Opening statement: Let me give you the injury situation as it relates to this weekend. First of all, Hines (Ward), he had a scope to remove two loose bodies. This injury occurred Sunday in Baltimore. This was not the result of what took place in Cleveland. It may have been some aftereffects of that. But he felt fine as the week went on. I know he stated even on Sunday that he felt close to 90, 95 percent out there. This injury took place Sunday. He had the two loose bodies removed. Right now he's out for a week. Given that we play Thursday the following week, we're going to say one week right now. Obviously being the short week, it could run into two. Troy Polamalu is also out. Troy has a second degree MCL sprain so it's not as significant as we first thought. No surgery is required. He is out this week and we will go week to week from there. Two players are questionable, that's Willie Reid with a foot and Clark Haggans with his hip. And we have six players probable: Joey Porter with an elbow; Jeff Hartings with a knee; James Harrison with an ankle; Sean Morey with a toe: Ben (Roethlisberger) with his chest; and Ike Taylor with a concussion. So that's our situation going into a game with Tampa. Again, when you look at the game, it was a surprising game because I felt we had a good week of work and I think it was a case of a game that got out of hand early. We did not play well at all in the first half. Certainly in the second half to get behind against that team and have to revert to the pass, it was a feeding frenzy for them. I told the team on Monday, it's one of those games that you never want to go through, but it's one of those things that in this business, you will experience. The biggest thing you can do is that you have to move on, you can't dwell on it. Right now, we have five games left and we have to win every one of them and let the chips fall where they may. I think that knowing the quality of players that we have, they understand that. And we have to take that approach in our preparation. Tampa Bay is another team that's like we are. They had some high expectations coming in and they're going through some tough times like we are. They're a good football team, a young team and it's going to be a big challenge for us and we've got to meet that challenge. It certainly is not where we expected to be at this point, but we're going to deal with it and proceed on.
(We've already got a leader for the dumb question award) Does it become more easier to deal with the frustration of Sunday as your coaching career moves on?
Does it become easier?
Do you learn to deal losing better?
No. You learn to deal with it. If anything, it's probably harder. The longer you're in this business, the higher the expectation levels become. If you don't have high expectations, you probably haven't been in this business long enough to experience that. It does become difficult. Certainly for our football team and the expectations that we had, it becomes trying. It tests you. I think it becomes very revealing as well. You find out about yourself and the people around you as well. It has a way of separating the conditional friend from the unconditional. It reveals a lot about yourself. I'd like to think that last weekend was not representative of our football team. We did play that way. I'd like to think it was an aberration. It's something that won't take place again, but we have to validate that statement on Sunday. You look at when we played Kansas City. Were we 35 points or whatever it was better than Kansas City? No. We got off to a fast start. Sometimes you get off to a fast start like things can roll for you or snowball against you like what happened to us last week, but we've got to come back from that. I don't think they're 27 points better than us, but they were last Sunday. The thing we've got to do this week is control this week and put last week behind us.
Your quarterback has been knocked around this year. You have the same fullback, the same tight end, the same line, can you figure out why that is?
No. I think we've gotten behind for whatever reason. We've turned the football over. We've not started off fast defensively. We've played from behind a lot this year. When you play from behind, you're in must-throw situations. You look at the last couple of years, we've played a lot from ahead. When you're ahead, you have the ability to dictate a lot of things. Last week we got into a situation against a team that you don't want to play catch-up against, particularly on the road, dealing with the noise, trying to run the no-huddle because of the time element. A lot of things led to some of the inefficiencies and certainly some of the results.
Are you worried that this is going to get into Ben's head at all and did you consider taking him out in the fourth quarter?
Ben wanted to be out there. It's one of those situations where you don't want to not be out there with the rest of your teammates who are out there fighting and battling. There's a lot to be said about that. Quarterbacks like him look at that as being part of the team. Why should he not be out there with the other players who are out there. They're in that type of situation. Certainly he wanted to finish. I wasn't going to put him out there if there were risks medically. He fought through it like everybody else fought through it.
Will you stick with (Bryant) McFadden and Deshea (Townsend) at corner?
I haven't really made a decision. That's kind of a week-to-week decision.
(Paulie Walnuts softball time) Overall, how do you think your team will respond over the next five weeks?
We'll find out. I'm not going to speculate on any of that. I'd like to think we'll go out and battle and find a way to win.
Was the loss as deflating inside the locker room as it was from the outside looking in?
It was disappointing, there's no question about it. Even the way we lost was disappointing. It's gut-check time to find out from each guy and the football team. The reality is that it is what it is. We have to put that behind us and move on and get that very sour taste out of our mouths with our play this Sunday.
Does Nate (Washington) move up with Hines out?
Yeah, Nate moves up and we'll get Santonio (Holmes) some work over there as well.
(Paulie Walnuts again) Does running the football effectively go a long way toward getting that taste out of your mouth?
Yeah. There's no question we've got to do that more effectively. We've been playing a lot of catch-up and getting behind early. You want to stay with the running game and we probably abandoned it a little too soon the other day. I think the biggest thing is trying to put ourselves in the situation where we're not playing from behind the entire day.
(Paulie Walnuts again) It seems like you guys were up against it on first down last week?
You mean offensively? Yeah, when you look at the third downs in the first half, we were 0- of-5. But we didn't have one third down that was less than 10 yards. We had sacks. We had no-yard gains on first and second downs. Then we had three consecutive sacks on second down that led to third and longs. There's no question that you need just to get positive yards, just to get it back to manageable situations. Otherwise you're getting third downs and you're seeing us complete a 14-yard pass on third-and-19 because you just can't hold the ball against that type of team in that situation long enough to be able to get that many yards. There's no question, first and second down has a lot to do with that.
Did they show you a lot of stuff you hadn't seen?
Not really. We just didn't do a good job of picking it up. We didn't do a good job of throwing hots. We had some hots that we missed. They're always going to have one more than you can protect with. But in those situations, there's an exposure that you risk. We didn't take advantage of that. It's a risk-reward kind of thing. They took the risk but they got all of the reward. We really didn't hit the opportunities we had to make some big plays when we did that.
Ben said a lot of those sacks were on him. Is that what you're referring to with the hots?
It's a little bit of everything. The big hit he took, we actually repped that in practice. Willie (Parker) stepped up instead of stepping out. He should have taken the guy coming off the corner. Willie should have had it protected. There are other times where he should have thrown the ball away before he took the hit. There was a combination of all of those things.
(Paulie Walnuts again) It's not for a while, but are you happy you have another shot at those guys?
It isn't for a while. The biggest thing for us is Tampa Bay right now and not to look beyond that.
What did you think of (Bruce) Gradkowski when he was coming out?
He's a good quarterback. He's a young guy going through a lot. You watch him play and you see a lot of good things. Other times, you see some of the inexperience. It's a football team that is going to want to run the ball with (Mike) Alstott and Cadillac Williams. He's a really good back. And they've got a deep threat with Joey Galloway. He can still run, even at his age. You see him getting behind defenses all the time. It's a good offense.
He was forced to play because of injury. But a lot of teams are switching quarterbacks mid-season. Why do you think that is?
I think every situation is different. I think it's very subjective because I think they are all unique situations. I think it would be unfair of me to be judgmental on other people making those decisions.
Do you think in general, though maybe you can't be as patient with quarterbacks any more?
I don't know. The bottom line is doing what you think gives you the best chance to win week to week. People talk about wanting to prepare for the future and looking ahead. The best way to do that is to win games and create that mindset and mentality. You can't jeopardize any game just to develop somebody else. You've got guys out there playing hurt. You don't know what you're team is going to be like a year from now. You're trying to win football games and that's the bottom line in this business.
In 2003, the last time you were in this situation, you continued to play all of your starters. Do you believe that was the foundation for 2004?
No. I wasn't looking at 2004. I was looking at 2003 and trying to win as many football games as you can. Whatever players you have, you're going to play the best players you can that give you the best chance to win week to week. I think I just said that. You're not looking at the future from that perspective. You look at our team, we're young in some areas. We've got experience in other areas. We will continue to play hard week in and week out and try to win as many games as we can. Along the way you'll get the people the experience that they need and you'll find out about the other players and their accountability. It's something where you look at the future when the season is over. I don't think it's fair to jeopardize the present at the expense of developing one or a few players. I don't think it's a fair thing to do.
Did that set the foundation for the next two years?
It's hard to say. I think you only know how to play one way and you don't turn that off. Just because the situation is what it is, you play through it. That's part of this business. You've got to learn to deal with it. You've got to learn to accept it and grow from that. It becomes very revealing in my opinion. It becomes defining about who you are as a person and as a player, your ability to preserver through those times. And Thai's what we're going through. And it will be defining for a lot of people, myself included. Nobody likes the situation. Deal with it. The best thing we can do right now is to take advantage of our opportunity and go out and win a football game on Sunday. This team has won two of the last three games. I'm not going to let one game define who we are. Many people in here would like to do that, so be it. You're entitled to make whatever judgments you want to make. In my mind, one game does not define this football game and it's ability to persevere through this. And that's what we're in the process of doing.
(Stop, Ellis time) Some rambling statement about perspective.
I'm giving them the perspective they need to have. No one likes it. But you deal with it. You don't get caught up in the tough times just like you don't get caught up in the good times. I've said it before, you're never as good as you think you are or as bad as they say you are. Right now, they're saying a lot of things that aren't too positive. You don't get caught up in that, just like you don't get caught up in it when they're giving you all the accolades. If you're able to do that, it gives you the proper perspective. It keeps you grounded. I think we have a lot of guys who understand that. And we do get to go out and play Sunday to have a chance to get that sour taste out of our mouths. It can't get here fast enough.
Do you want to win these final five games to make sure it doesn't spiral the other way? Is that a concern?
You don't like losing. You don't like losing period. That's the bottom line. If you're in this business, then you have a passion for this business, then you won't accept it. Now you will learn to deal with it because it is what it is. You can't sugarcoat it. I'm not going to do that and I don't want our players to do that. At the same time, stand up for who you are. Be accountable because times like this have a way of defining who you are (I think I've heard that before).
With the pressure of the playoffs now off, will you make more risky plays in the final five games (What?)?
Whatever it takes to win football games.
With that being said, are you a little more cautious with Troy and Hines?
Not less than it would be in any other situation. If you're involved in a playoff game, maybe you look at that a little differently. But we will view their health and their health is first and foremost. Like I said, a lot of guys are playing banged up. That's the type of football players we have on this team. We'll take all that into account.
If Willie Reid is healthy, will he return punts?
When Willie gets back, I'd love to be able to put him back there. We'll see how he is.
Who steps up for Troy?
Anthony Smith will get some time in the dime?
How was Willie Reid before he got hurt?
He didn't do much. He was in there for one game.
What about practice?
He's not practicing full speed yet. I can't make an assessment.
Has Anthony Smith gotten any time at strong safety in practice?
He works at free safety.
(This should be over, but Ellis can't let that happen without getting more face time) A lot of the focus has been on what your team has done right and wrong. Have teams been different in their approach to you?
I don't know if it's that. The defending thing has had something to do with it. It seems like we've brought out the best in everybody's play. But I think at this point in the season, you are who you are. We're going to continue get pressure until we show an ability to stop that. Teams are going to throw the deep ball until we show we can defend it. I think as the season progresses, teams will not vary much from their character and exploit weaknesses that you show.