The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 6, 2013

Steelers say the best is yet to come

PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger has already hit the reset button.

Sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback has no problem discussing his team’s miserable 2-6 start. He’d just rather not dwell on it. Last he checked, there’s still half a season to go and eight opportunities to turn the narrative that the Steelers are in decline on its head.

Pittsburgh gets its first chance Sunday against Buffalo (3-6) in what Roethlisberger is likening to a reboot.

“We’re 0-0 right now, trying to get our first win,” he said Wednesday. “And that’s going to have to be the approach the rest of the way out. Winning does help a lot of things, so we’re going to do our best to get that.”

Even if Pittsburgh’s best so far has done little to stop a slide that started a year ago. The Steelers are 5-11 over their past 16 games, not counting a winless preseason they insisted was no big deal.

Rock bottom – they hope – came in a 55-31 dismantling at the hands of New England last Sunday, when the Patriots pumped in 31 points over the final 17 minutes in what became Pittsburgh’s worst statistical defensive performance in the team’s 81-year history.

The Monday video session was gruesome yet oddly encouraging. Even as the deficit mounted, coach Mike Tomlin saw no “blatant” evidence of his team quitting. That includes Roethlisberger, who remained in the game long after things were decided.

“We’re still a group that believes good football is ahead of us,” Tomlin said. “We also acknowledge that we’re a group that needs to improve. That was an opportunity to do that. The healthy guys are going to stay on the field and play with an attempt to move the ball and, obviously, get better at our football.”

It was the same way on the other side of the ball, where safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu kept giving chase even as New England did whatever it wanted, however it wanted.

Polamalu called the mistakes “correctable.” Like Roethlisberger, he’s also not in the mood to declare the season over, adding there will be plenty of time for “hindsight” down the road.

Yes, things aren’t so great at the moment. But there’s time to build momentum. Polamalu is one of seven players who were on the 2006 team that started 2-6 but rallied to finish 8-8.

When reminded about the team’s calamitous first half coming off the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title, Polamalu just smiled.

“I forgot we were 2-6 that year,” he said. “Next year I’ll probably forget this year.”

Polamalu was kidding, though the truth is not all 2-6 starts are created equal. Pittsburgh’s offseason after its first championship in more than 25 years included Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident six weeks before training camp began. He didn’t play until the season’s second game and wasn’t his usual self until any hope of a playoff spot was gone.

This year Roethlisberger is healthy, or at least as healthy as a player who has absorbed a league-high 32 sacks can be. The players in front of him are not. The Steelers have started five different offensive line combinations, not exactly the best way to build cohesion or anything close to chemistry.

Yet there remains no finger pointing, at least not publicly. The Steelers know there’s no mystical reason they’ve struggled. The things they’re supposed to do, they’re not doing. That doesn’t mean they’re not capable of figuring it out.

“There are many reasons why things happen, why things become difficult,” Clark said. “You still have to go out there and field a team. You still have to have 53 players, 45 of them dress and play good football and we haven’t done it.”

Only three players on the roster were around when Pittsburgh last finished with a losing record. The 2003 team went 6-10 with Tommy Maddox at quarterback. It led to the Steelers drafting Roethlisberger and hatching a renaissance that includes two titles and three Super Bowl appearances.

Though a fourth is nearly out of the question at the moment, guard David DeCastro hardly senses a team ready to fold.

“I don’t think you’re in the business to enjoy losing or enjoy where we’re at,” he said. “But we got ourselves here. Now we’ve got to get ourselves out.”

Notes: The Steelers placed LB Sean Spence on injured reserve Wednesday, meaning he will miss a second straight season because of complications from a left knee injury. Spence said he plans to make it all the way back in 2014. ... CB Ike Taylor and LB Vince Williams did not practice Wednesday while they recover from concussions. ... T Kelvin Beachum (knee), T Marcus Gilbert (ankle), C Fernando Velasco (thigh) and TE Heath Miller were limited in practice.

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