FOXBOROUGH — Though they’ve posted a couple of 8-8 seasons, the last time the Steelers had a losing record was 2003. In the decade since, they’ve won two Super Bowls (2006 and ’10), and were also in the AFC title game in 2004, which they lost to New England.
As they boast in their media notes, the Steelers are one of five teams to post 100 or more regular-season wins over that 10-year span.
But as Pittsburgh comes to Foxborough Sunday, it is 2-5, losing its first four games of the season, winning its next two, and losing last week in Oakland, Calif.
The Steelers are in the unfamiliar position of AFC North basement dweller.
“It’s been tough,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said during a conference call. “The bar, the standard has been set high here and the start of this season has not been something that we’re used to, so it’s been frustrating and difficult.”
For Roethlisberger and the offense, the problems start up front. All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year with a torn ACL in the opener, and tackle Levi Brown, whom the team acquired in a trade with Arizona to help shore up the line, also landed on season-ending injured reserve with a triceps injury.
Generally a top rushing team, the line issues have in part led to the Steelers averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, and Roethlisberger has been sacked 26 times. The Steelers are scoring a little less than 18 points per game.
Defensively, Pittsburgh saw aging but aggressive linebacker James Harrison sign with rival Cincinnati in the offseason, and last year’s leading tackler, Larry Foote, is another key player on IR because of a biceps injury.
Roethlisberger said Pittsburgh has fallen behind early and has had trouble playing catch-up.
But Patriots coach Bill Belichick sees a team that’s better than its record.
“If you look at them on a play-by-play basis, you don’t see that,” Belichick said. “You look at the record but they’ve lost a couple of tough games. They beat Baltimore [in Week 7], which is a good win; it’s something we didn’t do last year. They beat the Jets [in Week 6]; that’s something we didn’t do two weeks ago.
“They were in a bunch of close games that could have gone either way. When you look at them, I think you see a good football team that’s kind of like us: We’ve been in a lot of close games. We’ve won more than we’ve lost; they’ve lost more than they’ve won, but a couple plays one way or the other in any of those games and you could have had a big swing in what a lot of teams’ records are, but that’s the league. They’re competitive against everybody.
“They’re perfectly capable of playing with anybody in this league. I don’t think they lack any confidence to that and they shouldn’t. They’re well-coached, they have a good program, they have a good football team.”
Stephen Gostkowski was named AFC special teams player of the month for October.
The Patriots kicker was 9 for 9 on his field goal attempts, including a career-best 54-yarder against the Saints. Of his 22 kickoffs, 20 went to the end zone, with only six returned.
For the season, Gostkowski has 34 touchbacks (on 44 kickoffs), tied for second most in the NFL. This is his second player of the month award (October, 2008).
The Patriots had perfect attendance at practice for the second straight day on Thursday, and the injury report was the same as Wednesday. Eleven players were listed as limited, including TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring/back/forearm), WR Danny Amendola (groin), DT Tommy Kelly (knee), and CB Aqib Talib (hip).
Thursday’s practice was in full pads. Talib was wearing pads in his practice pants, which is a positive sign. Last week when the squad was in full pads, he wore only shoulder pads.
Two members of the Steelers coaching staff were on Belichick’s staff with the Browns years ago: assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell and receivers coach Richard Mann held the same titles in Cleveland . . . With the Patriots and Raiders both winning last week, New England remains a game behind the Silver and Black for most victories of the eight original AFL teams. Oakland’s franchise record is 433-367-11, while New England is 432-371-9.