Steelers managing tailspin, and Patriots offer no easy escape

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin's Tuesday news conference lasted more than 25 minutes yet included just a few questions on the matchup with the New England Patriots.

There was much fallout to discuss, after all. From inconclusive X-rays that kept Ben Roethlisberger on the bench in Oakland, to kicking tryouts, problems with the running game and former Steelers such as Rocky Bleier publicly ripping the team for its three-game losing streak.

The only way out is to stare down the dragon that the Steelers continually fail to slay. The presence of the Patriots -- marking a brutal, upcoming three-game stretch that could keep Pittsburgh out of the playoffs for the first time since 2013 -- will bring out the best or worst of the Steelers.

Tomlin promises they will embrace the high-stakes environment.

"One thing that we're not going to do is hope and wish," said Tomlin, whose Steelers head to New Orleans for Week 16 and finish the regular season with Cincinnati at home. "We're not going to go through our processes in a manner in which we have and just hope the outcome changes."

The Steelers need everything to go right during that preparation, which is why Tomlin said he's "open to all possibilities" as far as changes, even if subtle.

The Steelers have tried just about everything to hide the absence of elite players Le'Veon Bell and Ryan Shazier, but the cracks are showing. They played five different defenders on Raiders tight end Jared Cook last week and still couldn't stop him on the way to seven catches for 116 yards. The defense has hemorrhaged big fourth-quarter drives for weeks, and the running game has managed 51.5 rushing yards per game since Week 11. About the only sure thing right now is Roethlisberger, who's second in the NFL with 4,227 passing yards, gives the Steelers a chance in every game.

But couple that slide with Tom Brady's 7-1 record against Pittsburgh since 2006 and the Steelers will need their best game of the year to redirect their reeling season. Brady has 23 touchdowns and one interception against Pittsburgh during that span. Rob Gronkowski has been equally as good, prompting Tomlin to quip during his press conference that he's seen other teams have success covering Gronk, but "we haven't been a part of it."

Perhaps New England's modest 16th-ranked rushing offense gives Pittsburgh a chance to create third-and-longs, but the Patriots can counter that with a seventh-ranked third-down offense.

Tomlin knows the Steelers need improvement across the roster to achieve "Redemption Sunday," which he referenced after the Raiders loss.

"It's all of us," Tomlin said. "You don't fail and then conveniently pinpoint one particular area. This is a very complex game."

In Oakland postgame, several players referenced their six-game winning streak earlier in the season as hope that the Steelers can get hot again and stave off the Baltimore Ravens, who are a half-game out in the AFC North.

And the ball will be in Roethlisberger's hands, just how he likes it.

"We have to just take care of our business," Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show with 93.7 the Fan. "We've been in situations and seasons where we've needed help. That's not fun. Now we actually control it. It doesn't get any easier. ... We have to just go out there and play our best football and see what happens."

Jesse James' controversial no-catch at the goal line last season left the Steelers feeling like they had outplayed New England. They were never the same after that loss.

Bill Belichick knows he'll see a hungry opponent Sunday.

"Like it always is with Pittsburgh, a tough game," Belichick said. "Came down to a couple of plays [last year], we were fortunate it ended in our favor. It’s a new year, and they’ve got a great team. Playing extremely well. Very disruptive. Attack you on defense and explosive as always on offense and the kicking game. We know it will be tough up there, like it always is."