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Cowher takes blame for team's loss

PITTSBURGH -- According to Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill
Cowher, the blame starts with him.

While quarterback Tommy Maddox wasn't willing to accept much responsibility for a 23-17 overtime loss Sunday to Jacksonville,
Cowher spent an unusual amount of time at his weekly news conference Tuesday doing exactly that.

Cowher second-guessed himself for not pulling the error-prone Maddox and inserting No. 3 quarterback Charlie Batch, and also said he should have played running back Jerome Bettis more during the second half.

Normally, Cowher quickly shifts the focus of his news conference to the next opponent -- one reason why he holds his media sessions Tuesday, not on Monday like most NFL coaches. But it was obvious he
wasn't happy with his team's play or his own coaching against Jacksonville.

"It was probably one of the most frustrating losses I've experienced in my 14 years here," Cowher said. "When you walk away from that game, as all coaches do, you sit back and you reflect. A lot of the decisions that were made and the choices that you had, ultimately you are responsible for all of it.

"Certainly I accept that responsibility, and I am responsible."

In contrast to Cowher's remarks, Maddox blamed the wind, the booing fans and, in so many words, his own teammates. Making his first meaningful start in 13 months, Maddox was intercepted three times and fumbled once, with two turnovers in overtime. The game ended when cornerback Rashean Mathis intercepted a poorly thrown pass and returned it for a game-winning touchdown.

Afterward, Maddox seemed bothered more by the booing than his own play, saying the jeering wasn't deserved because "I've got a track record here."

What Maddox isn't likely to have anytime soon is playing time. Batch is expected to be the backup Sunday at Cincinnati when Ben Roethlisberger returns after sitting out against the Jaguars with a
hyperextended left knee.

Roethlisberger lobbied Cowher from midweek to let him play, but Cowher didn't want to risk playing him only six days after he avoided what could have been a season-ending knee injury. However, it turns out Maddox may have played not only with a calf injury but with an injured shoulder.

Cowher was clearly irritated he didn't know about the injury until Monday, and seemed so agitated with Maddox's performance he wouldn't disclose which shoulder was injured.

"Nobody was made aware of anything during the course of the game," Cowher said.

The only touchdown Maddox generated -- other than for the Jaguars -- came on a 65-yard drive in the second quarter in which all but 21
yards came on Jacksonville penalties. Still, Cowher chose to stay
with the former starter, partly because Batch has thrown only eight
passes in four seasons.

"Two of the first three series did end in interceptions, but I
did feel as though he settled down," Cowher said of Maddox. "As
the game went on, he did a good job with the no-huddle aspect of
it."

Cowher also stayed with Willie Parker at running back, rather than switching to Bettis as he did during a 24-22 victory in San Diego the previous Monday. Parker was ineffective in the second half, gaining only 37 yards on 15 carries and finishing with 21 carries for 55 yards. Bettis had 4 yards on four carries, all in the first half.

"Unfortunately, we did not have Jerome in the game, and I wish we would've gotten him into the game in the second half," Cowher
said. "That's a decision I am responsible for, and I'm not going
to dwell on it any more."

The Steelers aren't certain whether Pro Bowl receiver Hines Ward (hamstring) will play Sunday after sitting out a game for the first time in his eight-year career. He is listed as questionable, as are left guard Alan Faneca (toe), defensive end Aaron Smith (back), wide receivers Cedrick Wilson (wrist) and Antwaan Randle El (foot) and Maddox. Cornerback Deshea Townsend (hamstring) is doubtful.