With Doubts Swirling, It's Now Or Never For 1-3 Steelers - By Ricky Dimon

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

After a third consecutive loss for the Steelers on Sunday, the doubts are beginning to creep in the minds of the national media. The questions are swirling. The Pittsburgh Steelers are once again the talk of the NFL, but this time that's not a good thing.

Ben Roethlisberger"Are the Steelers done?"

"Is this just not Pittsburgh's year?"

Those are the kinds of thoughts running through the heads of NFL writers, analysts, and fans alike. SportsCenter, not surprisingly, ran a little segment about whether or not the Steelers are finished. Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote a piece entitled, "It's desperation time." Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offered similar thoughts in an article entitled, "Soul-searching Begins after Team's Flaws Exposed Again." One of ESPN.com's Five Burning Questions this weekend pondered if we can go ahead and stick a fork in the Steelers.

That's what happens when the defending Super Bowl Champions start the following season with a 1-3 record.

The recent history of other Super Bowl champions and runner-ups gives good reason for the media to feel that the Steelers could be en route to suffering a similarly dreadful fate.

T.O. and the Eagles followed up their 2005 Super Bowl loss with an absolute debacle of a season that saw a broken, battered franchise finish an abysmal 6-10. The Carolina Panthers built upon their 2004 Super Bowl appearance by starting the next season 1-7.

Neither Oakland nor Tampa Bay made the playoffs in 2004 after competing for the Lombardi Trophy in January of that year. Same goes for the St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots, who played in 2003. Both the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons didn't even come close to qualifying for the postseason following their 1999 title game.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. It's beginning to look like fate, which has been so cruel to all defending conference champions not named the Patriots, will not allow the Steelers to duplicate last year's efforts. The media is certainly beginning to see it that way.

And how can you fault them for that? To say that Big Ben's off-season motorcycle crash and preseason appendectomy got the season off to an inauspicious start would be quite an understatement. Four games into the season, things have not gotten much better.

It doesn't look any prettier on the horizon either. While fate could be one thing holding the 2006 Steelers down, the schedule could play a significant part as well. Just look at it with me for a second. Pittsburgh hosts Kansas City, travels to Atlanta, and then hosts the Broncos and Saints after getting a break against the sorry Oakland Raiders. The final six games of the season include two tilts with the Baltimore Ravens and visits to both Carolina and Cincinnati. In a word, ouch.

Such a schedule should make it easy for the Steelers to take things one game at a time, which is exactly what they need to do in order to slowly but surely dig themselves out of this hole.

"Victories," proclaimed linebacker Clark Haggans when asked about a solution to the problem. "And us playing Steelers football. That'll get us out."

"There's going to be a lot of soul searching," said Hines Ward. "We don't have time to sit there. We don't have any more bye weeks."

He's certainly right about having no time. While I said that Sunday's game against the Chargers was bordering on being a must-win game, I'm saying that this week's game with Kansas City is hands down, absolutely, 100-percent a must-win situation. By no means are the Chiefs any kind of pushover, but other than the Raiders game and two meetings with the Browns, this could be the easiest contest remaining on the schedule. And with Baltimore sitting at 4-1 and the Bengals lurking close behind at 3-1, dropping to 1-4 would all but put the Steelers out of their misery.

As fans, we can think that the way, but the Steelers themselves cannot buy into that mentality. They can't think about being one loss away from falling off the cliff, even though that's the grim reality. They have to tune out the media's questions and doubts about whether or not the team still has any pulse at all.

If the players start thinking like the media is now talking, it'll be over.

There is still a way out of this, but only if the Steelers believe that there is a way out of this. We'll find out on Sunday if the Steelers believe. We'll find out Sunday if they are poised to make the rest believers, as well.