LONDON -- It has been quite some time since the Steelers found themselves in this position.
Their traditional goal of winning their division and competing for the Super Bowl has changed dramatically. Their new mantra is to avoid a season for another kind of ages, one they have not experienced in quite some time.
Even ownership might not remember what a truly bad season looks, feels and tastes like.
Welcome to the world of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. Go 1-15 or even 4-12? Those records are for the underclass of the NFL, not the haughty Steelers, not the team that houses the most Lombardi Trophies, not one of the most stable franchises in football.
Ben Roethlisberger often talks about the 08ers, the 10 players still on their roster who won a Super Bowl. Others now mention the 68ers, the previous team of this proud franchise that lost its first four games. For the record, that team 45 years ago lost its first six, finished 2-11-1 and got its coach fired.
This team now wants to ward off a season becoming ...
"Dismal?" Ryan Clark answered. "Yeah, you do."
There will be some who want this team they see as hopelessly out of the playoff hunt to continue to lose to better their 2014 draft position. Those people don't populate their locker room.
"I have to hope we can turn it around because we have to believe we can still be part of something special," Roethlisberger said. "If you don't believe that, then you don't need to be on this team or out here."
Coach Mike Tomlin suggested as much after the game, that players who do not buy into turning things around will be gone. But replaced by whom? The outside world is not brimming with talent ready to ride into Heinz Field on a white horse to help save their season. If it's not on their current 53-man roster, it's not going to happen.
Some are still in shock. No player -- not even the head coach -- was born the previous time they went 0-4, which already is halfway to their loss total last season, regarded in the disastrous category by them and their fans at 8-8.
They have not had a losing season since they went 6-10 in 2003, which showed the floor can fall out without warning. That record came after they went 13-3 in 2001 and played host to the AFC championship game in spanking-new Heinz Field, and made the playoffs again in 2002, nearly repeating their visit to the title game.
Even though they came through their worst record under Tomlin last season, they had high expectations again for this one.
"I hadn't expected it at the beginning of the season," Clark said of their predicament. "This is not what we were expecting to be. But as the games go on, you lose the first one, you lose the second one, the third and the fourth. You understand after each one, the position you're in. It's tough, it's tough."
Thing is, it can get worse. Just as winning can become a habit, so can losing. The Steelers' worst record since the NFL merged with the AFL in 1970 occurred in 1988, and no one saw that coming, either. They were one strike-game playoff loss in 1987 from making the playoffs. A New York writer convinced a publishing company that Chuck Noll's Steelers were headed for big things in 1988, to follow them and write a book about it.
They went 5-11, and Sam Toperoff titled his book "Lost Sundays."
Today, they need to go 5-7 the rest of the way just to match that record.
"I said earlier in the season, probably after two losses, we're spoiled as an organization and as a group of players in that we're so big-picture oriented," Clark said. "When the season starts, 'Super Bowl' ... I think it's like that in every city."
And then, the losing begins, and it doesn't end.
"So, right now, it's about winning a game, right now it's about now having a zero in the win column," Clark said.
"We just have to be 1-0 in Week 6," William Gay said. "That's the bottom line. Down the road is down the road."
Tomlin did not say that to his team after the 34-27 loss Sunday against the previously winless Minnesota Vikings.
"He doesn't have to preach that," said Gay. "You should know that as an NFL player. You should just know that, period. What you can control is what's in front of you, which is Week 6."
But things can fly out of control as the losing mounts, come apart at the seams.
There were signs early, such as wide receiver Antonio Brown complaining he was not a target often enough in the first two games, or the veterans shutting down the locker room games for the young players, or the desperate attempts to find better combinations at tackle and running back.
"That can be an issue if you make it an issue," Gay said.
"We love each other too much in this locker room to not be together."
That so-called love, however, will be tested if they don't soon win.
"It's awful," Clark said. "In no way is it fun, in no way is it good or positive. We understand that. We're turning over the stones. We're trying our best to figure it out."
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 1, 2013 4:15 AM