Saturday, September 30, 2006
With no game on the horizon, coach Bill Cowher's weekly news conference essentially turned into a state of the Steelers address.
And he told reporters what he probably relayed to his players before letting them go for a long weekend: the Steelers have plenty of work ahead of them but they also have a lot on which to build.
"We've done a lot of good things, and I don't want them to lose sight of that," Cowher said Wednesday. "But at the same time, we're doing some things that aren't allowing us to win football games or to play consistently week in and week out, and yet it's still only week three."
The defending Super Bowl champions have lost consecutive games and are already two games behind the Bengals and Ravens in the AFC North.
Yet, Cowher has been encouraged by a number of things, including the Steelers reaching their own lofty standards in the running games against the Dolphins and Bengals and the defense sacking Carson Palmer six times and intercepting Cincinnati's quarterback twice in last Sunday's 28-20 loss at Heinz Field.
And, as Cowher said, it is still early.
"We know what we have to do," said Cowher, whose team plays the Chargers in San Diego on Oct. 8. "There's no panic."
There certainly isn't in the Steelers' locker room at the team's South Side practice facility, and with good reason.
A three-game losing streak last season left the Steelers at 7-5 and pushed them to the brink.
In danger of missing the playoffs, the Steelers reeled off four straight wins. They continued their sizzling play in the postseason, winning four more games and getting that elusive one-for-the-thumb Super Bowl ring.
"We've been here before, and we know what it takes to get back to the top," linebacker Larry Foote said. "This is a veteran team."
One of the unsettling aspects of the Steelers' 1-2 start is they have made mistakes generally ascribed to a young, inexperienced team.
For starters, the Steelers have committed eight turnovers.
As Cowher said wryly, "That's not a good stat to lead the league in."
Two turnovers in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game turned a three-point Steelers lead into an 11-point deficit.
Just as vexing to Cowher as the lost fumbles by Ricardo Colclough and Verron Haynes was that the Bengals scored on the very next play after each turnover.
In the game, the Bengals scored touchdowns all three times they were inside the Steelers' 25-yard line. Six trips by the Steelers' offense inside the Bengals' 25 resulted in just 17 points.
"We had the game won," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We just couldn't finish it off and make plays when we needed to. That's the encouraging thing we can take during this bye week."
That's exactly what Cowher wants his players to do, with them also knowing that when they return to practice Monday they better be ready to work.
"I still think we're a good football team," Cowher said. "We're just not playing good football right now."