Margin for error is gone

ARLINGTON, Texas – It was another gut-wrenching blow for a team that already has absorbed several of those this season.

But the Steelers' 27-24 overtime loss last Sunday afternoon at Dallas wasn't perceived as anything that can't be overcome in the loser's locker room at Cowboys Stadium.

"Got no choice but to put it behind us," nose tackle Casey Hampton maintained.

"We control our own (fate). That's all you can ask for."

Linebacker Larry Foote agreed that the Steelers had not yet reached the saturation point in terms of their ability to bounce back from potentially-devastating near-misses.

"You can absorb that all the way until they say you don't get to play anymore," Foote insisted. "We're a tough bunch of guys and we gotta respond."

At 7-7 the best the Steelers can hope for is to win their final two regular season games against Cincinnati (Dec. 23) and Cleveland (Dec. 30), both at Heinz Field.

They're still alive to win the AFC North Division championship in a potential three-way tie with the Baltimore Ravens and the Bengals at 9-7, based on what would be a superior head-to-head record with the Ravens and Bengals in a three-way, 9-7 scenario. The Steelers also would clinch a Wild Card spot in these playoffs with a 9-7 record regardless of what the Ravens do in their final two games, but there is no scenario in which the Steelers get into the postseason if they would lose to Cincinnati this Sunday.

But they'll be out on the wire against the Bengals and they'll be working without a net.

"Our margin for error is zero," offensive tackle Max Starks assessed.

Added free safety Ryan Clark: "If we don't win the next one we pack up early. We understand that."

More difficult to comprehend are the inconsistencies that have plagued the Steelers throughout much of the season.

They succumbed to those once again against the Cowboys in a game that saw the Steelers rally from deficits of 10-0 in the second quarter and 17-10 in the third, only to let a fourth-quarter lead slip away and ultimately lose on an interception that set up the game-winning field goal in overtime.

"We have the pieces in the locker room to make something happen," tight end Heath Miller said. "We gotta figure out a way to put four quarters together and play with some consistency."

Those pieces in the locker room and what the players believe they're capable of achieving together are the main reasons the Steelers are keeping the faith. Doing so at 7-7 isn't something they're worried about.

"Not at all," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "Not with the type of guys we have on this team. We have a lot of leadership, a lot of veteran guys who have been in this situation before.

"I think we'll be fine. I know we'll be fine. I know we have the guys to do it. I know exactly how guys are going to come to prepare this week. My teammates, I know these guys. We've been through a lot together in my almost four years here."

They've been through a lot together this season, but Wallace isn't deterred.

"It's just going to make it even sweeter when we make this run," he said.

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