Ron Cook: Team could use Bettis talk

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Where's Jerome Bettis when you need him?

"I might have to call him this week," Steelers linebacker James Farrior was saying with a sigh in the wee hours yesterday, deep in the bowels of San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, not long after the Steelers put on an embarrassing performance on national television -- on Bettis' NBC network, no less -- in a 23-13 loss to the Chargers.

"I have to see if he has any good advice for us. We need some right now."

The Steelers need something, don't they?

"It's everybody. We're all playing bad. Everyone [stinks] right now," Farrior said.

A win Sunday at Heinz Field against the Kansas City Chiefs is what the Steelers need most. It wouldn't cure all that ails them, which is just about everything, but it at least would stop the bleeding from the three-game losing streak that has taken them from Super Bowl contenders to fighting the Cleveland Browns for last place in the AFC North.

This is just the eighth time in the Bill Cowher era that the Steelers have had a three-game losing streak, a phenomenal statistic considering Cowher has coached 249 games. The good news is the team survived the three-game slide last season that left it at 7-5 and virtually out of the playoff chase by winning its final four regular-season games and then going on to win the Super Bowl. The bad news is it didn't make the postseason in the four other seasons when it had its losing streaks.

Let's be realistic here.

The Steelers' situation isn't completely hopeless, but the odds, clearly, are against them being anything more than also-rans.

Not that they want to hear that.

Not with 12 games left.

"We've been here before," linebacker Larry Foote said. "We've just got to take the mind-set we can't lose again."

It would be nice if the Steelers could lean on Bettis and his wisdom when they report back to work at their South Side headquarters tomorrow. He was one of the great leaders in team history, a rock in every storm. But any lack of leadership is pretty far down their list of problems. The team has a number of solid leaders, and Cowher might be the NFL's strongest coach, especially in troubled times. No, not making plays is the big issue here. As Cowher put it, "We're just not getting important plays at important times."

There's no getting around this: The Steelers' stars aren't playing like stars.

The offensive line had its second poor outing in three games in San Diego, getting whipped by a Chargers front seven that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger described as "amazing." Roethlisberger was sacked five times and Willie Parker had little room to run. Hines Ward dropped another pass. Big Ben was Big Bad again. San Diego fans wouldn't trade their young quarterback -- Philip Rivers -- for him even-up today, that's for sure. Roethlisberger was intercepted twice on Sunday. That's seven in his three starts, all losses, to go with zero touchdown passes.

"I'm not going to point fingers," Roethlisberger said. "I'm pointing a thumb. That goes right back at me."

Unless Big Ben points it high or low or wide, of course.

You know, like his passes.

But it's not just Roethlisberger and the offense. It's the defense, too. It was lousy against the Chargers in the second half when it couldn't get off the field, blowing a 13-7 lead in the process. It allowed the Chargers to score on each of their four possessions and hold a sizable edge in plays (41-18), yards (239-49) and possession time (21:07-8:53).

Did you really notice linebacker Joey Porter after he hurried Rivers into an incompletion and tackled running back LaDainian Tomlinson for a 5-yard loss in the first half? Did you really notice safety Troy Polamalu after he blew up a screen pass to Tomlinson for a 7-yard loss in the first quarter?

That makes two of us.

The Steelers' special teams also are doing nothing to attract positive attention. Cowher thought a 51-yard kickoff return to start the second half by the Chargers' Michael Turner was a key play. How he would love to get that kind of return just one time. Actually, he'd probably settle for his guy merely catching the ball, but a long runback would be wonderful, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, it might be awhile before the Steelers get one now that new return man Willie Reid is expected to miss significant playing time with a foot injury.

"It seems like we can't do anything right," Farrior said. "I don't know what we have to do to get it fixed, but I'm sure we'll do it. This is a strong-minded team. I'm sure of that. We'll get through this. We'll be OK."

Farrior still might want to make that call to Bettis.

Hey, it couldn't hurt, right?



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