By John Harris
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Play the game of football long enough, and anything is possible.
There will be seasons like last year, when the Steelers overcame injuries and adversity, snuck into the playoffs, played lights-out and won a Super Bowl.
And then, there are seasons like the Steelers are having in 2006, when there are plenty of injuries, careless penalties, stretches of being manhandled in the trenches, troubling mental errors, and everything backfires.
At times, the 2-5 Steelers are playing good enough to win but just bad enough to lose, and they're not catching any breaks.
They're not creating any breaks, either.
"Last year, all the balls were bouncing our way. This year, we aren't getting those same bounces," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said. "We've got to find a way to adjust, to keep battling, keep fighting, and hopefully, we will."
When the Steelers lost to Jacksonville, Cincinnati, San Diego and Atlanta, they at least fell to talented teams. So, it became easy to overlook the warning signs of a team on the decline.
But, when the Steelers lost their second consecutive game, at Oakland, in a game in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed four interceptions, they couldn't use lack of talent as an excuse.
Truth be told, Oakland beat up the Steelers physically. Running back Verron Haynes and linebacker Arnold Harrison were lost for the season with knee injuries. Center Jeff Hartings also left with a knee injury.
Because the Steelers lost to an inferior opponent that left everything on the field, the players were forced to take a hard look at themselves.
The Steelers had the better team, but the better team didn't win.
"They just wanted it more," Ward said.
That's not to say the Steelers don't want to win. They do.
They've earned the right to be confident based on winning the Super Bowl, but the margin of victory in the NFL is small.
The Steelers weren't a dominant team last year, as much as they were a team that got hot at the right time.
A team that made precious few mistakes down the stretch in 2005 now finds it can't stop turning the ball over.
"Basically, you're asking why we're having so many turnovers. It's just a hard question to answer," Hartings said. "Why, in the last eight games last year, we didn't have hardly any turnovers. And, in the first seven games this year, we can't seem to not turn the ball over.
"Maybe, we just need to have more attention to detail in practice. Everybody."