Must wins are out of the question this early in the season. Call a game Sunday for the Steelers against the Philadelphia Eagles at Heinz Field one they had better win.
The Steelers lost two of their first three and then mercifully took a week off while Cincinnati and Baltimore each have run out to 3-1 records atop the AFC North Division. No Mike Tomlin team has started 1-3, and to open 1-3 could be calamitous to their playoff chances.
"It's a big game, it's no secret, it's a big game," halfback Isaac Redman said. "There's no way we can come back [after a week off and go] 1-3. We're going to take it a lot more serious this week and hunker down."
All five previous Tomlin-coached teams have gone 6-2 at the midway point of the season. They would have to win their next five to make it six for six. A loss to the Eagles (3-1) would drop them to 1-3 for the first time since 2006 when coach Bill Cowher's final team finished 8-8.
Only a handful of teams have made the playoffs the past 10 years after opening at 1-3. One of them was the 2002 Steelers, who switched quarterbacks after three games from Kordell Stewart to Tommy Maddox. They finished 10-5-1 and were a step from the AFC championship game before losing in overtime at Tennessee.
The only team to win a Super Bowl after starting 1-3 were the 2001 New England Patriots.
"There's no panic in here," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Monday in the middle of the Steelers locker room. "It's still a marathon, but we need to get a win. We're playing a very good team coming in here. We're glad to be back at home and we'll see what we can do."
The Steelers have lost both games on the road this season. Their most recent loss at Heinz Field came Nov. 6 to Baltimore when the Ravens drove 92 yards in the final two minutes to score a touchdown with eight seconds left and win, 23-20.
"The important thing now is Philly in our house, the battle for Pennsylvania," tackle Max Starks said. "There's going to be an emphasis that we're in tip-top performance level, especially at home, you want to make sure you're dominant at home. If we want to go anywhere else, we're going to have to start winning on the road."
They will get that chance after they play the Eagles -- a Thursday night game four days later at Tennessee, followed 10 days later in Cincinnati.
Linebacker James Harrison went through just his third full practice of the season Monday and was waiting to see how his left knee responds today and Wednesday. On the two previous occasions he practiced, it did not go well.
He practiced last week on Tuesday but had what his agent termed "a little setback" and skipped the following day.
He declined to get specific about his knee, saying, "These questions you're asking me, I'll probably have a better idea on Friday."
Harrison did little in the spring because of discomfort and swelling on his left knee and did nothing in training camp. The knee was scoped Aug. 15 and six weeks later he's still been unable to stabilize it.
"You know, it's just something you got to deal with," Harrison said Monday. "The constant questioning, of course, it nags and irks on you. You get to a point to where you're like, you know what, I'll find a way to deal with it, the only way to deal with it now is Fridays, I'll deal with it one day."
The Steelers resume practice Wednesday.
The Steelers enter their fourth game ranked No. 6 overall as a defense and No. 3 as a pass defense in the NFL. The rankings are based on yards allowed.
Somehow, even the players don't believe they've lived up to those rankings.
"Getting off the field on third downs is a big issue for us, as well as red-zone defense," safety Troy Polamalu said. "We just have to make better adjustments on the field in what we see and anticipating what we are going to get from their offense."
The Steelers also have made few big plays. They have forced two turnovers on defense (plus one on special teams) to go with just five quarterback sacks.
Polamalu has missed the past two games and Harrison has missed all three..
"We haven't been executing really well at all, no matter if [coordinator Dick LeBeau] is calling the most basic forms of our defenses or some of them that take a little bit of thinking and experience," Polamalu said. "Whatever call he makes, we haven't been executing well at all."Steelers
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published October 2, 2012 4:00 AM