he won't rest any healthy starters.

"Certainly we are looking at the playoffs, and we will certainly keep that in mind as it relates to the health of our players,'' the Steelers coach said during his news conference Tuesday. "But we are not going to approach this game any differently than we have approached the other 15 games. I am a firm believer that you are who you are. We are a football team that when we step on that field, we are going to play our way. It is for no other reason than that. I think the last thing you can do is try to go into any football game and diminish the importance of it.

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"Certainly you are going to keep the big picture in mind. But we are going to go out there, and we are preparing this week as we always have -- to go up there and win this football game. . . . We are not going to diminish that. We will get our week off. This, to me, is a little bit different than if we were playing in six or seven days [in the first round of the playoffs]. If you are playing that first week, then maybe you would approach it differently. But I look at the fact that we have a bye week. We are going to get our time off. We have to go up and play football. That is what we are planning on doing.''

Reid accomplished what he wanted to accomplish Monday night, preventing quarterback Donovan McNabb, tailback Brian Westbrook or defensive end Jevon Kearse from joining injured wide receiver Terrell Owens on the shelf. But the Eagles -- who, like the Steelers, have wrapped up a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs -- gave a dud performance and lost, 20-7.

The Steelers might be without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered bruised rib cartilage during Sunday's triumph over the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, and tailback Jerome Bettis, who has a sprained ankle, in Buffalo. But Cowher did not rule out playing either player, and said he's hopeful that Duce Staley, who has been plagued by a hamstring injury and has missed six of the past eight games, will be able to start at tailback against the Bills.

The Bills, like the Rams, are fighting for a playoff spot. Reid ignored the obligation he had to the NFC teams competing with the Rams to get into the postseason, feeling it was more important to keep his club healthy. But Cowher said his approach is not based on such outside considerations. It is based, he said, on what he thinks is best for his club as it enters the playoffs.

"This is not about what we owe anybody,'' Cowher said. "This is what we owe ourselves. This is how you play the game. At this point in the season, we have to play the game the way we know how to the play the game. Those are not things you turn on and off. If you think you can turn it on and off, then you are going to be mistaken, and down the road it is going to be very disappointing. We need to play this game as we have always played it. Allow me to keep the big picture in mind as it relates to the players. They don't have to worry about that. They just go out there and play. That is how we are going to approach this game.'' . . .

Steelers starting cornerback Deshea Townsend underwent surgery Monday in which 13 pins were inserted to stabilize the three broken bones in his hand he suffered Sunday. He won't play in Buffalo, but Cowher said he's optimistic that Townsend will be back in the lineup when Pittsburgh hosts an AFC semifinal on Jan. 15 or 16, probably against the San Diego Chargers.

"This is very early, but I would say he is probably going to be questionable for our first playoff game, and probably on the upside of questionable,'' Cowher said. "He will not be practicing until that week.''

The Steelers plan to start Chad Scott at the cornerback spot opposite Willie Williams on Sunday. Scott has been practicing in recent weeks but hasn't played in a game since mid-October because of a torn quadriceps tendon. He was the starter, ahead of Williams, at left cornerback before getting hurt, but would fill in for Townsend at right cornerback this weekend.

Scott had been slated to serve as the nickel cornerback this weekend. Now, that role will be filled by rookie Ricardo Colclough. . . .

Bettis is only 59 yards from what would be his first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2001. Reaching the milestone would be a major accomplishment in a season in which he was supposed to back up Staley, but he might not get the chance to get there because of his ankle injury. The 12-year veteran has made six starts in place of Staley and has responded with six 100-yard rushing games in those starts. . . .

If Roethlisberger indeed is sidelined Sunday, the Steelers likely would promote quarterback Brian St. Pierre from the practice squad to the 53-man roster to back up fill-in starter Tommy Maddox. . . . Cowher said he expects to have linebacker Clark Haggans, who's sidelined by a groin injury, back for the playoffs. . . . Linebacker Kendrell Bell could return from a groin injury and play in only his fourth game of the season Sunday. Bell would back up Larry Foote. . . . The Steelers haven't punted in their last two games and have become the first NFL team during the Super Bowl era to have three games during a season in which it didn't punt.

More of the Same for Eagles

Reid is likely to take the same approach to the Eagles' final regular season game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lincoln Financial Field.

"You wouldn't do this with a young, inexperienced team,'' Reid said during his postgame news conference Monday. "But I have a pretty good feel for this group. They will turn it up when it's time to play in the playoffs.''

Reid had kept his plans under wraps entering the game in St. Louis, but said late Monday that he'd known eight days before -- on the night after the game in which Owens got hurt -- that he'd take this approach to the remainder of the regular season.

"You look at our past history,'' Reid said. "Going into the playoffs, we really haven't gone in with everybody that we would have liked to have. So I wanted to make sure that we were able to keep guys healthy, and at least have somewhat of a chance to go in with a gun fully loaded.'' . . .

The Eagles today placed rookie running back Thomas Tapeh on the IR list and promoted running back Eric McCoo from the practice squad. Tapeh suffered a dislocated hip in the final minute of Monday night's game. . . .

Out-of-work quarterbacks Chris Redman and Joe Germaine worked out Tuesday for the New England Patriots. Redman, the former Baltimore starter, hopes to land in a training camp next summer after sitting out this season following shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. . . .

Cornerback Ty Law likely will sit out Sunday's regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers at Gillette Stadium. It would be the ninth straight game missed by Law because of a broken bone in his foot, but the Patriots hope to have him back for the playoffs.

Giants in Disarray

When the season began, the New York Giants looked like a bad team that despised its demanding new coach, Tom Coughlin. There was one quarterback who was too far along the downward slope of his career (Kurt Warner) and one who was too young (Eli Manning). The offensive line looked leaky. The defense seemed unimposing. And the veteran players' disdain for Coughlin's rigid ways showed through when the NFL Players Association filed grievances on behalf of three Giants players who were fined for showing up early to a team meeting, but not early enough to suit Coughlin.

Coughlin and the Giants managed to shove all of that aside early in the season and win five of their first seven games, with Warner playing mistake-free football at quarterback and keeping top overall draft choice Manning on the bench. But a two-game losing streak led Coughlin to bench Warner and turn to Manning, and the Giants are winless in the prized rookie's first six NFL starts. Manning will try to avoid going his entire first season without a victory in Sunday night's finale against the Dallas Cowboys at Giants Stadium.

The eight-game losing streak is the longest of Coughlin's NFL coaching career and matches the eight-gamer that the Giants endured at the end of last season to cost Coughlin's predecessor, Jim Fassel, his job. The team has lost 18 of its last 23 games. Coughlin reportedly instructed his players to keep any complaints in-house, but the grumbling has spilled over into the New York tabloids in the form of quotes from unnamed players. That led Wellington Mara, the Giants' 88-year-old co-chief executive officer, to say publicly this week that the players should look at themselves and worry about their own job security, given that they've now failed in consecutive seasons under different coaching staffs. Mara, however, indicated that he has no plans to address the players, as he did at the end of last season for only the third time in a span of 30 years.

Giants management appears fully committed to Coughlin as the club's coach and Manning as its quarterback, but it appears increasingly likely that there will be sweeping roster changes in the offseason. It seems highly unlikely that Warner will remain with the team, and he has mentioned the possibility of retiring if he can't find a club willing to give him a chance to compete for its starting quarterback job. . . .

The Cowboys placed running back Richie Anderson on the injured reserve list because of a pinched nerve in his neck and released guard Matt Lehr. The team promoted three players from the practice squad to the 53-man roster -- defensive tackle Tron LaFavor, wide receiver Tom Crowder and fullback Lousaka Polite. The third roster vacancy was created when the Cowboys placed linebacker Al Singleton on the IR list last week. . . .

Denver placed veteran tailback Garrison Hearst on IR because of a broken hand. He had only 81 rushing yards this season and never got a turn as the Broncos' featured runner while the job went from Quentin Griffin to Reuben Droughns. Rookie Tatum Bell appeared in line to get the job next, but Droughns re-established himself with a 91-yard rushing performance in last weekend's victory over the Tennessee Titans. He has gone two games without a fumble after two early fumbles in a Dec. 12 win over Miami put his starting job in jeopardy. Bell ran for 123 yards against the Dolphins but has managed only 94 yards in two games since as a change-of-pace alternative to Droughns.

McNair Undergoes Surgery

Titans quarterback Steve McNair underwent surgery Tuesday on the recurring injury to his sternum that ended his season early. Doctors used a bone graft to attempt to strengthen the area. Titans Coach Jeff Fisher indicated that the procedure went as expected. McNair has said that he will consider retirement in the offseason, but indicated when the decision was made to shut him down for the season that he was hopeful of playing next season.

McNair's replacement, Billy Volek, is slated to start Sunday's season finale against Detroit despite a bruised left knee. Volek was coming off consecutive 400-yard passing games but managed only 111 yards in an eight-for-20, two-interception passing performance against the Broncos on Christmas Day. He is the AFC's seventh-rated passer this season but the Titans have won only one of his seven starts. . . .

NFL officials are looking into a Dec. 13 incident involving Rams Coach Mike Martz and injured offensive tackle Kyle Turley in which Turley, according to a complaint filed by Martz with the league, yelled obscenities at the coach in a threatening manner during a meeting. Turley was upset about Martz's handling of the back injury that ended Turley's season and threatens his career. Turley could be disciplined if the league finds that he threatened Martz, but Martz told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he considered the matter resolved by the end of the meeting and he'd welcome back Turley next season if Turley is healthy enough to play. . . .

The promising season of Rams rookie tailback Steven Jackson could nudge Marshall Faulk closer to retiring in the offseason. Jackson is averaging 5.2 yards per carry and has topped 100 rushing yards in each of the last two games he's played, including his 148-yard effort Monday night against the Eagles. Faulk is averaging 4.0 yards per carry, and has had to endure another season full of knee troubles. He had his streak of 158 games with at least one reception ended Monday night. Even that had been a struggle to maintain all season. Faulk, who turns 32 in February, had three previous games this season in which he had only one catch.

Jackson bruised his knee Monday night but the Rams expect him to play Sunday against the New York Jets. The pass-happy Martz had the Rams run the ball on 10 consecutive plays en route to an opening-drive touchdown against the Eagles.

Woodson Announces Retirement

Dallas safety Darren Woodson announced his retirement at an afternoon news conference today.

"This is one of the special days in the history of our franchise, when we have the opportunity to celebrate the career of a guy who made a tremendous difference in what this franchise is all about,'' Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. " . . . For 13 years, he was everything you could ask for. . . . He was a Cowboy from the beginning to the end, all the way through.''

Woodson, 35, was selected to five Pro Bowls in his 13-year NFL career, all with the Cowboys. He was a member of the club's three Super Bowl-winning teams in the 1990s, and he retires as the Cowboys' career leader in tackles.

"Every time I put that helmet on, I was representing the best organization in the world,'' Woodson said. "It was special to put that helmet on. It was special to have that star on the side of that helmet. . . . I laid it on the line every time I put that helmet on.''

He has not played all season because of a back injury, and has had to watch the Cowboys struggle to a 6-9 record while the Dallas defense has plummeted from first in the league rankings last season to 21st this year.

"My ideal retirement was we were playing in the Super Bowl, about 30 seconds left, and I get an interception and run it back for a touchdown to ice it. And then I tell Jerry, 'I'm done,' '' Woodson said. "But it just didn't happen that way.'' . . .

Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells named veteran Vinny Testaverde his starter against the Giants on Sunday, with rookie Drew Henson being moved ahead of second-year pro Tony Romo as the primary backup. For a second week in a row, Parcells initially left open the possibility of making a switch, only to stick with Testaverde in a midweek decision. Testaverde threw a late touchdown pass last Sunday to beat the Washington Redskins at Texas Stadium, and Parcells remains reluctant to play Henson or Romo.

"I just didn't think the time was right,'' Parcells said during a news conference today. . . .

Quarterback Sage Rosenfels probably will make his first NFL start for Miami at Baltimore on Sunday. A.J. Feeley aggravated a rib injury last weekend, and former starter Jay Fiedler is on IR. The only other quarterback currently on the Dolphins' active roster is Jason Garrett, who was signed after Fiedler's season was ended. . . .

Cincinnati placed rookie tailback Chris Perry, who's scheduled to undergo hernia surgery, on the IR list and signed rookie wide receiver Matt Cherry off Jacksonville's practice squad.

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