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fordfixer
09-11-2008, 12:39 AM
Lots of good news, but way too early for celebration
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Winslow Townson/Associated Press

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08254/910804-66.stm

Steelers fans across the nation are in a state of high-level giddiness -- which carries with it a near-certain belief of a Super Bowl return -- as they bask in the destruction of various rivals around the NFL.

Injuries and upsets have put them on a Super Bowl alert, even if there are 15 games remaining in the regular season. And why not?

In New England, quarterback Tom Brady is out for the season, which means his Patriots are no longer the AFC favorite to play for the NFL championship.

In Indianapolis, Peyton Manning looked no better than the second-best healthy quarterback in the AFC, and his Colts, losers to the lightly regarded Chicago Bears, looked very much unlike a Super Bowl contender.

In Jacksonville, the Jaguars, the team that knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs last season and who were ranked ahead of them this season, have been ravaged by injuries on their offensive line and were losers at Tennessee.

In San Diego, the Chargers, a member of the AFC elite, looked highly suspect in losing at home to Carolina.

All of a sudden, the Steelers' path to the Super Bowl, once strewn with better teams, looks remarkably clear -- especially to the faithful.

Needless to say, coach Mike Tomlin has no such visions. Tomlin showed up at his weekly news conference yesterday carrying the message that the Steelers will be engaging an opponent roughly on the level of Lombardi's Green Bay Packers when they play the Browns Sunday night in Cleveland.

Tomlin was aware the Browns were whipped by the Dallas Cowboys Sunday but saw it only to mean they'll be more focused than ever against the Steelers. If he were aware the Browns were 0-4 in the exhibition season or that their secondary is a sieve, he did not acknowledge it.

"A lot has been written and said about what that team [Cleveland] is capable of here in '08," Tomlin said, "and deservedly so. They've got six Pro Bowlers from last year. They went out and got some big-time players in free agency. Offensively, Derek Anderson leads the charge at quarterback. They've got guys like Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow at receiver. Jamal Lewis is a tough guy to deal with, and we've got to tackle him.

"Defensively, they really made what they believe is a big improvement up front, and I have to agree with them. Shaun Rodgers (6 feet 4, 350 pounds) is a very big, powerful, athletic man. He'll be a force to be reckoned with, as will Corey Williams and Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith. They got big people up front. Those guys are capable of dominating the line of scrimmage."

But that's not what they did against the Cowboys, who ran for 167 yards and completed 24 of 32 passes while accumulating a whopping 30 first downs.

That didn't stop Tomlin from heaping more praise on the Browns.

He recalled the beating the Steelers gave the Browns in the first game last season -- 34-7 -- and what Cleveland did after that.

"We have evidence that they are capable of putting what happens in week one behind them and get better. We were fortunate to beat them at their place in week one last year and they came out and hung 51 points on Cincinnati in week two. That's all the evidence we need."

In fairness to Tomlin, the Browns were 10-6 last season and looked to have better talent this season. They made major free-agent signings to beef up their defense and, in Edwards and Winslow, they have two high-quality receivers. But Tomlin might have been stretching it a bit on Lewis, a running back whose best days are in the past, and Anderson, a quarterback who has had brilliant days but who has yet to prove himself.

As for the Steelers, there's no denying they look a lot better today than they did Sunday morning. That hope-crushing, meat grinder of a schedule looks a bit less daunting. That trip to New England, and with it an almost-certain loss, now has the look of a win. Those consecutive games in November against Washington, Indianapolis and San Diego -- all 0-1 -- don't look to be quite so intimidating.

Yep, a lot can change in one week.

Which means that, while it is nice to revel in all this good news, with 15 more weeks remaining it should be noted that the current exhilaration could be temporary.
Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.
First published on September 10, 2008 at 12:00 am