As Max Starks watched the Green Bay Packers defeat the Houston Texans on Sunday, he saw a team that has been down a similar path the Steelers have this year. The Packers went into the game with a 2-3 record, the same as the Steelers current record, and facing a huge challenge against an undefeated Texans team. And in most circles, no one gave the Packers a chance.
"A lot of times teams are counted out," said Starks. "Look at how the Packers have been treated this year. Then they go out and have a great victory against the undefeated Texans, who looked almost invincible. Anything can happen on any given Sunday. For us, once you click and get into that groove I think we have the ability to get there.
"When you look at it, we've been through tougher situations. I think the biggest thing, as far as veteran leadership and advice, is to stay the course. Do your job to the best of your ability, but don't try to do too much. I think that's the biggest thing guys get caught up with. They think they have to do more or do this, or cover up for someone. No, you have to do your job to the best of your ability, and you have to do it for the men next to you."
The feeling throughout the locker room is that this is definitely a team that is far better than the 2-3 record represents. It's just a matter of playing better, putting it all to work when it counts the most – game day starting this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals on the road.
"We just have to play better," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "We have to seize crucial moments in games, make plays when they are there and finish teams out. We haven't done that yet this year. We are working to correct some mistakes and go to a tough divisional game this week.
"I think when you get in situations like this you just have to work harder, work smarter and focus on the little things. That is what is getting us beat, little things. If we can get that corrected I think we are a good team."
Starks and Keisel can speak from experience when it comes to turning a season around. They were both part of the 2005 team that lost three straight games in the second half of the season and had to win their last four regular season games and then three road playoff games before defeating Seattle in Super Bowl XL.
"We've done it so many times since I've been here," said Starks. "In 2005 we had to do everything to get there, and we did. I've seen it done. I've been a part of it. I know we have the talent and personnel to be able to do that.
"As long as you have Ben Roethlisberger back there healthy throwing the ball and the leaders we have, anything is possible. It's a collective group of leaders on this team at specific positions and we lean on them to go ahead and teach the young guys and bring them along. It's a group effort. We are all accountable. We all have talent skills and we have to put them together."
Of the Steelers next five opponents, Cincinnati, Washington, New York, Kansas City and Baltimore, only Kansas City has a losing record at this point. It's going to be an uphill battle, but one this battle-tested group is ready for.
"When you lose games you put yourself in a hole," said Keisel. "That is what we are in right now. We just have to work and climb our way out of it. It's not a huge hole. We have a tough stretch coming up. All of our divisional games are in front of us. We still have a lot of football left to play. That is what we need to focus on, going in week in and week out and winning.
"We still have a lot of guys in here that are been there, done that guys. We expect those of us that have been here to step up and make situational plays during the game that affect the outcome of the game. We just need to win one game, win another game and hopefully get on a roll."
Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu was at the team's practice facility on Monday morning, apologized to his teammates, but was not at practice.