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'Hellish' losing streak continues

| Monday, Dec. 7, 2009

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger addressed a group of shell-shocked teammates in the Steelers' locker room late Sunday afternoon. His message: Everybody could share in the blame following a devastating 27-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

"I don't truly agree," free safety Ryan Clark said. "They (the Steelers' offense) did what they were supposed to do, and we (the defense) didn't."

Clark wouldn't get many, if any, arguments outside the Steelers' locker room.

A defense that has failed to protect late leads five times this season collapsed in the fourth quarter against the lowly Raiders (4-8).

As a result of their secondary getting torched by a journeyman quarterback (Bruce Gradkowski) and a rookie wide receiver (Louis Murphy), the Steelers had their losing streak extended to four games, their longest skid since 2003.

It may be premature to say they hit bottom after losing to a double-digit underdog at home since the Steelers have a game Thursday against the Browns.

The Browns have just one victory, and if the Steelers lose in Cleveland for the first time since 2000, they will all but eliminate themselves from playoff contention.

Even if the Steelers (6-6) manage to turn it around and reel off four victories, the reigning Super Bowl champions can't be sure that will be enough to get them into postseason play.

"That's probably the worst part out of everything is you just don't know," Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We needed a win (yesterday), and we didn't get it."

After a 20-17 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens last week, coach Mike Tomlin vowed that the Steelers would "unleash hell in December."

Little did he know that the Steelers would unleash it on themselves.

The Steelers allowed the Raiders to stay close through the first three quarters. When it turned into a shootout late, the Steelers couldn't keep pace with Gradkowski, who entered the game with 12 career touchdown passes, or Murphy, a fourth-round selection - 45 picks after Steelers guard Kraig Urbik, who has yet to dress for a game this season.

Gradkowski threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter alone. Two went to Murphy, including an 11-yarder with nine seconds left in the game.

As the defensive players sifted through the wreckage of another loss, they acknowledged they are running out of time to answer a question that has been both vexing and perplexing: Why does a unit that is statistically among the best in the NFL keep coughing up leads in the fourth quarter?

In five of the six losses this season, the Steelers led at one point in the fourth.

"It's unbelievable, man, I don't know what it is," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "I can't put my finger on it, but it's very disappointing. I'm used to our defense making plays when we need to make plays."

What the Steelers have collectively done is akin to forgetting how to ride a bike.

What made yesterday a new low for a proud defense: It allowed Gradkowski, a Seton-La Salle High graduate, to march the Raiders 88 yards in less than two minutes after an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward staked the Steelers to a 24-20 lead.

"Trust me, I lose sleep at night thinking about it," Keisel said of the games the Steelers have let slip away. "We feel like we can beat anybody, so it's tough when you lose those games."

Additional Information:

William Gay injured

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay sustained an apparent concussion during an accidental helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Ryan Mundy during the fourth quarter of the Oakland Raiders' 27-24 comeback victory Sunday.

As the Raiders' Louis Murphy was catching a 19-yard pass at the Steelers 40 with 53 seconds remaining, Gay and Mundy converged on the receiver at the same time, and Mundy's helmet slammed into Gay's. The cornerback lay on the turf for several minutes before being helped off the field.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Gay is believed to have a concussion. Gay did not require hospitalization and was at his locker after the game.

? The Associated Press

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