On the Steelers: Players dealing with adversity
Steelers cornerbacks Joe Burnett, left, and Anthony Madison go through a drill at yesterday's practice on the South Side.
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Two cue sticks lay untouched yesterday on the pool table that coach Mike Tomlin had installed in the Steelers' locker room this year. No one played pingpong on the table next to it. The mini-basketball court outlined on the floor on the other end went unused.
Normally, the Steelers' locker room at midweek has the feel of Dave & Buster's. Yesterday, the atmosphere turned nearly as chilly inside as it was out as the suddenly silent Steelers ride a four-game losing streak for the first time in six seasons.
"Yeah, it's real gloomy," offensive tackle Willie Colon acknowledged. "It's not a good day."
One month after the Super Bowl champs won their fifth game in a row to go 6-2 and head home to begin the season's second half against Cincinnati, they have fallen to 6-6, near hopelessly out of repeating as AFC North Division champs for the third time, clinging to faint playoff hopes and heading to Cleveland in looking for nothing more than a victory tomorrow night to stop the bleeding.
"It's tough," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "We haven't gone through this. Most of the guys in here haven't had this situation before. It's tough and frustrating, but we can't sit around here pouting, because it's not going to change the outcome of the game we played."
Half of their six losses came against teams that have losing records today -- Oakland and Kansas City combined have five other wins, Chicago is 5-7.
The Steelers' renowned confidence seems to have been diminished during the past month.
"You've got to acknowledge the potential that this can be kind of a shaken group," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've swallowed a lot of late."
How do they snap out of it?
"We have to keep playing football and doing what we do," Roethlisberger said. "You see a lot of guys are bummed and down today, but that is not going to change and give us a win over the Raiders. That's behind us. We can be mad and upset, but we have to move forward and that's the Cleveland Browns this week."
The lineup changes might not be as drastic tomorrow night in Cleveland as Tomlin implied during his news conference Monday.
Two days after his concussion, William Gay took his normal spot at left cornerback and went through a full practice after passing his tests.
"I went through all the tests and didn't have any symptoms. They allowed me to go out there and practice and see how I felt after practice," said Gay, who reported afterward that he felt fine with no headaches.
The possibility remains that rookie Joe Burnett will replace Gay as a starter and that rookie Keenan Lewis could rotate with right cornerback Ike Taylor. Those two rookies were mentioned by Tomlin as likely getting more playing time in Cleveland.
Taylor took issue with those who might think he deserves to see less playing time, although he acknowledged he did not play well in Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Raiders.
"Other than that game, I feel I played OK," Taylor said. "One game. It's just tough because it was at a crucial time. That was a game we really needed some plays on the back end. That's why everything is getting scrutinized. But it's cool and we'll move on."
Taylor, the Steelers' most consistent cornerback since the 2005 season, was demoted by Bill Cowher for five games in the second half of the 2006 season.
"It was tough, you know, coming off the Super Bowl especially, and the things I was doing," said Taylor, who often is assigned to cover the opponent's best receiver. "That was in past, this is 2009 and I'm still here."
He said the demotion by Cowher did help him "mentally, no question. A little adversity either brings out the best or the worst in somebody, and it definitely brought out the best."
The two rookie cornerbacks are ready to make their moves and Burnett has received the word.
"Coach Mike told me I missed one opportunity," Burnett said of his dropped interception with 40 seconds left against Oakland, "[and to] just be ready, 'you're going into the hunt this week, and go out and play ball.' "
Lewis said, "We both have been waiting on our opportunity to play. Now we have an opportunity to show we can play."
• Hines Ward, who said he has a hamstring sprain, ran yesterday and sounded as if he will not play tomorrow. "I want to try to go out there and play, but I have to be smart at the same time. Usually it takes a week and unfortunately it's a short week.
• Roethlisberger, who said he was "hurt" last week when Ward questioned why he did not play in Baltimore after a concussion, on Ward's possible absence tomorrow: "Hines will do what's best for Hines, I'm sure."
• Charlie Batch returned to practice wearing a soft cast and it's possible he could serve as the No. 3 quarterback tomorrow. Rashard Mendenhall (sprained ankle) was limited.
First Published December 9, 2009 12:00 am