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Steelers can ill afford another loss today



Published: Sun, October 7, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH

Ben Roethlisberger can’t stand Philadelphia. It’s not personal exactly, it just comes with the territory when you play in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers quarterback will sit in the stands when the NHL’s Flyers visit the Penguins and give the visitors an earful.

“I like to watch the fans boo the Flyers,” he said. “I boo, too.”

Roethlisberger laughed as he spoke, a rare moment of levity for a team facing a rare early season moment of crisis. The Steelers have performed with a metronome-like consistency under coach Mike Tomlin, starting 6-2 in each of his first five seasons.

Three weeks into 2012, Pittsburgh (1-2) already has the “2’’ as Philadelphia (3-1) visits today. Another loss would put the Steelers in a precarious position behind AFC North frontrunners Baltimore and Cincinnati.

“(Being) 1-2 lets us know that ‘Hey, we can’t dig ourselves a deeper hole,’” said Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark.

The Steelers insist they’re not panicking — they never do — and point out the Eagles provide so many challenges their slow start is the last thing on their minds.

“It’s Philly week for us,” Tomlin said. “(The start) is somewhat storytelling. I don’t do that. I just simply live the journey.”

It’s one the Steelers hope starts to smooth out a bit. Having a healthy James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Rashard Mendenhall should help. Harrison and Mendenhall — both coming off knee surgery — are expected to play for the first time this season while the strained right calf that’s kept Polamalu sidelined since the opener appears good enough to go.

If Harrison and Polamalu are 100 percent, the Steelers will have their starting defense on the field for the first time since Jan. 1. They’ll need every ounce of experience to rein in a Philadelphia offense that is among the NFL’s most dangerous behind quarterback Michael Vick.

Only an inability to hold onto the ball has slowed the Eagles over the season’s first month. Philadelphia is fifth in the league in total offense but second in turnovers. The team’s NFC-leading dozen giveaways have forced the Eagles to find ways to win late in games, a position Vick has thrived in. He is the first quarterback since 2000 to engineer three fourth-quarter comebacks in the season’s first four weeks, including a 19-17 triumph over the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants last Sunday night.

Vick has no real theory on what’s working for Philadelphia when things get tight.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I really can’t tell you the reasons why we’re winning the games in the fourth quarter. The only thing I know is we’re winning them.”

Pittsburgh’s defense has allowed opponents to score on seven of eight second-half possessions in its two losses. Peyton Manning lit the Steelers up in the opener and Carson Palmer did the same in Oakland two weeks ago, rallying the Raiders from a 10-point deficit to pull off a 34-31 stunner.


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