Cowher takes blame for Steelers' poor play

PITTSBURGH -- Bill Cowher isn't blaming Ben Roethlisberger's
frequent interceptions for the Pittsburgh Steelers' terrible
record. Or a major falloff by the special teams. Or a surprisingly
inconsistent offensive line.

Cowher is faulting the boss.

"Obviously, there's a lot of disappointment to be sitting here
at 2-5. I accept full responsibility for that," Cowher said
Tuesday. "It starts with me. There's been a lot of frustration ...
in the different ways we have found to lose. The bottom line is we
have lost."

It shouldn't surprise anyone that Bill Cowher is sticking with Ben Roethlisberger as his starting quarterback despite the turnovers. Cowher calls this season a learning experience for Roethlisberger, who was so successful winning with ease during his first two seasons.

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Cowher dismissed his own uncertain future as a reason for the
Super Bowl champions' stumbling -- he hasn't said if he will return
in 2007 -- and that topic is almost never mentioned by his players.

What has become worrisome is that the Steelers already trail
Baltimore (5-2) by three games in the AFC North with the season not
yet half over.

"Each of us is going to have to do more and that starts with
me," Cowher said of a team that has as many losses in seven games
as it did in 20 games a season ago. "The focus right now is to win
a football game and get out of this funk we're in."

After losing 20-13 to one of the NFL's weakest teams, Oakland (2-5), the Steelers meet Denver (5-2) in a rematch of the AFC
championship game Sunday in Pittsburgh. Cowher's biggest concern
might be his team's fading confidence, a quality that wasn't a
problem as the Steelers won 31 games, counting the playoffs, the
last two seasons.

After another shaky performance in another Pittsburgh loss, Len Pasquarelli thinks Big Ben should be on a big bench in Pittsburgh.

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"Confidence is a fragile thing," Cowher said. "We have no
reason to be a confident team at this point. We haven't done the
things it takes to win games."

The Steelers appeared to be coming together after beating Kansas
City 45-7 on Oct. 15, but that is their only victory in their last
six games. They lost to Atlanta 41-38 in overtime a week later
after Roethlisberger, who had thrown five TD passes in less than
two full games, left with a concussion during the third quarter.

That concussion wasn't a problem in Oakland, Cowher said, yet
the third-year quarterback looked like a different player than the
week before. He appeared to be anticipating getting sacked several
times, ducking under before the pass rushers arrived. Two of his
four interceptions were returned for touchdowns.

Roethlisberger won 27 of his first 31 NFL starts, yet is 1-5
this season.

Still, Cowher didn't hesitate to start Roethlisberger against
the Raiders despite the concussion, and never considered replacing
him with backup Charlie Batch. Cowher suggested Roethlisberger's
biggest problem was trying to do too much after the Steelers fell
behind 7-0 and 20-7.

"With three of them [interceptions], he's got to use better
judgment," Cowher said. "He would admit to that. To get the ball
at the 1-yard line [late in the game] and not score with that -- the
inconsistencies, we've got to eliminate them. And we are not doing

Cowher wouldn't speculate if Roethlisberger's repeated health
issues -- his motorcycle wreck, appendectomy and multiple
concussions -- have factored into his falloff in play.

"That's a hard question to answer," he said. "It's all

Cowher did criticize the special teams and offensive line play,
both of which have dropped off significantly from last season.

The Steelers are last in punt return average and third from the
bottom in kickoff coverage, and a rushing game that is routinely
among the league's best is only in the middle of the pack. And they
are fifth from the bottom in turnover margin.

"We're turning the ball over and that's the biggest thing -- we
have 18 in seven games," he said. "A year ago we had 23 in 16.
There have been a lot of inconsistencies with our team."

As expected, running back Verron Haynes and linebacker Arnold Harrison were placed on injured reserve with torn anterior cruciate
ligaments and are done for the season.