Four games into the season, the Steelers are right back where they were in December -- on the edge of a cliff, hanging by their fingertips.
Which team wouldn't love to be the one that stomps on those fingers and watches the Super Bowl champs plunge like Wile E. Coyote? Kansas City, Baltimore (twice), Cincinnati, Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans and Denver. All seven and a couple more teams might get their chance -- but you know the Steelers won't let go without a fight.
Already, coach Bill Cowher has parted with custom in a creative -- OK, desperate -- attempt to save the season, just like he did in December.
Remember? A home loss to Cincinnati had ended the Steelers' hopes of a division title, pushed their losing streak to three and dropped them to 7-5. That week, Cowher walked up to a meeting-room chalkboard and erased all references to the previous 12 games.
The Steelers' mission was distilled into a two-word sentence: Beat Chicago.
Cowher invoked Christopher Columbus in his speech to the team, something about sailing in "uncharted waters." On Wednesday of that week, he made the boys practice in full pads. Players said it was the latest in a season they'd remembered doing so and that it served to invigorate them for the stretch run.
Well, a few hours after the 23-13 loss in San Diego on Sunday night, Dr. Bill decided it was time for another psychological ploy. He ordered his players to report to the team's South Side practice facility at 2 p.m. the next day -- less than eight hours after the delayed team flight landed in Pittsburgh -- to watch film and analyze the loss.
Cowher, in his 15th season, said he'd never gathered his players in such fashion the day after a road night game.
"That was a first," the coach acknowledged Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "I decided (to do it), in all actuality, as we were driving to the airport. I didn't like how I felt. I know that's probably how they felt, and I didn't want to sit here and talk about this game anymore on Wednesday, so I thought it was important for us to come in."
Cowher was waiting when the players arrived Monday. He talked. They listened.
"I don't have an open forum in my meetings, so it's not like that was the case," Cowher said. "I explain what I see, what I think I perceive."
What he perceives is what everyone else perceives: a team that can't finish games, early or late.
The Steelers had a chance to bury the Bengals early, but bungled a sure touchdown drive with an end-zone interception. They led San Diego, 13-10, in the third quarter and had the Chargers pinned on their 9, but permitted a 91-yard drive -- longer than any touchdown drive they allowed all of last season.
Last season, the Steelers needed only to win their final four games to make the playoffs. That's a lot different than needing to win 10 of 12, which might be required to get back to the postseason. Actually, nine of 12 might do it, because the two teams in front of the Steelers in the AFC North are seriously flawed.
It's hard to say which is worse, the Bengals' run defense or the Ravens' anemic offense. Neither team is as good as many people think.
Then again, neither is hanging from a cliff.