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fordfixer
12-13-2009, 03:09 AM
Steelers' collapse is puzzling, unprecedented
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer, dlolley@observer-reporter.com
http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/loc ... s-collapse (http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/localsports/12-12-Steelers-collapse)


CLEVELAND - A little more than a month ago, the Steelers were riding high, coming off back-to-back wins over Minnesota and Denver - teams that were playing some of the best football in the NFL.

At 6-2, the Steelers were not only in position to win the AFC North again, but make a run at a seventh Super Bowl championship.

Five weeks later, the Steelers (6-7) find themselves in unprecedented territory as the only defending Super Bowl champion to string together a five-game losing streak in a non-strike season.

While losses to Cincinnati, Kansas City and Baltimore were disheartening, Pittsburgh's two losses in the last five days - to Oakland and Cleveland - have left the Steelers searching for answers.

"To lose five straight coming off a Super Bowl victory last season, it's embarrassing," said wide receiver Hines Ward, who played against the Browns despite a strained hamstring.

"There's a lot of gut-check with three games left. We're going to see who really wants to go out and play for the pride of this organization and for our city, and who doesn't want to be around here. I'm going to continue to fight my tail off even though we're not in the playoffs. But it hurts. It hurts a lot."

It's hard to tell which hurt more, losing the fifth consecutive game, or doing so against the Browns, who sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eight times and rushed for 171 yards - the most by a Cleveland team against the Steelers since 1972.

"It's embarrassing. It's very embarrassing to lose to the Cleveland Browns," said running back Willie Parker. "I've never done that before.

"You want to be able to run the ball on these guys. We do it every year effectively."

Not this year.

Despite entering the game with the NFL's worst defense, the Browns (2-11) limited the Steelers to 216 yards - 75 of which came on 22 rushing attempts - in a 13-6 Cleveland win.

Rookie Chris Jennings, signed off Cleveland's practice squad a few weeks ago, nearly matched Pittsburgh's rushing total, gaining 73 yards on 20 attempts.

The loss could lead to the Steelers' first losing season since 2003, when they went 6-10. That also happens to be the last time the Steelers lost five consecutive games.

Pittsburgh selected Roethlisberger in the first round of the draft the following year and has missed the playoffs just one time since. Ironically, that season without playoffs followed a Super Bowl victory. The Steelers went 8-8 in 2006 after winning their fifth championship the previous year.

"I don't think we're playing together - offense, defense and special teams - like we did last year," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes. "We're giving crucial sacks at big moments. The defense is giving up big plays. The special teams are giving up big plays. And we're not making enough big plays on our side.

"It's hurtful. I never thought I'd lose five games in a row. To go home and think about it - I just don't even want to do. Hopefully we can go back in the lab this summer, regroup and start all over again."

Odds and end zones

Only one other defending NFL champion has lost five consecutive games, the 1987 New York Giants. But three of those losses came with replacement players because of a players strike. ... The Steelers lost six consecutive games in 1999 en route to a 6-10 record. . ... The Browns had not beaten the Steelers in Cleveland since 2000.