Ward insists playoffs possible despite Steelers' 2-6 start

Updated: November 3, 2003, 8:08 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- With a 2-6 record and a five-game losing streak, it might seem the playoffs would be the furthest thing from the Pittsburgh Steelers' minds.

They've won only once in seven games, and even coach Bill Cowher is running out of ways to explain how a team that won 25 games over the last two seasons can keep losing.

As guard Alan Faneca said, "Two-and-six? You expected it to be the other way around."

Despite all that's going wrong, wide receiver Hines Ward said Monday he's optimistic the Steelers can turn their season around and win the AFC North.

He said it with a straight face, too.

"I like our chances," Ward said. "Let's just win one game."

Such talk might seem outlandish given how this is fast becoming one of the most discouraging and tough-to-explain years in the Steelers' 71-season history. Their 2-6 start matches those of the 1986 and 1988 seasons as their worst in 34 years.

The long-dependable running game is one of the NFL's worst. Tommy Maddox has only briefly resembled the gambling playmaker who repeatedly led comeback victories last season. The defense has played in fits and spurts, not allowing a lot of yardage, but giving up plenty of points.

The Steelers' only consolation is, in a division where a .500 record might be good enough to secure a championship, it can be argued no lead is safe with half a season left to play. The Ravens (5-3) lead them by three games.

"We came into this year with high expectations and, unfortunately, things aren't going the way we would all like them to," Ward said. "But, just watching the (Seahawks) film, a lot of guys busted their tails. That's the good thing. Nobody quit. Nobody gave up. That's very encouraging."

What gives Ward room for optimism is the Steelers' less-than-overwhelming second-half schedule. Their remaining eight opponents are a combined 28-42, with only the Ravens (5-3) above .500.

Even with the Steelers stuck in a losing streak that ties their second longest in Cowher's 12 seasons as coach, they likely will be favored in their remaining home games, against the Cardinals (3-5), Bengals (3-5), Raiders (2-6) and Chargers (1-7).

On the road, they play the 49ers (4-5), Browns (3-5), Bengals (3-5) and Ravens.

"Everybody's talking about if we can pull off eight in a row," Ward said. "I mean, we've got Arizona coming in at home Sunday and we need to win at home."

The Ravens' second-half schedule looks much tougher, with each of their next three games against winning-record opponents. They play at St. Louis (5-3) and Miami (5-3), followed by a three-game homestand against the Seahawks (6-2), 49ers (4-5) and Bengals (3-5). They finish up with the Raiders (2-6) and Browns (3-5) on the road and Pittsburgh at home.

Still, Ward isn't downplaying the significance of the challenge that confronts the Steelers, especially because they must win six of eight just to finish .500.

If they don't, it seems almost inevitable that they would sit out the playoffs for the fourth time in six years.

"Coach Cowher's been through it," Ward said. "He just doesn't want guys to give up. We have eight games left. Looking on the board, we like our chances. We just have to find a way to get out of this funk."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index