View Full Version : Slump leaves Steelers searching for answers

09-29-2009, 02:18 AM
Published: September 28, 2009 11:32 pm

Slump leaves Steelers searching for answers
http://www.tribune-democrat.com/prospor ... 33346.html (http://www.tribune-democrat.com/prosports/local_story_271233346.html)

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers are beginning to hear the three words they were certain wouldn’t be associated with them: Super Bowl hangover.

The Steelers experienced in 2006 what can happen when the partying suddenly stops after a Super Bowl victory and a new season arrives very quickly. That season, numerous distractions and their quarterback’s health problems led to a 2-6 start and they wound up missing the playoffs.

Wouldn’t happen this time, these Steelers said. This team is too focused, too disciplined and determined to let it happen again, they said.

Yet the Steelers are 1-2, with half as many losses as they had in 19 games last season, and they’re already facing a two-game deficit in the AFC North.

More worrisome to them is the way they’re losing, with their No. 1-ranked defense from the last two seasons unable to create turnovers or get off the field at critical points in games. For the second time in eight days on Sunday, they let a team drive nearly the length of the field and beat them in the closing seconds.

Those were the kind of comebacks the Steelers pulled off themselves last season, when they rallied to win late in a game six times – including the Super Bowl. Now, they’ve lost 23-20 to the Bengals in a game they led 13-0 and 20-9, and they lost 17-14 a week earlier to the Bears, who never led until Robbie Gould kicked a 44-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining.

A super-sized success hangover? Maybe not.

But the Steelers still haven’t run the ball like they normally do late in a game, and they’ve made the kind of game-altering mistakes they almost never made last season while going 12-4 and winning three postseason games.

Jeff Reed missed two field goals inside the

40 against the Bears. Limas Sweed landed in the end zone with a touchdown catch in his grasp in Cincinnati and let the ball slip away. The Bengals – who hadn’t beaten the Steelers in their own stadium in eight years – converted a critical fourth-and-10 to keep their game-winning,

71-yard drive going.

“We need to finish football games better,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “That’s the mark of a champion, and that’s not us at this point.”

What’s happening can’t be blamed entirely on All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu being injured, although the impact of his loss has been magnified the past two weeks. Or on second-year running back Rashard Mendenhall so irritating Tomlin in practice last week that he never carried the ball in Cincinnati.

It’s more than not paying attention to details, or not making enough big plays on defense, or Ben Roethlisberger throwing an interception for a touchdown because Santonio Holmes runs the wrong pass route.

As the Steelers themselves said, they’re not being the Steelers.

“We have to get back to whatever we were doing to win games,” cornerback Deshea Townsend said. “We have to find ways to get close as a defensive unit and figure out ways to get off the field.”

Then there’s this: Steelers owner Dan Rooney missed a game for the first time in nearly 57 years on Sunday because he was in Ireland, attending to his new job as the U.S. ambassador. He picked a good one to miss.

“It’s adversity that we have to face, but we’ve faced similar situations before,” Roethlisberger said. “We need to (find) our character and overcome a situation like this.”

They found a way to do it in the 2005 season, when they were forced to win their final four games just to make the playoffs after they were 7-5, then won out on the road in the playoffs and won the Super Bowl. Their current situation certainly isn’t unmanageable, thanks in part to a forgiving schedule.

While they already trail the Baltimore Ravens (3-0) by two games, they still have two games remaining against the Browns (0-3), plus the Lions

(1-2) and Raiders (1-2) at home and the Chiefs (0-3) and Dolphins (0-3) on the road.

After they play the Chargers (2-1) at home Sunday night, they get the Lions and Browns the following two weeks – a gift-wrapped get-well package for a good team if there ever was one, even if the Lions finally won a game Sunday.

“Finishing as Super Bowl champions and starting 1-2 is not how we envisioned our season starting,” wide receiver Hines Ward said.