Steelers

Kovacevic: Tomlin’s bracing for criticism … so, OK

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Mike Tomlin walks the sideline Sunday in Oakland. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

OAKLAND, Calif. -- "Mannnnnnn, we'll be fine," Ramon Foster was telling me Sunday night. "We'll pull through. We will. You'll see. Don't we always?"

Maybe he's right. Maybe they will.

But if I'm being as honest with you as I was with the big man following this sorriest of losses for the Steelers, 24-21 to the stinking Raiders, this feels different. Because this team isn't like those that piled up momentum through the later months of a regular season. This team isn't gaining confidence. This team isn't getting better.

And that's worrisome on a whole lot of levels, not least of which is the most meaningful of all: They're now 7-5-1 with three losses in a row -- nearly four, but for that last gasp in Jacksonville -- and, even with early gifts unwrapped around the AFC earlier in the day -- they're anything but guaranteed to participate in the playoffs, much less push for home field.

Oh, and this: Next up are the 9-4 Patriots and the 11-2 Saints. And I'd dismiss the 5-8 Bengals at the end, except that they're about a billion times better than a certain 3-10 team in the current discussion.

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