PITTSBURGH – While many fans might be ready to pack it in on the Steelers’ season, the players and coaches have certainly not reached that point.
Despite a 2-6 start, one hammered home last week with a 55-31 loss at New England in which Pittsburgh set franchise records for points and yards allowed, the Steelers still believe they can their season around.
Don’t misunderstand. Nobody in Pittsburgh’s locker room is talking about the playoffs. But they are talking about pulling out of the doldrums of their worst start since 2006.
“We can’t look at the big picture, such as everyone’s record, (and think) are we in the playoffs?” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We’re just trying to get one win this week. Who do we have and how good can we play?”
Up next are the Buffalo Bills (3-6) today at Heinz Field.
How well the Steelers are capable of playing is open to debate. Pittsburgh has been within one score of leading or tying each game this season heading into the fourth quarter, including last week’s 27-24 deficit going into the fourth quarter at New England.
But they’ve found ways to lose six of those games. What makes them think that will change?
“We still have a lot of football to be played, and anything can happen,” said rookie running back Le’Veon Bell.
That’s certainly the case. Washington started 3-6 in 2012 and rallied to win its final seven games to make the playoffs.
But after allowing 197 yards rushing in each of its last two games, both losses, expecting this team to suddenly flip the switch and win its final seven games might be too much to ask.
The Steelers aren’t looking at it that way.
“For me, we are 0-0 and trying to get our first win,” said Roethlisberger. “That will have to be our approach the rest of the way out.
“Winning helps a lot of things. We will do our best to get that.”
A young, improving Buffalo team will be a stiff test.
Like the Steelers, the Bills have been in every game this season. In a 23-13 loss to unbeaten Kansas City last week, Buffalo did not allow an offensive touchdown.
Buffalo’s biggest issue has been a revolving door at quarterback. Rookie E.J. Manuel was the opening-day starter but suffered a sprained knee in a loss at Cleveland. He was replaced by Thad Lewis for the next three games, but Lewis suffered a rib injury and had to sit out the loss to Kansas City.
Undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel started last week against Kansas City, but Manuel will make his return to the lineup today.
The Bills selected Manuel in the first round of the draft because they liked his arm strength and mobility. Buffalo, which averages 145.2 rushing yards per game, will run some read-option using Manuel and running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller at different times.
The Steelers have fallen to 31st in the NFL in stopping the run.
“We’ve got to make sure we get back to our fundamentals,” said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. “We’ve gotten away from those too far. That’s on me. We are leaving too many windows, and we are getting hit in some of those windows. We are going to close them up.”
If they can do that and get a victory, it might not change what’s already happened, but it will give the Steelers something to build on.
“We just keep playing,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “That’s all you can do, try to go out each week and win that game. This week, we have to be good enough to beat the Buffalo Bills. We don’t have to be good enough to beat the New England Patriots again.”
Odds and end zones
Three former Steelers, offensive linemen Doug Legursky and Kraig Urbik, and fullback Frank Summers, start for the Bills. … The Steelers lead the all-time series against Buffalo, 12-8, including 7-1 in Pittsburgh. … Buffalo punter Brian Moorman was in training camp with the Steelers this season.