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Steelers aren't good right now

December 17, 2007
By Buck Frank
PITTSBURGH — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made his list, and he’s checking it twice.

You also get the feeling he’s not going to be nice.

‘‘I am mad every time we lose,’’ Tomlin said after the Steelers’ 29-22 crushing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at a snowy Heinz Field on Sunday. ‘‘Sometimes I do a better job of concealing it.’’

This was not one of those days. Tomlin snapped off a laundry list of problem areas for a Steeler team that has limped through the second half of its season and finds itself still fighting for a playoff spot, let alone a division title.

‘‘We have to tackle better,’’ Tomlin said. ‘‘We have to be more gap-sound against the run. We have to catch interceptions if we have an opportunity to do that. We have to keep the ball in front of us.’’

And that was only for the defense.

‘‘Offensively, we have to block people better,’’ he continued. ‘‘We have to finish our plays better. We have to protect our passer. Receivers have to get open. The quarterback has to get rid of the ball. We have to catch the ball if we have an opportunity to do that.’’

It was a good thing Tomlin didn’t address any special teams or coaching woes. He may have still been talking on Christmas Eve, one week from now.

The reality of it all, to borrow a Tomlin phrase, is that the Steelers aren’t a good football team right now. Instead of building momentum toward the end of the year and making a strong playoff run, they’re instead looking like the inconsistent Steeler team that started 2-6 last year.

The Steelers’ defense has been their most consistent unit and was top-ranked all season. But it was exposed as pretty soft against two quality teams, the explosive New England Patriots and the physical Jaguars, the last two weeks.

Since the Steelers blew out the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football to improve their record to 6-2 at the halfway point of the season, they’ve lost three games and won two by just three points.

Sunday’s loss, even though they made a strong rally in the fourth quarter, further showed a late-season collapse.

‘‘I will be straight to the point this afternoon,’’ Tomlin began his postgame press conference. ‘‘We are not playing well enough to win right now.’’

What compounds the problem is the Steelers have a game in three days, at St. Louis on Thursday night. The Steelers have been a below-average road team all year, going 2-4, and they finish up the season with another road game, at Baltimore.

Right now they’re tied with the Cleveland Browns for first place in the AFC North Division at 9-5. The Steelers hold the tiebreaker edge, but one more slip-up could prove to be costly because the Browns finish at 5-9 Cincinnati and at home against 4-10 San Francisco.

‘‘We just have to win Thursday [and] get in the [playoff] tournament,’’ Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. ‘‘Who cares about momentum or whatever? You just have to get in the tournament.’’

While the Steelers try to bounce back and solve their late-season problems, they only had to look across the field to see a team that is playing with the type of confidence that is needed at this time of the season.

Jacksonville, at 10-4, hasn’t clinched a playoff berth yet, but they are a team the Steelers may not want to face again if they’re fortunate to get into the postseason.

‘‘To be able to come in here and get a win was huge for us,’’ Jaguars center Brad Meester said. ‘‘This is definitely a huge motivation for us going into these last few games and into the playoffs.’’

The Steelers will have to find a different form of motivation. The desire to get back to work and improve as a team may be the only answer at this point. They still have a chance to right their ship, but it must come in the next few days.

It’s no time to pout or cry.

Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or

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