Art Of Fumbling -- One Year Later

The Steelers had a disastrous day holding onto the ball last year in Cleveland. But you might be surprised at their progress since.

PITTSBURGH -- They're heading back to the place of their 2012 shame, and just one day short of the anniversary.

On November 25, 2012, the Steelers defined their season by fumbling eight times at Cleveland.

But it wasn't just the 8 on the ground, or the 5 fumbles lost. What's remembered most vividly is that four different running backs each lost a fumble. And only one of those running backs -- the once-cut Jonathan Dwyer -- remains on the team.

"It wasn't a good day for running backs," said Dwyer.

To review:

* The Steelers jumped to an early lead with Lawrence Timmons' pick-six.

* Rashard Mendenhall fumbled on the first offensive possession.

* Next up, Isaac Redman fumbled on the fourth possession.

* Next up, Dwyer fumbled on the sixth possession.

* Next up, Chris Rainey fumbled out of bounds to end the half.

* Recycling through, Mendenhall's second-half fumble was recovered by fullback Will Johnson.

* And, trying the rookie again, Rainey fumbled away a reception.

* Just for good measure, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders fumbled while playing Hot Potato on the final play, and Charlie Batch threw three interceptions in the Steelers' 20-14 loss.

But as Dwyer said, it was a bad day for running backs.

"You just laugh about it now," said Dwyer. "It's a situation that never happened before, and I don't expect it to happen ever again."

It hasn't.

After fumbling six of the 28 times the halfbacks handled the ball that day, the group went 122 plays the rest of the season with only one fumble, that by Isaac Redman.

This year, the numbers are just as impressive. In 249 plays with the ball, Steelers running backs have fumbled only twice, with Felix Jones's fumble against the Chicago Bears the only one they've lost -- officially. The apparent Redman fumble in the opener was credited to Ben Roethlisberger.

So, since fumbling six times (four lost) in 28 plays against the Browns a year ago, Steelers running backs have fumbled only three times (two lost) in the 371 times they've handled the ball.

"You look back and can't believe it all happened," Dwyer said. "And we were still in the game. That was the crazy part."

Dwyer said running backs coach Kirby Wilson "wasn't happy about it," but that a day later Wilson was telling the group, "that was just one of those games."

"Ever since then," Dwyer said, "we've really been focused on our ball security. ... We overemphasize it, especially when we're on the road. Don't unwrap the ball early. Get in a rhythm of the game. Don't get their crowd into the game.

"Ball security's big for us."

The surprise this season isn't so much that the Steelers' primary ball carrier has gone 120 carries without fumbling, but that he's a rookie.

"Yeah. He's doing really well," Dwyer said of Le'Veon Bell. "He works at it. We all work at it as a unit. Our main mindset is if we can't make anything happen, we're going to make sure we take care of the ball first and then ourselves, because you don't want any cheap shots. When you know the journey's going to be over, get down on the ground."

According to Pro Football Weekly, Bell fumbled only five times in 671 college carries. So the Steelers appear to have drafted a steady plow horse.

Dwyer, the short-yardage specialist and primary backup, has gone 30 carries this season without fumbling.

Both backs have been reminded by their coaches this week of the day that lives in infamy, because Kirby Wilson and his runners have something to prove a year later in Cleveland.

"I think we have something to prove every week, not just because of last year," Dwyer said. "That's behind us. That doesn't mean anything now. But we have something to prove for us in general. We want to do better than what we did this past week, and keep getting better each and every week."

NOTES -- TE Matt Spaeth was activated off the IR-recall list. The Steelers have three weeks to decide whether to promote him to the roster or keep him on IR the rest of the season. ... Missing Thursday's practice were DE Brett Keisel (foot), S Shamarko Thomas (ankle) and LB LaMarr Woodley (calf). Limited was ILB Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring).