PITTSBURGH — The Steelers were in trouble, and they knew it. The Bengals exposed some weaknesses a month ago, the Chiefs and the Ravens took advantage of them, and now the Oakland Raiders — yes, even the Raiders — felt Pittsburgh could be beaten.
Just when it seemed as if it couldn't get any worse for the Super Bowl champions, it did.
They're losing confidence. The Raiders (4-8), with one of the league's worst offenses in years, sensed that while driving for three touchdowns in the final 8 1/2 minutes of their 27-24 comeback victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Detect a trend? For the second time in four seasons, the Steelers (6-6) followed up a Super Bowl win by losing the following season to Oakland, which has won only 15 games during that span. The Steelers didn't make the playoffs following that 2006 loss, and they're in danger of not making them now.
"I can't even describe how frustrating it is right now to be 6-6," linebacker James Farrior said. "We thought we'd be doing a lot better at this point. But we are what our record says we are."
The Steelers are losing direction, too. Last week was supposed to be Redemption Sunday, as coach Mike Tomlin called it, before they lost at Baltimore 20-17 in overtime. Then Tomlin promised the Steelers would "unleash hell" in December, only to watch them begin the month with one of the franchise's most unexpected losses at home in the last decade.
"It's a tough loss," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "This loss definitely hurts."
They were two-touchdown favorites over a Raiders team that scored only 10 touchdowns on offense in their first 11 games, yet the Steelers couldn't hold fourth-quarter leads of 10-6, 17-13 and 24-20.
A miracle? Not quite, but it was obvious from their post-game reaction that none of the Steelers expected this. Maybe the Raiders didn't quite believe it was possible, either.
"Our receivers coach (Sanjay Lal) gave us a message, and he brought up the Miracle on Ice, Buster Douglas knocking out (Mike) Tyson, and things that were just unbelievable but the people that did it believed they could," Raiders wide receiver Todd Watkins said.
Another disturbing trend: It was the fifth time in their six losses the Steelers lost a lead in the fourth quarter.
"I don't know that it was a result of any baggage that we brought into the stadium," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I just think we played poorly at a critical time."......