Staggering along at 1-3, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in danger of becoming the 12th defending Super Bowl champion not to reach the playoffs the next season.
Ben Roethlisberger is receiving much of the heat for the Pittsburgh Steelers' slow start. After posting a 27-4 record in his first two years as the starting quarterback, Roethlisberger has lost his three starts this season while posting the NFL's second-lowest quarterback rating (41.7).
Roethlisberger may be feeling the effects of an offseason motorcycle accident and emergency appendectomy in early September. The big quarterback, though, isn't surrounded by the same kind of offensive talent as before with the Steelers failing to adequately replace wide receiver Antwaan Randle El (Washington Redskins) and running back Jerome Bettis (retirement) in the offseason.
Hoping for a fix, Steelers coach Bill Cowher recycled a motivational trick from last season by telling players they should consider the team's record as 0-0. The 2005 Steelers bought into Cowher's thinking and didn't lose again after starting the season 7-5.
"We just have to go out there and win a game," Cowher told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "I don't want to get paralysis by analysis. It really is no simpler than that."
The dream isn't over already for the Steelers, as at least one team that started 1-3 or 1-4 reached the playoffs in 13 of the past 16 seasons. But like the Miami Dolphins and Steelers, the following clubs need to quickly correct their problems to avoid being ranked among the NFL's biggest disappointments in 2006.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4): The offense was sputtering even before quarterback Chris Simms' probable season-ending spleen injury, and a once-vaunted defense is starting to show its age. Tampa Bay is just one loss from matching last season's total entering today's game against Cincinnati. "We've had some ups and downs," Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said. "Right now, we're in a down cycle. The stock market is not good."
Washington Redskins (2-3): High-priced offseason acquisitions like wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (six catches for 75 yards) and defensive end Andre Carter (10 tackles, one sack) haven't paid dividends. The Redskins also sorely miss injured cornerback Shawn Springs (abdomen), having allowed 21 receptions of 20-plus yards.
Cleveland Browns (1-4): The Browns weren't projected as a playoff contender but noticeable improvement was expected after a frenzied offseason shopping spree in free agency. Instead, the Browns are lifeless under embattled offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, who appears overmatched for the position.
Arizona Cardinals (1-4): The NFL didn't schedule Arizona in a Monday night game for the first time in seven seasons anticipating the team would be the same old Cardinals. But Arizona enters tomorrow's matchup against the Chicago Bears at 1-4 for the third consecutive season under coach Dennis Green. Unless there is a turnaround, Green may not be back for a fourth season.
Alex Marvez writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
... and 10
Ten statistics or numbers to note entering today's games:
2 -- Teams since the 1937 Chicago Bears to allow just one touchdown in their first four games - the 2000 Miami Dolphins and the 2006 Denver Broncos.
5 -- Seconds that New York Jets coach Eric Mangini told his team it was allowed to dwell upon its poor play in last week's 41-0 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Said linebacker Victor Hobson: "This is one of those games you have to take what you can out of it, accept it for what it was, which is a bad loss, and come back and prepare harder to make sure we get a victory this week."
6 -- Dropped passes this season by Dallas wide receiver Terrell Owens, who is complaining about not being a bigger part of the Cowboys' offense. "I do question why am I here," Owens said. "That's not to create a story, but it's just like, I want to win. I came here to help this team win. I know I can make a difference." Coach Bill Parcells said a combination of double coverage, quarterback Drew Bledsoe misreads and bad routes have limited Owens' productivity.
30 -- At-risk youngsters who spent time last Sunday with suspended Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth while the Titans played in Indianapolis. Barred for five games after stepping on the helmet-less head of Dallas center Andre Gurode two weeks ago, Haynesworth also will spend the next four Sundays at the Martha O'Bryan Center in east Nashville, which The Tennessean reported is located in the city's second-highest violent crime neighborhood.
32-7 -- The New England Patriots' record at Gillette Stadium, whose frayed field is possibly the NFL's worst because of dirt and sand extending down the middle like a makeshift landing strip. An NFL spokesman said the league reviews all fields to ensure playing conditions are acceptable, but he wouldn't reveal whether the Patriots were fined after last week's 20-10 victory over the Dolphins.
43-0 -- Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre's record in home games when not throwing an interception until last Sunday's 23-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams.
133 -- Consecutive passes thrown without an interception by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
214 -- Consecutive games played by the Bears without scoring at least 40 points until last week's 40-7 rout of the Buffalo Bills. The last time Chicago reached 40 points was Sept. 26, 1993, when Dave Wannstedt won his first game as Bears coach, 47-17, over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
465 -- Rushing yards for the San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore, placing him ahead of three other former University of Miami standout running backs - Buffalo's Willis McGahee (439), Arizona's Edgerrin James (343) and Washington's Clinton Portis (313).
Ten$10 million -- Guaranteed signing bonus that quarterback Chris Simms declined when offered a five-year contract extension by the Bucs during the offseason. Simms instead signed a one-year, $2.1 million deal as a restricted free agent in hopes of landing an even larger offer as an unrestricted free agent in 2007. Simms probably won't command close to that kind of cash in the offseason, as he played poorly before suffering a major spleen injury.
Alex Marvez, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Material from other NFL writers was used in this article.