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Steelers refuse to give up on season after setback in Oakland

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Raiders' Daneil Muir (right) takes down Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell in the third quarter Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. The Steelers are 31st in the NFL in rushing (481 yards) this season.

The Steelers' 2-5 start

First time since: 2006 (finished 8-8)

Record of opponents to date: 24-27

Record of remaining opponents: 34-27

Division leaders played to date: Bengals

Division leaders still to play: Patriots, Bengals, Packers

Points for-against: 125-153

Previous worst seven-game start under Mike Tomlin: 4-3 in 2012 (5-2 in other five seasons)

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Alan Robinson
Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 10:36 p.m.
 

They keep saying it right. They keep playing it wrong.

The Steelers lost in Oakland — stop if you've heard this one before — to fall to 2-5, the kind of record that, normally, ceases all playoff conversation from even the most optimistic of believers.

Overall, they are 14th in the 16-team AFC. They are 29th in the NFL in scoring — with only 125 points in seven games, they trail Denver by a whopping 218 points. They're 29th in giveaways/takeaways, tied for 30th in sacks.

Oh, and that 21-18 loss Sunday to the Raiders put them 3 12 games behind the first-place Bengals in the AFC North before midseason.

But perhaps still not quite believing the season is unraveling faster than a Terrelle Pryor length-of-the-field run, the Steelers keep talking as if this is any normal year — which, of course, it isn't. Lose Sunday to the Patriots (6-2), and they'll be 2-6 for only the fourth time since the 1970 NFL merger.

Listen to them speak in a subdued but certainly not somber locker room, and it's almost as if one win or one good performance would repair what is fast becoming the worst season of the Kevin Colbert-Mike Tomlin partnership:

Marcus Gilbert: “We're the type of team that when we face adversity, we answer it. ... We've got to come back swinging. We wanted to win this quarter of the season. We wanted to be 3-1, and we can still be 3-1.”

Even if the Steelers go 7-2 the rest of the way, there is no assurance that a 9-7 record would get them into the postseason.

Ben Roethlisberger: “We felt like we were doing some good things and we were getting better. We just weren't there in all phases.”

Roethlisberger was sacked five more times and, with 26 sacks, is on pace to be sacked a career-high 59 times.

Antonio Brown: “I think we can take a lot of positives out of this. We definitely can get better and need to get better. But we can't turn the ball over, and we need to start fast. ... We'll need to get in the film room, watch the tape and see where we are. I'm sure every man here will take it as an opportunity for us to get better.”

The Steelers have fallen behind by double-digit margins in each of their five losses — three times in the first half. They have been outscored 54-19 in the first quarter and 94-54 in the first half.

“We've stumbled coming out early and found ways to bounce back,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “We need to not get ourselves in a hole. When we don't get in a hole, we can be pretty tough.”

The Steelers didn't fall behind the Jets or Ravens big early, and they wound up winning both games. Now, though, it's difficult to envision a team that is down to third-team offensive linemen because of injuries, that is 31st in rushing with 481 yards (about one-third as many as the 49ers), putting together a season-saving comeback.

“That's the repercussions of going 0-4,” safety Ryan Clark said. “When you do have a slip-up or a game you don't win, it's magnified that much more because of the way you started.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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