On the Steelers: Team dug its own playoff hole
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers keep bailing and bailing and their ship keeps taking on water. The end is near and the rescue boats sailing their way are rickety.

"For the most part, we have nobody to blame but ourselves," tackle Willie Colon said. "All we can do is what we can do right now, try to put ourselves in a better position, and however it works out it works out. But at the end of the day, it's our fault."

He will find no arguments either inside his locker room or the city they represent. That five-game losing streak that scuttled their schooner will go down in franchise lore among the most dubious. The reigning Super Bowl champs lost to three heavy underdogs in Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland, and Colon and others acknowledged their heads weren't exactly in those games.

"From my look, I think we kind of took things for granted from the standpoint we weren't playing up to our level and how we should have played," Colon said of that five-game skid. "And it came back to bite us in the butt and all we can do now is try to get this one Sunday."

Too bad that was not the case in Cleveland, in Kansas City or at home to Oakland.

"We put ourselves in this position," linebacker James Harrison said. "There were two games where we could have just as easily won and basically tricked it off. You go on a five-game skid, you can't expect too much to go good."

Harrison believes the Steelers would be fortunate to earn a playoff spot at this point.

"Definitely. We did a lot to hurt ourselves with those five games that we lost. If we get in, it's a blessing. We need help."

Lots of it, and from sources that may be disinterested in lending the Steelers a hand, the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots. It would aid the Steelers tremendously if one of those teams won Sunday and be heaven sent if both won. However, each has little incentive heading into their final games, the Bengals at the New York Jets and the Patriots at the Houston Texans.

Cincinnati and New England have clinched playoff spots and the only thing left undecided is which will be the No. 3 seed and which the No. 4. If both of those teams win and the Steelers win, the Steelers will earn a wild-card playoff spot.

The Steelers may not know their fate until late Sunday night because the NFL moved the Bengals-Jets game to an 8:20 p.m. kickoff for NBC. The Steelers-Miami start remains at 1 p.m.

Here are the three possibilities for the Steelers to clinch a wild-card spot, all based on a Steelers win at Miami:

Houston and Jets each lose or tie.

Houston and Baltimore each loses or ties.

Jets, Baltimore and Denver each loses or ties.

Baltimore plays at Oakland, Denver plays Kansas City at home. The Ravens and the Jets can assure themselves a wild-card spot by winning.

What are the chances coach Bill Belichick's Patriots or Marvin Lewis' Bengals would want to help out their old rivals?

"I don't know, I think they want to win," Harrison said. "It's still the game of football. Everyone wants to win, so they're going to want to go out and win the game."

Does he mean the way the Indianapolis Colts did Sunday against the Jets?

"Hopefully, New England will get in there next week and do what it's supposed to do," said cornerback Deshea Townsend. "I think coach Belichick will definitely get his players some reps. I don't think you'll see him resting anybody. He'll get them some time. I'm not saying they might play the whole game but he is big-time on guys playing. He'll most definitely do what's best for his team. I don't think there's anything they can gain, they don't get a bye with a win. It depends on how many reps he wants to give them."

The Steelers' playoff chances have been reduced to tossing coins in a fountain.

"It is possible," defensive end Brett Keisel declared. "We know that, but we got ourselves into this hole and we're just trying to fight our way back out."

If they do not make it, that five-game losing streak will haunt them for a long, long time.

"It'll be very disappointing," linebacker James Farrior said. "That's everybody's goal right now, to try to make this season right and get into the dance and do some damage then. But it'll definitely be tough if we don't make it."

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