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The 2008 season has only just begun

The darling, upstart teams in the NFL are concerned with the first two-thirds of their schedule.

The perennial powerhouses of the league know it's not how you start, but how you finish. Ask the Steelers in 2005 - after two brutal losses in Weeks 12 and 13, they learned something about themselves, got back to the fundamentals of their team and won eight straight games, including the Super Bowl.

In 2006, the Colts lost two consecutive games in Weeks 13 and 14 in the AFC South, to Tennessee and Jacksonville, including a demoralizing 44-7 beating by the Jaguars.

They won two of their last three in the regular season, and took that momentum all the way to the Super Bowl.

Again, another team that hit a slide during the last third of the season, and rebounded exactly how they needed to. This almost suggests championship teams need adversity in the form of difficult losses - at home and on the road - to cement the elements that make up a championship contender.

One of the best things that could have happened to the Giants last season was their 38-35 loss to the undefeated Patriots in Week 17. They became a different team after that loss, winning three road games in the NFC playoffs and avenging their regular season loss to New England in the Super Bowl.

There's no reason to think the Steelers can't rebound in a similar fashion. Granted, there isn't a Patriots-esque juggernaut on their remaining schedule, but their recent slide of two losses in three games does give the team that vital "us against the world" mentality. They no longer have a two-game lead to squander in the division. Faced with a hard-charging Ravens team going into the final seven games of the season, their real season starts Sunday against San Diego.

They'll start this season with cornerbacks Deshea Townsend and Bryant McFadden out with injuries, and veteran Fernando Bryant signed to compete with William Gay for the starting spot against the best quarterback in the AFC (Phillip Rivers). They'll start it with an injured Ben Roethlisberger, who's status will be determined based on his ability to practice this week.

They'll start it with Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker and left tackle Marvel Smith banged up and unable to consistently stay on the field. They'll start it without iron man tight end Heath Miller missing the second start of his career.

But they'll start it all the same. Real champions are born in Week 11, and the team best equipped to handle the injuries that affect everyone is most likely to be standing at the end.

For all the momentum the Ravens have, and as much as it appears the Steelers are the team laying half-dead on the side of the road, the real season is just beginning, and regardless of how the 2008 season started, it will end far differently.

It's a seven-game race against their most bitter AFC North rival. Forget 6-3. It's 0-0 with six games setting up a Week 15 grudge match at Baltimore.

It starts Sunday against San Diego.