By John Harris
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
It is what it is.
The Steelers are 2-4, instead of 4-2.
They're a winning football team with a losing record.
"It's a new situation for us," linebacker Larry Foote said.
Still, to a man in the Steelers locker room, confidence abounds. This is a poised and talented football team. The players know how good they are, and they have the Super Bowl rings to prove it.
There were no bowed heads after Sunday's 41-38 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons, only deep introspection and a greater understanding for the challenge ahead.
Six games into 2006, the aura of invincibility is gone. Now, the Steelers have to take back what they've lost.
"We're 2-4, so you all start making your own judgment," running back Willie Parker told reporters after the game.
Parker's third-quarter fumble led to a Falcons touchdown, one of three Steelers fumbles resulting in 21 Atlanta points.
"We beat ourselves," Parker said.
Guard Alan Faneca agreed. "We put our defense in a hole," he said.
Make no mistake about it, the defense contributed to Sunday's loss. The Steelers focused so hard on stopping Atlanta's top-ranked rushing offense they allowed quarterback Michael Vick to pick them apart.
Something's wrong when the defending Super Bowl champions score 38 points on the road and lose, something troubling that points to mistakes and critical lapses in crunch time.
"We had some mental breakdowns," Foote said. "We knew they like (Alge) Crumpler; he's their leading receiver."
Vick tossed a career-high four touchdown passes against the Steelers. Crumpler had a career-high three touchdown catches.
"We didn't execute," Foote said. "(Vick) was hitting people wide open. That's our fault."
Before the season gets entirely away from them, the Steelers may want to consider going back to Square One, all the way back to training camp, to rediscover their identity.
A swaggering confidence is all well and good, but what's needed right now is a return to basics and more attention to detail.
What's needed is for the Steelers to drop their proud act and go for the jugular, starting Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
What's needed is for a feeling of desperation to replace the swagger that results in style points but keeps coming up short on the scoreboard.
Too much was made of that blowout win over Kansas City at Heinz Field. And too much is being made of losing to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome. One loss won't kill the Steelers' season, just like one big win won't brand the season a success.
"We've got a lot of things we can get better at," Parker said. "I've got to get better at what I do. I'm part of the (problem). I fumbled."
As backup quarterback Charlie Batch said, "We did everything we thought we were going to do coming into the game."
Winning used to be so simple for the Steelers.