Could streak reach eight?

The stunning collapse of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 6-2 as defending super Bowl champs to 6-7 and likely shut out of a playoff spot has been inexplicable ...

... Neither players nor coaches seem to understand how this team that once talked about reaching "Seventh Heaven" and a seventh Lombardi Trophy as repeat champs could fall so hard so quickly.

Three losses in their five-game losing skid came at the hands of Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland. With games left against Green Bay, Baltimore and Miami, the chance of ending their season with an eight-game losing streak is real. Their last eight-game skid came in 1969 when Chuck Noll's first team won its opener and lost 13 straight to finish 1-13.

"To lose five straight coming off a Super Bowl from last year, it's embarrassing for me," said Hines Ward.

Mike Tomlin has experienced nothing like this in his short tenure with the Steelers. He won a division title in his first season as coach and a Super Bowl in his second. This will test a different part of his coaching abilities.

"I like the fight in the group," Tomlin said. "I trust that they'll continue to do that. It's a close-knit group; I trust that they'll continue to stick together. But fighting and sticking together is not going to win football games. Performance is and preparation is, and we have an extended week here in preparation for our next performance so we better make moves to get that done."

Tomlin promised moves [Editor's note: When asked which moves Tomlin would consider, he said "subtle in some areas, maybe not so subtle in others"], before the Steelers lost in Cleveland last Thursday night. He did not back up those threats, however, making no changes in his starting lineup or in his schemes. The subtle ones he did make were practically indiscernible -- rookie cornerback Joe Burnett played four series as a sub on both sides, starting halfback Rashard Mendenhall played on third downs instead of Mewelde Moore, Moore was used as a kickoff returner, and Santonio Holmes was used as a part-time punt returner.

Tomlin again hinted at more changes this week as the Green Bay Packers head to Heinz Field for a Sunday game where the fans could show their displeasure for the home team's collapse.

"None of those things of course were effective in determining the outcome of the game," Tomlin said of those small personnel changes he made in Cleveland. "We'll continue to take that approach moving forward."

Ward believes these final three games will tell something about this team as it moves forward with all the offseason decisions facing it.

"A lot of gut check," he said. "With three games left, you're going to see who really wants to go out here and play for the pride for this organization, for our city, and who doesn't want to be around here."

LINEUP WATCH: A number of lineup changes could occur for the Steelers for Sunday's game against Green Bay. The most logical would be rookie Joe Burnett earning his first start at left cornerback for William Gay. [Editor's note: This writer has apparently not watched Ike Taylor play the last two games.]

BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- The Steelers' five-game losing streak is their longest since 2003. They last lost six in a row in 1999 when they finished 6-10.


* WR Hines Ward, 33, needs 57 yards receiving for his sixth 1,000-yard season.

* WR Santonio Holmes recorded his first 1,000-yard receiving season in his fourth in the NFL. He has 1,080 yards and improved his average to 15.4 yards per catch.

* TE Heath Miller needs three more receptions to own the single-season record for Steelers tight ends. Eric Green caught 63 in 1993.

* RB Rashard Mendenhall, in his second season, needs 60 yards for his first 1,000-yard rushing season.

* QB Ben Roethlisberger needs 654 yards passing in his final three games to become the franchise's first quarterback with 4,000 yards in a season.

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