PITTSBURGH - Coach Bill Cowher declined Tuesday to criticize the officials for several calls that went against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 41-38 overtime loss in Atlanta that left them with a 2-4 record.
After a fourth loss in five games, Cowher had reason enough to fault his own players as they continued a season-long pattern: Namely, play well in the first half and then self-destruct in the second.
All but three of the Steelers' 14 turnovers have come in the second half
, a key reason why the Super Bowl champions trail Baltimore (4-2) and Cincinnati (4-2) by two games in the AFC North.
"Those are very hard to overcome," Cowher said. "There's a lot of things that lead to that; it's the attention to detail and being able to close a close game out."
The mistakes, penalties and misplays have repeated themselves, something that rarely occurred with Cowher's better teams. For example, he promised after his team was flagged for an excessive celebration penalty Sept. 24 against Cincinnati that it wouldn't happen again, only to have it occur again Sunday.
"I guess you should never say never," Cowher said.
The Steelers already have four losses - or only two fewer than they had in 2005 (11-5) and 2004 (15-1) combined. And after going 4-0 away from Pittsburgh in the postseason while winning the Super Bowl, they are 0-3 on the road this season.
Still, Cowher wouldn't label the season as frustrating.
"Frustration is an emotion you can control," he said. "This is challenging."
Cowher can't do anything about the injuries, such as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's concussion that forced him out of the Atlanta game. Cowher is certain something can be done about the wave of errors, including the three lost fumbles and 65 penalty yards on Sunday.
"As we sit here at 2-4, obviously it's not where we wanted to be or envisioned ourselves being," Cowher said. "It's important that we do a better job of coaches as stressing the detail and the little things, and do a better job of players sustaining that focus throughout the game."
Some other mistakes seemed to mystify Cowher - a fumbled center exchange between Roethlisberger and Jeff Hartings, a missed block on a Willie Parker fumble that led to right guard Kendall Simmons being benched for second-year lineman Chris Kemoeatu.
"We're just doing things where we're having to overcome ourselves," Cowher said. "It's hard enough to beat teams that are good football teams."
The Steelers' schedule hasn't proven easy, either. Since beating Miami (1-6), the Steelers have played three teams that currently have four victories and two teams that have three.
Despite his reluctance to analyze the officiating - and possibly draw a fine for doing so - Cowher was unhappy with an offsides penalty on wide receiver Nate Washington that prevented a possible game-winning field goal attempt in the closing seconds of regulation Sunday.
Team owner Dan Rooney said it was the kind of call - flinching - that shouldn't have been made as both teams were rushing to get set along the line of scrimmage.
"I'd rather not get into that," Cowher said. "It was made. We should have never put them in that situation, but they made the call and we'll leave it as that."
The last time the Steelers were 2-4, in 2003, they didn't bounce back and would go 6-10, the only time in the last five seasons they didn't win at least 10 games.
"The worst thing you could do right now is to try to do some kind of overhaul or try to overanalyze the facts," Cowher said. "We've got to keep getting back up. I'm not going to allow them to change how we approach these games or alter the mindset going into these games. We've just got to finish these games."