Pittsburgh, PA
July 19, 2019
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
Pittsburgh Map
Home >  Sports >  Steelers Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
Steelers Steelers finding ways to lose, not win, close games

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Linebacker Levon Kirkland is no Joseph Heller, but he authored his own Catch 22-like phrase in the middle of the Steelers' locker room yesterday.

More Steelers Coverage:

Battered Graham certain he'll play Sunday against Jaguars

Steelers Report: 9/26/00


"You have to experience winning close games in order to win close games," he said.

Kirkland experienced winning them, now he's finding out about losing them. The Steelers have lost six of their past seven games that were decided by three points or fewer, including the past two Sundays.

They have held fourth-quarter leads against Cleveland and Tennessee, slipped behind late in the game and had a chance on offense in both to tie or win.

They've lost four games in a row of 3 points or fewer. The last time they won such a game, they beat the Ravens in Baltimore in the second game of the 1999 season. Kris Brown's 36-yard field goal on the last play won it.

In their past 11 decisions decided by seven points or fewer, the Steelers have lost nine.

"We're finding a way to lose football games instead of finding a way to win football games," said halfback Jerome Bettis.

Kirkland said it has changed a belief on a team that once never thought it would lose a close game.

"You have to believe when it gets close, you have to find a way to win," he said. "And that comes with winning. You have to win a couple close ballgames in order to feel that if it gets close, we can win.

"We've been on the short end of the stick so much that sometimes we go in and like, 'I wonder.' Once we win, then we'll find out, then it will carry over."

Kirkland remembers those days, as recently as 1997. The Steelers won three games in overtime that season and two others by fewer than 3 points. They also lost two by three points while compiling an 11-5 record.

They then beat New England by one point in a playoff before losing to Denver in the AFC championship game by three.

"I just knew if we got into overtime we were going to win the game," Kirkland said of that season.

"Now, we have to figure if it's late in the game, we have to find a way to win. That's all it is. You have to say, 'We just got a touchdown, they're not going to drive on us.' It's all about a mind-set."

Instead, the defense has allowed late drives to lose the past two games: One in Cleveland, on a field goal, and one Sunday when Steve McNair took the Titans 64 yards on four plays, the final an 18-yard touchdown pass to a rookie tight end wide open in the end zone with 1:25 left.

"We had seven minutes and 50 seconds left in the game," tight end Mark Bruener said, referring to the moment the Steelers took a 20-16 lead on a 5-yard run by Bettis. "I thought there was no way we were going to lose the thing. We were winning by 4 points.

"Any loss wears on you. The close ones are very, very difficult to deal with because you put yourself in position to win the game, and you think you should win that game, and when you don't it's difficult."

The Steelers believed they played their best game in a while against Tennessee, the defending AFC champion. They intercepted three Neil O'Donnell passes, held halfback Eddie George in check and played reasonably well on offense against one of the NFL's tougher defenses.

They believe they could easily be 2-1.

"You look at it and say it, but when you go and look at the newspaper, it says 0-3, so it brings you back to reality," Bettis said.

He hopes they don't fall too far. Losing tends to breed losing.

"That's always an inevitable situation that people tend to get a little frustrated, and it starts to seep into the locker room, and it starts a chain reaction," he said. "But we're confident it won't happen because people are doing some good things."

Besides losing close games, it's been a long time since the Steelers opened a season this way. They were 0-3 in 1986 on way to a 6-10 record. The last time they opened with four consecutive losses was 1968, when they went 0-6 and finished 2-11-1 in Coach Bill Austin's last season.

They have lost 10 of their past 11 games, their worst such stretch since they lost 13 in a row in 1969 and opened the 1970 season with three consecutive losses.

"You have to be tired of being frustrated and tired of being close and tired of almost and the improvement," Kirkland said. "We have to make up our minds to win. And we have to do it now. It's not too late. We could easily be 2-1, but we're not, we're 0-3. Whatever we have to correct we have to correct it."

They play their next two games against teams that would not figure to facilitate that. They play Sunday in Jacksonville, where they have never won, against the two-time defending AFC Central champion. Then they play at the New York Jets, who are 4-0.

"It's not going to be a road for the weak and timid," Bettis said. "We understand that. But it's something we got to do, and we have a good enough football team that we can get it done."

They believe that, even though it's not what the standings in the newspapers say.

"Good teams win the close games," cornerback Chad Scott said.

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections