Steelers say they must change to save season

PITTSBURGH (AP) -They didn't shift practice to early morning or early evening. They didn't tear up their depth chart and start anew. They didn't drag their uniforms to the middle of their practice field and burn them in an attempt to rid themselves of the bad karma that has dogged them for weeks.

Regardless, the Pittsburgh Steelers are promising to be a changed team as they try to stop the four-game losing streak that is threatening to end their chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions even before the playoffs begin.

There's no other option, several players said Tuesday, if the Steelers (6-6) are to save a season that's slipping away as fast as their leads are disappearing in the fourth quarter.

Ben Roethlisberger saw some players trudging wearily into the Steelers' practice complex, obviously not recovered from the 27-24 upset loss to Oakland 48 hours before, and he couldn't help but say something.

His message: Get over it, and now.

You see a lot of guys are bummed and down, but that's not going to change things and give us a win against the Raiders, that's behind us,'' Roethlisberger said.Of course, we can be mad and upset about it, but we have to look forward and that's to the Cleveland Browns.''

This is one week the Steelers must have a short memory, since they play an AFC North game Thursday at Cleveland (1-11).

With so little time to prepare, there was no evidence in practice of coach Mike Tomlin's announced plans to shake up the lineup, except that rookie cornerbacks Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis took more snaps than usual. That was expected since cornerback William Gay is recovering from a concussion, although he did practice.

The Steelers lost to the Chiefs (3-9) and Raiders (4-8) during the last three weeks, yet Roethlisberger, Hampton, defensive lineman Chris Hoke and safety Ryan Clark all said the Steelers are capable of reversing their season and winning their final four.

Anything less might not be enough to get the Steelers into the postseason.

There's a light at the end of the tunnel,'' Roethlisberger said.It's a long tunnel and it's a small light, but it's still flickering down there.''

What they can't do, Hampton said, is to continue to believe it will happen because they won their final four in 2005 to get into the playoffs and won six of their final seven last season.

We're not making the plays we've made in the past. We can't dwell on the past and feel like we did in the past, that it's automatically going to happen,'' Hampton said.We've got to go out there and do it now, and that's what we're not doing. Definitely, every game you've got to say is a playoff game. That's the mentality we've got to take right now.''

Statistically, the Steelers are much the same team they've been for seasons. Except during the fourth quarter, when they've given up leads in five of their six losses.

They're fifth in the NFL in fewest points allowed in the first quarter (32) and No. 1 in the second quarter (48 points), but they've yielded 99 points in the fourth quarter, the third-most in the league. Only Buffalo (112) and Miami (134) have allowed more.

The Steelers also have permitted the second-most passing yards (1,037) and a league-high nine touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. By comparison, they've allowed six TD passes combined in the first three quarters.

Injured safety Troy Polamalu's absence is a factor, but Hampton said it's more than that.

I think guys have been pressing too much, trying to do too much, and that's not us,'' Hampton said.We pride ourselves on being an unselfish defense, everyone just doing their job and not trying to make plays that it's not your play to make. I think when we do that, we'll be OK.''

Hampton doesn't see any signs of panic or lost confidence, even though the Steelers are only the fourth Super Bowl winner to lose four games in a row or more the following season.

We know what we're capable of doing,'' Hampton said.We're just not finishing. We've got to go out there and do it.''

Wide receiver Hines Ward (hamstring) did not practice, and may not have enough time to recover by Thursday. Only two weeks ago, Ward questioned why Roethlisberger couldn't play in Baltimore despite having a concussion.

I don't want Hines to be hurt, I want him out there playing,'' Roethlisberger said.But he's going to do what's best for Hines. If he can't play, he can't play.''

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