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Steelers Cowher says NFL scheduling puts team in bad spot for next 2 weeks

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Steelers not only have to get their house in order and then try to climb back into the playoff picture after a poor start, but they also have to fight the NFL as well.

Bill Cowher's next game plan might have to be for the NFL schedule maker
Click photo for larger image.

They have steamed privately since the league posted its schedule last spring. Yesterday coach Bill Cowher finally went public with it. At issue is how the league scheduled the Steelers' next two games. Not only did the NFL put the Steelers' only Monday night game of the season in San Francisco, they will make them play in Cleveland the following Sunday.

That makes them the only Monday night visitors this season to play on the road the following week, and they must do so against a bitter AFC North Division rival.

"I don't see how there's any justification for that," Cowher said during his weekly news conference. "But that's the hand we're dealt."

To add to what Cowher acknowledged as unfair treatment, the 49ers had off this past weekend.

Dan Rooney responded more judiciously a few weeks ago when asked about the scheduling quirk. After playing on Monday night this season, 13 visiting teams play at home the following week and two have a bye. Only the Steelers must hit the road.

 
 
More Steelers Coverage:

Steelers Report: 11/12/03

   
 

"I talked to the league about it," Dan Rooney said, "and they said that's why they put us in Cleveland, because it's close. We're not making a big thing about it."

Cowher made it clear he wishes Rooney had made a big deal about it.

"I think Mr. Rooney's too nice to them. I told Mr. Rooney that, too."

The league has sent the Steelers on the road on Monday nights far more often lately than they've scheduled those games in Pittsburgh. This will be their ninth game on the road in their past 13 Monday night games.

"I would have loved to have it at Heinz Field," Cowher said. "To travel across the country is going to be a big challenge for us."

The bright side from the Steelers' perspective: The visitors won eight of the 10 Monday night games this season and Cowher's record on Monday nights is 16-5, although only 6-5 on the road. His gripes about the scheduling aside, Cowher said his team enjoys the atmosphere of playing in the national spotlight in prime time.

"To play on a Monday night, it is an honor. It is a great forum. You pay the piper the next week, there is no question about it. Right now, we are not in any position to complain. Right now, we don't need to worry about anything more than this game this week. That is the only focus we have."

The next two games will be critical to the Steelers' attempts to get back into the playoff race. If they can win in San Francisco and Cleveland, they would play three of their next four at home, all against teams with losing records, before they finish the season at Baltimore, the only team with a winning record left on their schedule. Their other six opponents have a combined record of 18-36, including the 4-5 49ers.

While Cowher was unhappy with his schedule the next two weeks, he did not want to use it as an excuse.

"There is no way that anybody does not dream of playing on Monday night. You grow up watching it. Everyone in the league is watching you. There are no negatives about playing Monday night.

"The negatives come when you see yourself pulling back into Pittsburgh Tuesday at 6:30 in the morning and then have to go to Cleveland the following week. That is part of that responsibility. These next couple of weeks will be a good test for us. It is a great opportunity for us and there is no one that does not look forward to playing on Monday night."

At 3-6, the Steelers trail the 5-4 Ravens by two games. No team that started 2-6 has made the playoffs since the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals.

"We are in the process of trying to do something that nobody else in this league has done since going to a 16-game schedule," Cowher said. "It is not going to be easy. This is the next step along the way."

Baltimore's loss Sunday night in St. Louis helped the Steelers pick up a game on the Ravens. And the Steelers recognize the problem the Ravens have now that starting quarterback Kyle Boller could miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.

"We are not sitting here with our head in the sand and not aware of what is going on around us," Cowher said. "We understand that. At the same time, that is not going to help us. We are going to help us.

"We control our own destiny at this point. Even at this point. We all understand the schedule. We all understand the amount of games left and who is playing who. We control our own destiny. It has been a situation where we dug a hole for ourselves. We have created a hurdle for ourselves. The only way we are going to go where we need to go is by taking this one game at a time and not worrying about other teams. They will rally around that. We just have to concern ourselves with us."


Ed Bouchette can be reach at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878

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