AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers-LeGarrette Blount union is not going to end well.

The only question after Blount reportedly left the field before the end of the Steelers' 27-24 win against the Tennessee Titans is whether it ends sooner rather than later.

Blount couldn't be bothered to stick around for a win that Le'Veon Bell, his best friend on the team, helped deliver because he didn't receive one carry Monday night at LP Field.

The selfish act screamed the kind of me-first attitude that may explain why Blount is with his fourth team in five NFL seasons even though he is averaging 4.6 yards per carry for his career.

Cutting ties with Blount, who picked up an early strike with the Steelers in August when he and Bell were charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana, would easily be addition by subtraction.

The Steelers probably would love nothing more than to get Blount as far away from Bell as possible -- and to jettison the kind of attitude that might poison younger players.

Releasing Blount, who signed a two-year, $3.85 million deal last March, wouldn't put the Steelers in a tough place from a salary-cap standpoint because they only guaranteed his $975,000 signing bonus. If the Steelers release Blount before the end of this season or in the offseason he will count just $475,000 against their 2015 salary cap.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
Bill Streicher/USA TODAY SportsIn 11 games played for the Steelers this season, LeGarrette Blount has 130 fewer carries and 685 fewer yards than teammate Le'Veon Bell.
That is a pittance.

The problem with the math when it comes to cutting Blount before the end of this season is the Steelers simply don't have many bodies -- or options -- at running back.

Rookie Dri Archer is the No. 3 back behind Bell and Blount and the scatback has played so sparingly that he is averaging just over one carry per game.

Bell, as he showed in his trucking of the Titans, is fully capable of handling a full workload. And the second-year man gets a bye week to rest up before the Steelers play their final five games of the regular season.

But if Bell were to go down for an injury for an extended period of time and the Steelers had only Archer in reserve -- and whatever back they signed off the street if they released Blount -- the season might go with him.

The short-term risk may just be worth it in the long run considering the message it would send.

But it is probably not one the Steelers are willing to take just yet because they are 7-4 and just percentage points out of first place in the AFC North.

Blount, however, can probably count on some terse words from coach Mike Tomlin, a fine of some sort and maybe even a suspension unless he has some plausible explanation for why he left the field early.

Tomlin also can point out that even though Blount's days in Pittsburgh are probably numbered, he better be on his best behavior the rest of the season.

Blount, after all, is going to have to convince yet another team to take a chance on him. The only question is when that time will come.
PITTSBURGH -- Wide receiver Markus Wheaton is in his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and he has learned one important lesson.

If he wants to catch extra balls after practice from a JUGGS machine he needs to do everything he can to make sure he gets in line ahead of Antonio Brown.

“With him,” Wheaton says with a smile, “there’s no telling how many he catches. Usually you’re out there waiting for a while.”

Brown’s tireless approach to getting better has made him one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.

Brown has made the Pro Bowl twice in his first four seasons even though he lasted until the 195th pick of the 2010 NFL draft. And, barring injury, he will hold team records for the most catches, receiving yards and all-purpose yards by a player in his first five seasons before the end of 2014.

[+] EnlargeDominique Franks
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDespite being 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Antonio Brown is known for stiffarming opponents in the open field.
And, says the 26-year-old Brown, “You still ain’t getting the best part of my game yet. I’ve still got room to grow.”

In many ways, yes.

But Brown stopped growing physically after he reached 5-10, and his relative lack of size is the biggest reason why he is just starting to get mentioned among the top players at his position.

The NFL has long been enamored with tall wide receivers, and Brown is at the forefront of smaller players re-asserting themselves as premier pass catchers. After the 10th week of the season six of the top 10 players in wide receiving yards were 6-feet or shorter.

Brown topped the list in both catches and receiving yards heading into Week 11, and no less an authority than Jerry Rice has said he is the best young wideout in the game. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell says he is the best wide receiver, period.

“I know others guys are bigger and maybe have better career numbers, but if you look at who’s doing it right now who’s doing it better?” said Mitchell, who is in his first season with the Steelers after previously playing for the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders. “He plays like he’s 7-feet tall. He stiff arms safeties when he’s running the ball, and have you seen him lose a jump ball?”

Watching Brown stiff-arm an opponent or run with the ball in the open field makes it clear that the 5-10, 186-pounder is blessed with exquisite instincts.

And he did not get stiffed in the gene pool either, as his father, Eddie Brown, is a former standout wide receiver who in 2006 was voted the best player in the history of the Arena Football League.

But ask those who are around Brown on a regular basis the secret to his success, and they contend that there is no secret: Brown simply refuses to let anybody outwork him.

He never slows down, not even in offseason practices. Brown sprints to the end zone every time he makes a catch in the non-contact practices, a habit that the Steelers coaches make sure to point out to his teammates. During the season Brown puts in a full day at Steelers’ headquarters, and then two nights a week he will also go to a local gym to get in another workout.

“Just my regimen,” Brown says with the easy smile that is also one of his signatures. “That’s what I do.”

His teammates aren’t nearly as nonchalant about what Brown does.

“How many No. 1 receivers in the NFL are catching punts in practice and running it all way back for a touchdown?” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says. “Then Dri [Archer] steps up and [Brown] tells him to get out because he wants another one. His work ethic and demeanor and attitude are just unbelievable. He’s literally nonstop and I’ll grab him and pull him aside and make up a fake conversation just to keep him out of running so many (punts) back and wearing himself down. His work ethic and attitude are just unbelievable.”

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who has been coaching in the NFL since 1997, agreed.

“He works as hard as anybody that I have seen,” Haley says. “He is very driven to prove that he is among the elite guys at his position right now. I think from a big picture standpoint, he is one that they will talk about for a long time.”
PITTSBURGH -- There may not be a more intriguing prospect in the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room than practice squad player Alejandro Villanueva.

The former Army Ranger is learning the nuances of offensive tackle following his distinguished military service, and there is a lot to like about Villanueva.

The 6-foot-9, 267-pounder has the frame to play tackle in the NFL and he is plenty athletic. Villanueva started at offensive tackle for two seasons at Army. His senior season he moved to wide receiver and led the Black Knights in receiving in 2009 with 34 catches for 522 yards and five touchdowns.

“Catching the football is really fun and that’s what I found out in college, but I think this position is where I belong,” Villanueva said. “I love playing line, especially with the great guys that the [Steelers] have and Coach [Mike Munchak]. So for me, it’s a great opportunity.”

To say Villanueva took a circuitous route to his current opportunity is an understatement.

He fulfilled his military commitment after graduating from West Point, serving with distinction in Afghanistan before pursuing his dream of playing in the NFL.

The Philadelphia Eagles signed Villanueva last May and gave him a long look at defensive end. After the Eagles released Villanueva before final cuts in the preseason, the Steelers brought him in for a workout.

They signed him to the practice squad in early September after coach Mike Tomlin met with Villanueva and told him that they wanted to develop him as an offensive tackle.

Villanueva was more than agreeable to it, especially since he has the chance to work with Munchak, a Pro Football Hall of Fame guard who also has extensive experience coaching offensive linemen.

“He’s a great coach, so I enjoy coming in to work," Villanueva said. "Obviously in the offseason he’ll have some time to develop me and spend more time. I feel confident that I can do it. I’m going to keep working.”

Tomlin announced at the beginning of the week that Villanueva will travel with the team to Tennessee on Sunday. A handful of veteran players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, suggested the gesture as a way of honoring Villanueva less than a week after Veteran’s Day.

“I think it’s the least that we can do for someone that has done so much for our country,” Roethlisberger said.
PITTSBURGH – Todd Haley did not give himself a pass for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ lackluster performance in a 20-13 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday.

“When it’s a poor performance, it takes everybody,” the Steelers’ offensive coordinator said on Thursday. “That goes for me as well.”

The lack of production from the Steelers’ offense was the most surprising development last Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

The Steelers had averaged 41.3 points during a three-game winning streak but they managed just one touchdown against the Jets, who started a pair of backups at cornerback and were 1-8 entering the game.

The Steelers did not find the end zone until there was just over a minute left in the game when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant.

Take away that play and the Steelers managed just 182 yards of offense against the Jets.

The Steelers also committed four turnovers against a team that had three takeaways in its first nine games. And they failed to run the ball effectively for the second consecutive game as the Steelers managed just 36 rushing yards on 17 carries.

Pittsburgh has a more favorable matchup Monday night at Tennessee as the Titans are allowing 136.6 rushing yards per game.

"We want to run the ball efficiently. Last week, we were probably disappointed in the way we ran it. We fell behind and stopped running it for the most part,” Haley said. “There will be games where we feel the best way to win is by throwing it. There will be games where we feel the best way to win is to try to run the heck out of it. But obviously the more balanced you are, which I think we have the chance to be a really balanced group because we can run and pass against anybody, then you have a chance to be real good.”
PITTSBURGH -- It is no coincidence that Ben Roethlisberger's relationship with Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt improved as the Pittsburgh Steelers' quarterback got older.

Roethlisberger and Whisenhunt each learned on the job in 2004, with the former starting as a rookie following an early injury to Tommy Maddox and the latter serving as an offensive coordinator for the first time.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Elsa/Getty ImagesBen Roethlisberger still keeps in touch with Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, who was his offensive coordinator for three seasons in Pittsburgh.
The difference is that Roethlisberger was just 22 years old when he entered the NFL and only played three seasons at Miami (Ohio) after redshirting as a freshman before bypassing a fifth season to enter the draft. Whisenhunt, meanwhile, had been in the NFL for 16 seasons as a player and a coach before becoming the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

That gulf between their respective NFL experiences sometimes led to Whisenhunt playing the role of father who had to reign in the willful teenager who yearned for more freedom. That dynamic inevitably led to some disagreements during the three seasons Roethlisberger and Whisenhunt worked together.

"It’s simple now looking back on it, but things he would (do) -- something that I’m sure every coordinator and quarterback do -- is they go through the plays [and] if I say I don’t like a play, usually coordinators take it out," said Roethlisberger, who will lead the Steelers against Whisenhunt’s Titans on Monday night. "He would kind of try to convince me that it was a good play. And he probably knew better, because I was a young guy and didn’t know much about the NFL at the time. But if you want to call that butting heads, I guess that’s what you would call it."

The two were perceived to have a strained relationship when Whisenhunt left the Steelers in 2007 to become the Arizona Cardinals’ head coach. Even if that was the case, there is mutual respect and admiration between the two, and they still stay in touch via text messages.

Roethlisberger would be the first to admit that the older he has gotten, the smarter Whisenhunt has become.

The 11th-year veteran also understands, in retrospect, why the Steelers were committed to running the ball and playing good defense his first three seasons in the league.

"I think some of that, too, with Coach Whiz was because of the Chin (former Steelers coach Bill Cowher) he had looking down on him," Roethlisberger said. "He had to kind of run it a certain way, and that’s just the way it goes."

Bruce Arians, who succeeded Whisenhunt as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator and later as the Cardinals’ head coach, gave Roethlisberger more freedom and input in the offense. Roethlisberger said that had as much to do with his "growth and maturity" after three NFL seasons.

And, Roethlisberger added, "B.A. and I butted heads, too, and people thought we were too close."

Whisenhunt said he only has fond memories of coaching Roethlisberger, no matter what bumps popped up along the way.

"I was very lucky to have an opportunity to work with Ben," Whisenhunt said. "I admire the fact that he’s been such a good player for so long now. I’m not excited about facing him, because of the way he’s playing right now, but I certainly have a great deal of respect for the pro that he’s become."
PITTSBURGH -- Comparisons have been floated this week between Tennessee Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will duel Monday night in Nashville.

They are premature -- if not patently absurd -- since Mettenberger has as many NFL starts (two) as Roethlisberger has Super Bowl victories.

But Nate Washington, who has played with both quarterbacks early in their respective careers, said he can see some parallels, starting with arm strength.

"(Mettenberger) can make those tight throws like Ben can," said Washington, who has been with the Titans since 2009 after playing parts of four seasons with the Steelers. "You see those types of plays develop in order to give them a chance. He is one of the guys when plays break down, he seems to find a way to make a play with his arm. Those are a lot of things that kind of remind me of Ben, seeing those types of things and that type of play from him."

Mettenberger will have to buck history in order to beat Big Ben in the nationally televised game on ESPN.

Rookie quarterbacks have won just two of 17 games against the Steelers since 2004, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the year Dick LeBeau returned to Pittsburgh for a second stint as the defensive coordinator.

Of course, if anyone can prepare Mettenberger for a LeBeau-coached defense, it is Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt.

He and LeBeau matched wits for three years in training camp and practices when Whisenhunt was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.

They were also golfing buddies off the field -- both are excellent players -- and Whisenhunt said LeBeau’s influence helped him when he became a head coach in 2007.

Whisenhunt, who was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator in Roethlisberger’s first three NFL seasons, has tried to downplay comparisons between Roethlisberger and Mettenberger. But Whisenhunt admitted that, like Roethlisberger, Mettenberger did not take long to open his eyes.

"I know one of the things that impressed me very early with Ben, and I remember talking with Coach (Dick) LeBeau about it on the field, was some of the throws he made in practice," said Whisenhunt, who is in his first season with the Titans. "I would say that it is fair to say that some of the throws that Zach has made in practice were the kind of things that got your attention."
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell declined to comment on New York Jets coach Rex Ryan calling his late-game dive over the line of scrimmage last Sunday “bush league.”

The sixth-year veteran angered Ryan and the Jets when he hurtled himself at quarterback Michael Vick with just over a minute to play in New York’s 20-13 win. Vick took a knee with the Steelers out of timeouts and Mitchell landed awkwardly, leaving him with a sore hip.

His leap touched off pushing and shoving between the two teams and Ryan later condemned the play.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin largely agreed with Ryan calling it “unprofessional” on Tuesday. Tomlin also said there may have been some miscommunication between the two and that Mitchell may have mistakenly thought the eighth-year coach gave the green light for Mitchell’s leap.

When asked if he and Tomlin have worked through any communication issues that may have occurred at the end of the Jets game, Mitchell said, “We’re always on the same page.”

Mitchell otherwise declined to answer questions that weren’t related to the Steelers’ upcoming game against the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans are just 2-7 but they have beaten the Steelers in each of the past two seasons. The Steelers, meanwhile, are just 1-2 against teams that are currently five games under .500 or worse.

They are the only team in the NFL with more than one loss against a team that falls into that category.

“I feel like if you have a losing record I’m real nervous when we play you,” Mitchell said. “We’ve never overlooked an opponent before but for whatever reason it’s been tough for us this year, so we’ve got to find a way to beat the teams we’re supposed to beat. This is going to be a tough game. It’s on the road, hostile environment on 'Monday Night Football,' so it’s going to be a good test for us.”
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger noticed something about offensive line coach Mike Munchak on Wednesday.

“You could tell a little bit that he’s got a little extra in him,” Roethlisberger said.

Munchak wouldn’t be human if he didn’t.

The Steelers visit the Tennessee Titans on Monday night, and it will be a bittersweet homecoming for Munchak.

Munchak spent more than 30 years with the Titans organization as a player and a coach.

The Titans, however, fired Munchak last January after he went 22-26 in three seasons as head coach. The Steelers hired Munchak less than a month later and he’s been shaping what has been an improved offensive line since the offseason.

“He’s done a wonderful job making everyone better,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “Even though he played guard, he’s making the tackles better, he’s making the centers better, making everybody more accountable and just bringing us together as a unit.”

Munchak didn’t just play guard during a 12-year career with the franchise that was then the Houston Oilers. Munchak played it well enough to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Those credentials -- and the years he also distinguished himself coaching the offensive line -- made Munchak one of the Steelers’ most significant offseason additions.

And he's been exactly what the Steelers thought they were getting when they hired him -- from the respect he commands from his players to his making them better by emphasizing fundamentals.

“He’s simplified things, made things very easy, very smooth,” right guard David DeCastro said. “Everyone’s on the same page and that’s what you want, all five working as one. He’s just really brought that together.”

Munchak is not a fiery guy – his temperament is probably closest to DeCastro among the players he coaches – but he knows how to motivate the Steelers’ offensive linemen.

“He has a way of poking at me, finding things to kind of push buttons,” Beachum said. “It’s all in fun and games, but it’s also finding a way to get me better.”

When asked for an example of Munchak’s button-pushing, Beachum smiled.

“I’m going to leave that alone,” he said.

His players will largely do the same with questions about how much it would mean to Munchak for the Steelers to beat the Titans.

“Obviously there’s a little extra motivation,” DeCastro said, “but we’re going to play hard regardless.”
PITTSBURGH – Cornerback William Gay, who has lent his voice and support to ending domestic violence, is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Walter Payton Man of the Year.

The award, which is named after the late, great Chicago Bears running back, is given to one player on every NFL team and it recognizes contributions on and off the field.

Gay, a fifth-round pick in 2007, has never missed a game since breaking into the NFL. He has played 121 consecutive games, the most of any defensive back in the NFL, and Gay leads the Steelers with 12 passes broken up.

He returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown in the Steelers’ 51-34 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in late October.

Gay’s contributions off the field have been even more significant.

He has worked closely with the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and recently the two helped launch the RUSafe app.

The app helps people determine if they are in an abusive relationship and puts them in touch with a local hotline. Gay, who lost his mother to domestic violence as a child, is the national spokesman for RUSafe.

He is also one of 23 current and former NFL players who appear in a public service announcement aimed at ending domestic violence.

Gay is eligible for the national Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which will be announced before Super Bowl XLIX.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin opened his weekly news conference by thanking all of those who serve and have served in the military.

He also announced that the Steelers would do more than just honor West Point graduate Alejandro Villanueva, an offensive lineman, on Veteran's Day.

Villanueva, who was signed to the Steelers' practice squad in early September, will make the trip with the team to Nashville on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeAlejandro Villanueva
Frank DiBrango/Icon SMISteelers practice-squad player Alejandro Villanueva played at Army before distinguishing himself as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, among other places.
The Steelers play the Tennessee Titans on Monday night and practice-squad players generally don't travel with the team to road games.

"Just a sign or a token of our appreciation for not only the sacrifice he's made but all of the men and women in the history of our country," Tomlin said of the Steelers' decision to have Villanueva travel with them to Nashville. "Truly a humbling thing and it's great to have him be a part of us. It makes it personal in terms of understanding that sacrifice."

Villanueva who has as unique a story as anyone on the Steelers -- or in any NFL locker room -- is trying to achieve his dream of playing football at the highest level after distinguishing himself as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, among other places.

Villanueva tried to make the Philadelphia Eagles as a defensive end but he was cut in the preseason. The Steelers signed Villanueva with the hopes of turning him into an offensive tackle.

He has fit in well with the Steelers and left his teammates, especially the offensive linemen, in awe when they have asked him about his service.

On this day -- but not only this day -- it is worth reading Villanueva's story, which ESPN's Ashley Fox wrote last May, and giving thanks to the people who protect our country.

"We acknowledged him (Monday) in our team meeting," Tomlin said of Villanueva. "We'll honor him not only today but all week."
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers will be without perennial Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier for at least another week.

 Coach Mike Tomlin has already ruled out both players as well as veteran cornerback Ike Taylor for the Steelers’ Monday night game at Tennessee.

Polamalu (knee) and Shazier (ankle) did not play in the Steelers’ 20-13 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday. Taylor has been out since breaking his forearm on Sept. 21 in Carolina though he has been practicing on a limited basis.

Shazier, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick last May, has already missed five games this season. The Ohio State product missed four games after spraining his knee in the Steelers’ 37-19 win at Carolina.

Sean Spence and Vince Williams split duties at weakside inside linebacker against the Jets with Spence playing in the Steelers’ base defense and Williams playing in the nickel package.

The Steelers may be without another defensive starter when they visit the 2-7 Titans.

Nose tackle Steve McLendon re-aggravated the shoulder injury that cost him two games earlier this season, and he is questionable to play against the Titans, Tomlin said Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers spelled McLendon last Sunday, playing 10 snaps against the Jets compared to 36 for McLendon.

Tomlin is hopeful that Shamarko Thomas or Ross Ventrone -- or both -- is able to play against the Jets.

Both safeties are nursing hamstring injuries, and Thomas has missed the past two games. Ventrone did not play against the Jets.

“Obviously, we could use one or both of those guys at the safety position and both are known special-team commodities,” Tomlin said.

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
A weekly look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers must fix:

Le'Veon Bell saved the Steelers' season a month ago with a 43-yard catch and run that served as the catalyst for a three-game winning streak. Now it's time for the Steelers to re-establish Bell in the running game after a bad loss to the New York Jets renewed questions about whether Pittsburgh is a contender or simply a pretender in the AFC.

Bell has rushed for just 56 yards on 21 carries the last two weeks, but the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder will have a favorable matchup on Monday night when the Steelers visit the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans have been soft against the run, which is one reason why they have lost seven of their last eight games after an impressive win in their season opener. Tennessee is allowing 136.6 rushing yards per game, 29th in the NFL, making this the perfect game for the Steelers to return to setting up the pass with the run -- as opposed to the other way around.

They let the Jets dictate what they did offensively in a 20-13 loss Sunday, throwing underneath passes too frequently against a secondary that started a pair of backups at cornerback.

The Steelers must be the aggressor against the reeling Titans, and it starts with the run.

Bell is third in the NFL with 747 rushing yards despite averaging only 51.3 yards in the Steelers' last four games. The second-year man is fresh as he is only averaging 16.2 carries per game.

The Steelers should give Bell the ball early against the Titans.

And then hand it to him again and again.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- "Same old Steelers" is a phrase that predates the glorious rise of the organization in the 1970s, and the context of it is hardly flattering.

It is what local sports fans would often mutter when the Pittsburgh Steelers would lose, something they had a habit of doing before Chuck Noll arrived as head coach in 1969 and transformed the franchise.

The current Steelers are in danger of dusting off the phrase that has mothballs on its mothballs because of their maddening inconsistency and tendency to follow a big win with a loss to an underwhelming opponent.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsOf their four losses this season, the Steelers have fallen to two teams with losing records.
It happened again on Sunday when the Steelers spotted the New York Jets 17 first-quarter points and never recovered in a 20-13 loss at MetLife Stadium.

Pittsburgh has now lost 10 of their last 18 games to teams that had a losing record when the Steelers played them, dating back to 2012.

That trend is what most threatens the Steelers' bid to return to the playoffs after consecutive 8-8 seasons, and the players are at a loss to explain it.

"If I had an answer for that I would give it," veteran defensive end Brett Keisel said.

The Steelers better find some answers.

They are in a division that is the first one to have all teams in it at least two games over .500 at any point of the season since 1935, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Eleven out of 16 teams in the AFC, meanwhile, will take a winning record into the 11th week of the season. A team that suffers a bad loss could be left on the outside looking in when the playoff field is set.

The Steelers have two such losses, falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth week of the season and now the Jets.

The Steelers remain the only team the Buccaneers have beaten. The Jets doubled their victory total by doing to the Steelers what teams have done to them: winning the turnover battle in resounding fashion.

"I don't want to be looking down the road and saying, 'Hey, just because we didn't win this game it came back to bite us,'" defensive end Cameron Heyward said.

Coach Mike Tomlin said last week that how the Steelers played against the-then 1-8 Jets after winning three consecutive games would "define" them.

Well, this is what we know about the Steelers since 2012: they can never be counted out but they can't be trusted, either.

The team that has responded well to adversity has fumbled prosperity.

It's up to the Steelers to reverse the current trend with a game at 2-7 Tennessee next on the schedule.

"Everyone's upset. Everyone's frustrated," Keisel said. "But there’s still six games left and we're still in the mix of this thing."
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The AFC North is Exhibit A for how quickly things can change in the NFL.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were percentage points out of first place at this time last week. They then moved into a tie for first place with the Cleveland Browns last Thursday night after the Browns pounded the Bengals in Cincinnati.

The Steelers enjoyed their shared time at the top of the division for three days. A 20-13 loss to the New York Jets Sunday dropped them into a tie with the Baltimore Ravens, behind both the Browns and Bengals.

“That’s the way the North is right now, it’s a jumbled mess,” Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel said after the Steelers fell to 6-4. “Everyone’s kind of right there together, and we need to assert ourselves and make sure with these last few games that we’ve got that we continue to work and continue to stay in the hunt.”

The teams in the AFC North are so tightly bunched together that a loss to the Jets, who entered Sunday with only one win, could prove costly at the end of the season. The Steelers should lament that as much as how they utterly threw away a game with a sloppy and uninspired start.

“This is a team we should beat,” Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “But this is the NFL. You can’t win when you have four turnovers and not enough defense.”

That about summed up the loss that snapped the Steelers’ three-game winning streak. Here is a recap of ESPN coverage of the Steelers’ latest loss to a team that entered the game with a losing record:
Here are takes on the Steelers' loss by Pittsburgh sports columnists:
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook writes that Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown, the two players most responsible for a three-game winning streak, were also most responsible for ending it.
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Rob Rossi takes an interesting look at where the Steelers lost this game. It happened, Rossi writes, before any of their four turnovers.
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier, who advocated a change at offensive coordinator after an Oct. 12 loss in Cleveland, refrains from doing so after the offense sputters in the loss to the Jets. That, Collier writes, would be piling on.