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Cowher: Steelers' latest title game loss only the start, not the end

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher isn't ready to forget about 16 victories just because of another bad playoff loss.

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher isn't ready to forget about 16 victories just because of another bad playoff loss.

On Wednesday, a defiant Cowher said the Steelers' 41-27 loss to New England on Sunday will be a springboard to more successes, not a stopping point for a franchise that lost its fourth AFC championship game at home in 11 seasons.

Cowher, no doubt aware his team is being dismissed again for its inability to win a big game, said these Steelers set a high standard for his future teams with their unselfishness and ability to overcome adversity.

Please do not allow the one game to define this season,'' Cowher said.To finish 16-2, 15-1 in the regular season, and win 15 straight games is quite an achievement.''

The Steelers manhandled Super Bowl finalists New England and Philadelphia on consecutive weekends during the season, but became only the second NFL team to go 15-1 and not reach the Super Bowl, joining the 1998 Vikings.

The one-sided loss in the New England rematch Sunday resulted in an emotional team meeting Monday and caused at least one player, wide receiver Hines Ward, to break into tears.

It was a very close football team, which made the hurt that much more,'' Cowher said.I have always said I believe the measure of any one person or group of people should not be how many times you get knocked down, it should be how many times you get back up.

``This group will get back up. This is not the end. In my mind, it is the beginning.

Cowher did not address the repeated failure in conference championship games or strategic points of Sunday's loss, including his much-criticized decision to kick a field goal early in the fourth quarter with the Steelers in position to close within 34-27.

That move visibly deflated the largest home crowd in Steelers history and, with Pittsburgh's momentum suddenly halted, the Patriots scored the next 10 points.

Life is full of disappointments,'' Cowher said.Sometimes we wonder why. But ours is not to wonder why, ours is to continue to try. We will do that.''

The Steelers' roster is bound to change, with linebacker Kendrell Bell and wide receiver Plaxico Burress among those likely to leave as free agents. Running back Jerome Bettis hasn't decided if he will return for a 13th NFL season.

But Cowher expects his assistant coaches to return _ a change from a year ago, when offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey left to become Buffalo's head coach and defensive coordinator, and Tim Lewis was fired.

Cowher also said Ben Roethlisberger did not break two toes on his right foot, as the rookie said Tuesday. The quarterback might have mildly aggravated a toe injury that occurred in high school or college but does not need treatment, Cowher said.

The Steelers' ability to overcome numerous injuries by having backups step in and play like starters caused Cowher to re-evaluate his previous policy that a starter shouldn't lose his job to injury. Maddox, Bell, running back Duce Staley and cornerback Chad Scott were among those who didn't return to the lineup after becoming healthy.

``I understand somebody getting frustrated by it or upset by it but, at the same time, (if) somebody comes in playing well and you're playing well as a team, I don't think you disrupt that,'' Cowher said.

Despite the Steelers' numerous injuries, only backup tight end Matt Cushing (wrist) and running back Verron Haynes (knee) needed offseason surgeries. Cushing was operated on Tuesday.

Cowher, like Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, also wants Burress back, though it seems likely he will sign elsewhere. Burress and Cowher had a long talk following Monday's meeting.

I think he's matured as a person, (with) his work ethic and his approach to the game,'' Cowher said.If that was the last time I talked to him, I wanted him to know how I felt.''

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