What's a 2-5 world champ to do?
All around, there are signs this isn't like Pittsburgh teams that went 13-3, 10-5-1, 15-1 and 11-5 lately.
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Before the season began, the Pittsburgh Steelers laughed off suggestions they might be the latest in a long list of Super Bowl champions who followed up their title with a dud of a season.
Not this team, they said -- not with a quarterback so young and seemingly so impervious to setbacks as Ben Roethlisberger. Not with a coach as driven as Bill Cowher. Not with leaders like Hines Ward, Joey Porter and Ben Roethlisberger to continue the follow-me attitude that left when Jerome Bettis retired.
"I think we have a chance to be really, really good," defensive end Brett Keisel said.
Sorting it out
So how could they be this bad -- really, really bad at 2-5, with five losses in six games. The close losses to the Bengals and Falcons were explainable maybe, but how they can reconcile this -- losing to the Oakland Raiders, a team that looked a few weeks ago like it might not win a game.
"But this team, we've got a lot of pride," linebacker James Farrior said after a 20-13 loss Sunday in Oakland left the Steelers tied for last place in the AFC North. "Our season's not over yet, and we're not going to give up."
However, the Steelers trail Baltimore (5-2) by three games in the AFC North, and no Super Bowl champion has had a worse start since the 1987 Giants were 1-6. The Steelers have two games left with the Ravens and five in the division, yet they keep looking like a team that expects to win by reputation rather than by performance, perhaps an understandable attitude for a team that was 26-6 the last two seasons.
Maybe Roethlisberger's uneven start can be explained away -- after all, a serious motorcycle crash, an appendectomy and a concussion in little more than four months clearly have taken a toll on his play.
Just when he was settling into to becoming the game-altering quarterback he was last season, throwing five touchdown passes in a game and a half against the Chiefs and Falcons, the concussion he sustained Oct. 22 in Atlanta seemed to affect his confidence and performance against Oakland.
Not only did he throw four interceptions, two were returned for touchdowns.
The Raiders did little on offense, yet the Steelers lost perhaps their most bizarre game since they outgained Houston by nearly 400 yards in 2002 and lost 24-3 on three turnovers that were returned for touchdowns.
"It was a strange, strange game," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said.
"We're making too many errors. The competition in this league is too close to allow that to happen."
"Right now, I'm letting the whole team down," said Roethlisberger, who was allowed to play only a week after being knocked unconscious in Atlanta -- a debatable medical decision that was criticized by physicians who study concussion-related sports injuries.
Asked if he felt comfortable playing Roethlisberger following his latest serious medical setback, Cowher said, "I wasn't comfortable throwing four interceptions."
All around, there are signs this isn't like the Steelers teams that has had records of 13-3, 10-5-1, 15-1 and 11-5 since 2001.
This is only the second time in Cowher's 15 seasons they have been 2-5; they also were in 2003, when they finished 6-10, tying for their worst record under Cowher.
Last season, they had only eight turnovers during the eight-game winning streak that carried them through the Super Bowl.
They have seven in their last two games.
And, with a chance to tie Oakland as the clock wound down, they couldn't score on four plays after having a first-and-goal at the 1, a situation once made for the now-retired Bettis.
Willie Parker, a 1,200-yard rusher last season, had 11 runs of 1 yard or fewer against the Raiders, who were allowing nearly 133 yards per game on the ground.
They also seem to be missing Bettis' calming influence, though some players dismiss that.
Last week, they drew their second excessive celebration penalty of the season, after Cowher said it wouldn't happen again.
And they had consecutive unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against Oakland, a once unheard of breakdown in discipline by a Cowher-coached team.
"You can't call it one way."
"We can't have that."
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