Steelers need to answer the count after absorbing haymaker from Patriots

Jared Wickerham

The post-season may be out of reach, but there is too much at stake for the Steelers to lay down for the final eight weeks. Their future depends on it.

No matter how much it hurts, the Pittsburgh Steelers have to get up off the mat after taking one square on the chin from the New England Patriots.

Its too easy to just stay down.  Just throw in the towel and walk away, live to fight another day.  Playoffs are all but out of the picture, pride is the only thing left to fight for.  Is it really worth absorbing a few more blows, just to hold your bruised and battered head up high?

Yes.

Ralph N. Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quoted defensive end Brett Keisel after the devastating loss, due mainly to an embarrassing defensive effort.

"We just got to get up and fight," Keisel said. "We've all been in fights. We've all been knocked down. A lot of character is going to be on display this next week to see how we respond to getting beat like this. I think we will respond accordingly."

It's safe to say, the 35 year old veteran and team leader will not have any part of any sort of 'Suck for Luck' nonsense. The Steelers simply have too much to play for to think about draft positions.

Keisel is most likely playing in his final NFL season, after playing his entire career in Pittsburgh.  He has been a part of two Super Bowl champions, and reached a third.  He has been a solid part of one of the league's best defenses since becoming a starter.  He has embraced the Steelers organization and their fan-base as family, and represents the city of Pittsburgh with pride, and his beard of course.  He certainly doesn't want his swan song to play out like a funeral march.

He isn't the only player looking at what could be their final season in Pittsburgh.  Players like Emmanuel Sanders, Ziggy Hood and Jason Worilds are set to become free-agents after this season.  Each has had their moments, but overall none have established a desirable market value for themselves.  If they have any hopes of getting paid by the Steelers or someone else, they need to play better without excuses.

On the other side of the coin, the young talent already on the roster is still raw.  Le'Veon Bell gets a little better each week, but still plays like a rookie.  He is gaining valuable experience, both good and bad.  The team needs to keeping polishing until he can shine for a complete game.

If the team is prepared to allow Sanders to walk in the off-season, Markus Wheaton needs to resume his own growing pains.  When he is finally able to return, he won't learn anything if the only thing being thrown are football games.

The benching of Jarvis Jones for screwing up his assignments in contain was an understandable move, as a message had to be delivered; but unless the team is considering re-signing Worilds, Jones needs to be put back in the mix.  The experienced Worilds held more value as a starter when the playoffs were still possible, but not as a long-term solution at the position.

The same could be said for fellow rookie Vince Williams, who continues to progress slightly while the defense regresses wholesale.  However, Landry Jones needs to stay in street clothes.  Ben Roethlisberger has enough of his own issues to deal with to afford him any playing time.  Jones simply needs to remain active in communications from the sideline, and learn the mental side of coming back.

Antonio Brown surely won't want Ben to sit.  Brown is currently on pace for 122 catches, 1,402 yards and six TDs at the halfway point of the season.  A leaky defense will only provide more opportunities for the passing game, and Brown will want to play it with his quarterback.  So will Jerricho Cotchery, who will also be a free-agent next year, but will most likely be a cheaper signing than Sanders, making Cotchery more likely to return.

The defense as a whole has been undependable.  At moments, they look like a Steelers defense; most others, not so much.  Players like Keisel, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu take too much pride in their craft to simply give up.  Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward are still trying to prove themselves.  LaMarr Woodley is finding out what a full NFL season feels like.  Ryan Clark could also be playing his final season as a Steeler, and won't want to have to begin his television career answering questions about a Steel City Meltdown.

The truth is, the Steelers will probably lose another game this year, no matter what they do; and they may not stop at just one.  However, in those losses they can find a greater victory in eliminating inexperience before the young become the elders.

The players have too much to play for to give up.  The front office is too proud to approve of giving up.  The coaching staff will wind up unemployed if they just give up.  They've been backed into the corner with no where to run.  If they don't come out fighting, the beating they take could be fatal for the future of the franchise.

Then of course, there's always that 1 percent chance fighting back actually wins a game or two - or three maybe four.  Certainly winning seven of their last eight is not impossible, but highly improbable.  The Steelers will still affect the AFC North and Conference races.  Who knows what kind of bad luck awaits other teams along the way.

Why not fight back?  The Steelers have nothing left to lose, and only everything to gain.  Throwing in the terrible towel only sets the franchise back a few more years.  It may grab them a high draft pick, but considering the team's rate of success in the draft, it offers no guarantees or comfort.  Number-one picks tear ACLs just like 24th picks and third-rounders.

Week 9 provides the perfect opportunity to get the gloves back up, as the Steelers welcome a struggling Buffalo Bills team to Heinz Field.  If they're able to gather their feet and get their guard back up, they may even be able to throw a few jabs at the Detroit Lions in Week 10.  Then, two straight divisional games against the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens, who this struggling Steelers team beat already.  Considering everyone but the Bengals have a losing record - although it will have to be seen how well the Bengals do with Geno Atkins now out for the season - who knows what a four game winning streak does to the divisional race depending on how other games play out.

The Steelers will never find out if they don't pick themselves up off the mat, and start handing out punishment instead of just taking it.

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