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Steelers Steelers Report: 1/16/02

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Compiled by Ed Bouchette

LOOKING AHEAD

Ravens (11-6) at Steelers (13-3), 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Heinz Field. TV: KDKA. Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5) and WBGG-AM (970).

NOTEBOOK

What's the Steelers' biggest challenge for Sunday? Ray Lewis and Baltimore's defense? Elvis Grbac and the Ravens' offense? Brian Billick's genius? No, it's kickoff return-man Jermaine Lewis.

"I think there is no question that he will be a big part of this football game, as well as our ability to make sure that we try to keep him in check," Coach Bill Cowher said. "He's going to get his yards. We just don't want them to become big yards. The last time we played him, our kickoff coverage really wasn't very successful."

Lewis returned a punt 62 yards and two kickoffs for 67 yards Dec. 16 in the Steelers' 26-21 victory at Baltimore.

"There is no question this guy is a premier returner and very much could be the X-factor in this game," Cowher said. "We have to be aware of his potential and the threat that he poses every time that he touches the ball. Obviously, given the opportunity that we have, we don't want him to touch the ball. We know going in that's probably the greatest challenge we're going to have in this game."

For the first time this season, no Steelers will be put on the injury list. Cowher said all of his players are ready to go. "Everybody should be available for the game," he said.

Cowher took no position on any of the bravado that has been going back and forth between players -- and on occasion, coaches -- of the two teams.

"A lot of it has been precipitated [by Baltimore] coming in, and we just have some guys who have a hard time not having responses to it," Cowher said. "I think there is a lot of respect that exists between the two teams and they're the defending champs. Until someone else takes that crown off of their head -- they're the ones that are still wearing the last ring -- they have the right to talk. This game will not be played in the papers. ... Somehow, I don't think [the media] mind the talking at all. I can just say that it really will have no effect on the game from our perspective."

Baltimore CB Chris McAlister said the Ravens just can't help themselves when it comes to opening their mouths.

"It's just the way we are. We invite conflict, period. We need conflict to make us who we are. We don't necessarily go out and down-talk our opponent, but we're just going to say what we feel. That's the type of team we are. I don't think it's going to be too silent this week. I'm just letting it be known. I'm not going to say it's going to be me. But it's a possibility. I don't think this is going to be a silent matchup leading up to this game. It's going to get heated before you know it."

Only one of the AFC's No. 1 seeds has made it to the Super Bowl the past seven years, and that was Denver after the Broncos beat the New York Jets in the AFC championship game after the 1998 season. That hasn't stopped bettors from making the Steelers an overwhelming favorite to get to New Orleans from the AFC or kept Cowher awake at nights.

"I know that we've been part of that statistic," said Cowher, who has coached the Steelers to top seeds in 1992 and '94 but did not reach the Super Bowl in either season. "It's hard to say. I think you're looking at the evenness of the National Football League. You can see down through the years the ability of teams to win on the road. That's always hard to say. I don't think anyone really has the answer to that."

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