Reeling Steelers vow to 'see what this team's made of'

PITTSBURGH -- After one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' clumsiest performances in recent memory, coach Mike Tomlin exposed the team's scars that he knows can't be hidden any longer.

Tomlin rattled off all the areas where his team needs improvement -- every one but quarterback, basically. He promised the Steelers would "look at all aspects of what we're doing" to redirect a three-game slide that's jeopardizing a fifth straight playoff berth.

"I take responsibility for everything we do -- good, bad and indifferent," Tomlin said from the podium after a 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

Having a kicker who's falling apart and a backfield of Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley struggling to average 2 yards a carry against the league's worst rushing defense is a good place to start.

And Tomlin had his own issues Sunday, such as the surprising admission that he could have played Ben Roethlisberger, who was sitting out with a rib injury, a series or two earlier. Roethlisberger mysteriously missed 25 minutes of play, and that decided the game. The offense was unrecognizable without him. Tomlin also left the stadium with a timeout in his pocket despite the Raiders scoring with 21 seconds left.

Losing three straight raises questions across the locker room, and a brutal upcoming three-game stretch to close out the season raises even more.

At least Tomlin is prepared to bring an edge.

"Redemption Sunday is coming. We better be prepared for it," Tomlin said.

But a path to redemption is loaded with roadblocks. Back-to-back games with the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints is about as steep as it gets. Sure, the Steelers (7-5-1) still own a half-game lead over the Ravens, but Baltimore plays the Los Angeles Chargers, Tampa Bay Bucs and Cleveland Browns to close out.

New England has owned Pittsburgh with five straight wins, and the Saints' prolific offense won't be appealing for a team with problems finishing. Pittsburgh wraps up the regular season with the Cincinnati Bengals at home.

"We will see what this team's made of, next week for sure," guard David DeCastro said. "It's a three-week season. That's all we've got."

Roethlisberger encourages all teammates to "look in the mirror and figure out what's going on," which he hopes sparks the Steelers' fight.

Most of the season now falls on Roethlisberger. Their best hopes are with the ball in his hands, and he always gives the Steelers a chance. He's also playing with a defense that couldn't stop the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders.

During the three-game losing streak, the Steelers' defense has given up drives of 73, 75, 79, 79 and 64 yards in fourth quarter, including two for game winners in the final minute.

The image of corner Mike Hilton with his head hanging off the bench and being consoled by teammates after slipping on the go-ahead touchdown by the Raiders' Derek Carrier symbolizes a unit that's searching.

Safety Sean Davis predicts a harsh -- and necessary -- week of film for what he called a "sick" locker room.

"Be hard on ourselves and push ourselves to want the pressure on us to make the plays and close the game out," Davis said. "We’ve got to practice better, continue to work. In the National Football League, you can’t just show up Sunday and perform. You have to work at it."

Before the Steelers get to any of that, Tomlin must decide whether they can continue with kicker Chris Boswell, who’s missed six field goals and five extra points since signing an extension worth around $20 million in August.

Tomlin was noncommittal about Boswell, simply saying Sunday's performance wasn't good enough. Boswell called his own play "terrible."

"What else do you want me to say?" he said.

The Steelers can't say anything else.

Only exorcising the Patriots demon can do that for them.