Slumping Steelers picking up pieces
The Pittsburgh Steelers desperately need to beat the Cleveland Browns on Thursday to straighten out an NFL season slipping away. The Browns hope a win can bring salvation to a season that ended long ago - and could end with coach Eric Mangini's dismissal. Strapped with four straight defeats, their longest losing streak since 2003, and with a weakening playoff pulse, the Super Bowl champion Steelers are in some serious trouble. "It's tough because we haven't gone through this," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "Most of the guys have never had this situation before, so it's tough and it's frustrating. But we can't sit around here and pout and worry about things because that's not going to change the outcome of the games we just played." Following last week's loss to Oakland, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who had predicted his team would "unleash hell" in December, instead unleashed on his team by lamenting "a pattern of behavior that's unacceptable." Perhaps thinking his team needed a scare, he promised lineup changes against the Browns, but has since backed off a bit. Tomlin still believes in his squad but he's troubled by the Steelers' inability to close out opponents. Pittsburgh's defense has been unable to protect a lead in five of the six losses. "Good teams find ways to win," he said. "Teams that are not good don't." Think the Steelers have problems? It's worse, so much worse, for the Browns, who have lost seven straight games, 10 in a row at home, and 12 consecutive to the Steelers. To this point, Mangini's first season has been the ugliest in Cleveland history. The Browns' offense and defense are each ranked dead last statistically and there's little tangible evidence the team has improved under Mangini. Already some are wondering whether owner Randy Lerner, who is conducting a clandestine search for a "serious, credible leader" to run the football side of his floundering organization, will retain Mangini. "I've met fans who said, 'If you can just beat the Steelers that will make our year, no matter what you're record is,"' wide receiver Josh Cribbs said. "We're not purposely trying to knock them out of the playoffs, but if winning does that, so be it."