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Old 11-19-2010, 07:25 AM   #1
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Default Bires: State of the Steelers

Bires: State of the Steelers
By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

Thursday November 18, 2010 11:54 PM

Times photo by LUCY SCHALY Big Roethlisberger gets some support from Jonathan Scott during Sunday night's loss to New England.

PITTSBURGH — They may be 6-3. And they may be tied for the first place in their division. But these are indeed trying times for the Steelers.

They’re coping with injuries.

They’ve cut their once-reliable kicker.

They’re only 3-2 with their star quarterback after going 3-1 without him.

They’re coming off their worst home loss of the Mike Tomlin era.

And on Sunday, they’re facing a brash Oakland squad that’s well rested and riding an emotional high after winning its last three games.

No wonder Hines Ward described the Steelers’ state of affairs by saying “It’s time to have a sense of urgency.”

That sense of urgency was obvious as the Steelers practiced the past two days while wearing their shoulder pads. Ward, who’s in his 13th season, can’t remember the last time the Steelers practiced in full pads on a Wednesday.

Obviously, that’s one motivational ploy Tomlin used to refocus a team that has many issues as it heads into the homestretch.

Ward, too, found a way to motivate.

On Tuesday, Ward got a phone call from Ben Roethlisberger, who wanted to see how Ward was feeling after sustaining a concussion in last week’s 39-26 loss to New England.

After guaranteeing Roethlisberger that he’s fine and that he’ll play against the Raiders (5-4), Ward said, “Lead us. Show us how to do this.”

Roethlisberger answered, “Let’s do this together.”
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However the Steelers do it, it would behoove them to beat the Raiders. There’s already a lot on doubt of this team due to the injuries, the release of Jeff Reed and the way the Steelers’ pass defense got picked apart for the second time in three weeks.

The loss to New England also was a stark reminder that the Steelers also started the second of half of the 2009 season with a loss. They then lost four more in a row in a skid that kept them out of the playoffs.

One of the losses in that five-game skid last year was a 27-24 shocker against a 3-8 Raiders team that gashed the Steelers’ defense for 21 fourth-quarter points.

“That was bad,” recalled linebacker James Farrior.

In the three-a-half seasons of the Tomlin era, the Steelers have been terrific in the first half of those seasons. Each time, they’ve gone 6-2. That’s an impressive 24-8 combined.

But in the second half, Tomlin’s Steelers are a not-so dazzling 13-12.

That’s why Sunday’s game against the Raiders is so important.

A victory over Oakland would not only keep the Steelers among the top five teams in the AFC, it would do wonders for their psyche.

But a loss would cast a shadow of doubt over a team wondering if it’s on the verge of a second straight late-season meltdown.

Mike Bires can be reached at mbires@timesonline.com
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