Steelers Invade St. Louis

Four days after Cheeseheads took over the Edward Jones Dome, the St. Louis Rams are braced for an invasion of the Terrible Towels. So much for home-field advantage.

Running back Steven Jackson, the most outspoken of the Rams, said after Sunday's 33-14 loss to the Packers that it felt like playing at Lambeau Field minus the frozen tundra. So many disenchanted fans sold their tickets to visitors that the crowd was close to an even split.

``It's a joke,'' Jackson said.

Thursday night's home finale might feel a bit like Heinz Field, with rampant fan apathy again expected to result in a huge influx of Pittsburgh Steelers faithful making the trip.

``I'd be surprised if it's not like Green Bay, the Terrible Towels and everything,'' said quarterback Marc Bulger, who's from Pittsburgh. ``It'll be just as loud, I think. So we have to get ready for that.''

Of course, once again, it'll be a game with a lot more interest outside the city. While the Rams (3-11) have stumbled all season, the Steelers (9-5) are stumbling near the finish line, an AFC North title that seemed a foregone conclusion not long ago now hanging in the balance. Pittsburgh has lost its past two games and three of the past five.

The Steelers are tied with the Browns for the division lead, although they still have a pretty easy road to the playoffs. They can clinch the North with a victory and a Browns loss at Cincinnati on Sunday, and just a loss by Tennessee will clinch a playoff berth.

And if the Rams pull an upset, the Steelers finish at Baltimore, another downtrodden team that enters this weekend with an eight-game losing streak.

``We've been playing well at times and other times we haven't late in the year,'' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. ``We need to get back on track.''

The Steelers' 29-22 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars spoiled a perfect season at home. They've dropped three of five overall, a slide that began with an overtime loss to the three-win Jets, and nearly became the first team to lose to the Dolphins before prevailing 3-0 in the closing seconds.

Roethlisberger believes the struggles are as much mental as physical.

``Obviously this late in the year you get guys hurt and you get guys beat up, but it does take a mental toll on you as well,'' Roethlisberger said. ``But it's that time of the year when you have to really dig deep, because everyone is feeling the same thing.''

Roethlisberger has a franchise-record 29 touchdown passes, one more than Terry Bradshaw threw in 1978, and Willie Parker leads the NFL with 1,317 yards rushing. But the Steelers misfired last week against the Jaguars, getting outgained 421-217 in total offense.

The Steelers count on a stingy defense that's ranked first in the NFL and allows 16.7 points per game, tied for the fewest. They've gone two games without a sack, but have two shutouts and have limited six opponents to 10 or fewer points.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Pittsburgh -9 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Thursday's game, the over/under has been set at 43.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 65% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh -9 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

The Rams are a good candidate to become team No. 7. Hampered by an offensive line minus three starters, the area hit hardest on a team with 11 players on injured reserve, St. Louis was blanked in the second half by the Packers and 10 times have scored in the teens or worse.

That unloved feeling can't help with the franchise emphasizing Brett Favre over one of its own players in the loss to the Packers.

Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce passed Marvin Harrison for fourth place on the career list for yards receiving in the first half, and the achievement was ignored until a break in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the game was halted when Favre set the NFL career record for yards passing early in the fourth quarter. The milestone was noted by the public address announcer and the crowd saluted Favre with a noisy ovation.

``It's no big deal to me,'' said Bruce, the last remaining Ram from before the franchise moved to the Midwest in 1995. ``I passed a guy who's still playing in the league, so who knows? He could pass me this week.''

That's the kind of thing that happens, Bruce said, when you're playing out the string on an injury-filled team.

``They expect to win, just like I expect to win,'' Bruce said. ``This year you didn't get that. I'll just say this: When we go other places there are fans who are true fans no matter what their team's record is.''

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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