Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference Tuesday with reporters. Here is what the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers had to say about the team's win Sunday at Baltimore and its upcoming game against the Tennessee Titans:
Opening statement: We have another big week, our stiffest challenge yet in the Tennessee Titans, at their place no less. They're in pole position in the AFC. They're a 12-2 football team. They're very good in all areas. They're plus 10 in turnovers. Of course they're well-coached by Jeff Fisher and company. He does it how we all desire to do it in this business, by being ridiculously consistent and good for a long period of time. Offensively, their tailback combination of Chris Johnson and LenDale White is spectacular. They've got 1,800-plus yards rushing, 22 touchdowns between them. They'll hurt you in a variety of ways. Of course, Johnson is a speed guy, his broken-field runs highlight sports shows on weekly basis. And LenDale White is a big, strong man. I think his feet and vision are underrated. Their quarterback is a veteran, Kerry Collins. Kerry utilizes all five eligibles. When you look down the stat sheet and watch game tape, he throws the ball to everybody. Bo Scaife leads the charge, one of their tight ends, leads them in receptions. Chris Johnson has caught over 40 passes. Justin Gage is a deep threat, he's about 19 yards per reception. More than anything when you watch the tape, it's impressive how Kerry Collins includes everyone. Screens to tight ends, running backs, vertical passes to guys like Gage, vertical passes to Alge Crumpler. He uses everyone. Of course he has great touch on his vertical passes. The offensive line is anchored and led by Kevin Mawai, the man in the middle, and they do a good job of opening holes for those two backs. Defensively, they get after you. They've got great continuity. Jim Schwartz, their coordinator, I think has been there since '01. They've got some solid veteran players. Guys like Javon Kearse is back for his second stint with those guys and appears to be back in form and playing extremely well for them. Keith Bullock is one of the best linebackers in the game. He's been at that right outside linebacker spot for a long time for those guys. They're playing extremely well and impressively in the secondary. Guys like Chris Hope, (Michael) Griffin and (Cortland) Finnegan, I think they have 14 picks between the three of those guys. Some other guys like Nick Harper are kicking. They're very good football team defensively. Special teams, they're very solid, of course, punting and kicking, and they've got a dynamic return man in Chris Carr, who they picked up from Oakland, who is equally dangerous as a punt returner and kick returner. That being said, there's not a lot to say other than the fact we need to get down to business preparing for this steep challenge.
We came out of the game pretty healthy. We have our normal bumps and bruises that may cause some guys to be limited in some form or fashion the early part of the week. But for the most part, this is as encouraging an injury situation as we've had in a while coming out of a football game. We'll continue to look at where Brett Keisel is as he pushes toward getting back in action hopefully for us this week. And, of course, Marvel Smith's situation is status quo.
How do you keep you team grounded after two wins in a row like you've had?
That's one of the things we've talked quite a bit about and focuses quite a bit about, ultimately, we'll be measured how we deal with success. Our ability to stay humble grounded. It's helped by the fact that after each one of those wins, we've been faced by another steep challenge. And that comes this week in the form of the Tennessee Titans. It's easy to stay focused when you just turn that tape on and watch our opponent this week work. You'll quickly realize we have a tall order in front of us.
Along those lines, we've seen Arizona and Tennessee falter after clinching divisions. Does it help playing for the No. 1 seed?
You know how we approach it, this is a big game because it's the next one. It happens to be the team that's in pole position in the AFC. It's at their place. All of those things make your hair stand up as you prepare. We'll do that and hopefully we'll play well enough to win.
(An early leader for the silly question of the week) They're going through some injury problems, missing a couple of tackles, what are they going to have to go through this week?
I think that question is probably for them to answer. Every team goes through injuries. We've had ours, they've had theirs. Thankfully, we're starting to get healthy at the appropriate time. They're a good football team. I think that will show as they press on through the injuries. Hopefully, we're successful this weekend.
Do they rotate their guys or were those guys in on every play?
They rotate and play a bunch of people. Tony Brown is a good player. (Dave) Ball is a good player. Jacob Ford is a good player, I think he has 6 1/2 sacks. Their rookie from Eastern Michigan, (Jason) Jones, we thought very highly of him coming out of the draft. He's played very well for them. They roll the decks and play a lot of people like a lot of teams that are 4-3 teams that are front-dominant. They fall into that category and they're dominant because of the collection of people they have working for them. No doubt, Haynesworth is a featured guy in that, but they've got a lot of guys playing extremely good football for them up front.
Considering the last two weeks, would you like to see your team handle the pressure of a fourth quarter lead?
I'll just take wins however we can get them. It's just been circumstances the past two weeks that we've had to come from behind. But we could care less about style points. If we happen to be up at the beginning of the fourth quarter, I'd rather maintain it than lose it.
After the game, Willie Parker said he was humbled and honored that you had made him a captain. Why did you do that?
Because Willie is a very important part of our football team. This guy, he is a worker. He just wants to win. He's gone through a lot like we've gone through a lot. I just thought it was appropriate that we send him out there to represent us at the coin toss in a game of that magnitude to let him know how we feel about him in light of some of things that were said and so forth before the game. We got through ups and downs like a lot of people. But nothing is going to come between this football team. When it's time to play, we're going to present a united front and battle our opponents and that was an important thing to do.
Re: The mental toughness of the defense?
I think we have a mentally tough football team offensively, defensively and special teams wise. I do. Some of the field position issues we faced in that game was due to the effectiveness of Baltimore's special teams. I don't think either offense was moving the ball in the first half of that football game. But they did a nice job punting. They had a couple of nice punt returns and thus, the field position was what it was. We've got to play 60 minutes of football, particularly when you play some of the people we have played. These games are not going to be decided in the first 20, 40, 60 snaps. These are 140, 160-snap games when you count all three phases. Usually, the pedigree doesn't show up until then when you're playing somebody good. We make a conscious effort to stay in the fight, not to get too high, not to get too low, and hopefully, it unfolds in our favor.
Re: The no huddle?
We'll do whatever it takes for us to win on a weekly basis. It was needed at that time, no doubt. It's been good when called upon. But we've got to be capable in winning in a lot of ways, whether it's deliberate-huddle football, no-huddle, multiple wide receivers, one wide receiver, two tights, two backs, we've got to be able to move the ball and win in a variety of ways because that's what's going to be required. But at that time, no doubt, the no-huddle was needed and it worked for us.
If it works like that at the end of a game, shouldn't it work earlier in a game and couldn't you go to that earlier?
It does and it has for us at different points in the season.
How are they using LenDale White?
They use both backs and they use them equally well. I think probably his carries are more of a function of Houston doing a good job of possessing the ball in that game. And what Johnson did, of course, helped matter. Those guys play to win. LenDale appears to be a guy who's unselfish. He's shared carries at the professional level, at the college level. He's found a way to quickly find a rhythm quickly when he gets the football and he's done that in college and he's doing that for them this year. They're a tough act to deal with.
What worked on the last drive that didn't work earlier in the game?
It was just a function of guys making plays, feeling the urgency of the moment and wanting to deliver for the team. They pressured on that drive, they had pressured earlier. They dropped eight on that drive, they had dropped eight earlier. We protected. We threw the ball. We caught the ball. Really, there's no more depth to it than that.
Are you willing to now say what you would have done on fourth and an inch?
What was your take on the spitting incident?
I have no take on it. I'm sure it will be a good story line for the next time we face those guys.
What was the thought process on the spike at the end of the game?
We wanted to take some shots at the end zone and that included possibly running the football. So we wanted to stop the clock, gather our thoughts and maintain that one timeout that we had so that if we did take a shot at running the football into the end zone, we would have had a timeout at our disposal. Our intent was to score a touchdown when we got that ball down to the 4-yard line. So we spiked it, gathered our thoughts. We wanted to open our playbook and look at all of our options.
RE: Confidence in winning so many close games?
I just think more than anything, it prepares you for January football because there are going to be close games in January. We're battle-tested, if you will, because we've been able to win quite a few of them. I think it strengthens your team, it strengthens your resolve. There's a mentality that you can deliver by have the experience of delivering and closing out football games, particularly tight ones, and playing from behind and those things. I think we're better for the experience. Hopefully we are. Hopefully we take those experiences and use them to our benefit in January.
Would you like to see the offense show more urgency earlier in the game? Is that something that can be done?
Even though you've lost a couple at home and had success on the road, is playing at home the best path through the playoffs?
We're just trying to win as many games as we can win. We play a good team in the Tennessee Titans. If we happen to play them again in the playoffs, I prefer to play them in Pittsburgh. That's why this is important.
Is it just generally preferred to play at home?
Absolutely. There's nothing mystical about home field other than the fact that you have the support of your fans and that makes it tough for people to operate. But we've got to willing to back up that will action and make it a winning edge for us and make it an advantage for us. We've done that for the most part this year. But we've stumbled a couple of times at home. We've been able to win in hostile environments. This is a big game this week.
In tight games, are you convinced the difference ends up being a team's mental toughness?
I think that when two teams are close, your ability to not ride the emotional roller coaster through success and failure through the course of a game ultimately decides the outcome. You've just got to continue on and live one snap at a time, see it with great clarity, so you can make corrections along the way. The team that does that, generally puts itself in position to make the significant play in the end.
You still sprinkled William Gay in there. Is that situational, a rotation or has he merited extra playing time?
We've continued to play William. Through the injuries we've found that he's a capable guy that's capable of helping us win and play quality ball. That's the flip side, the positive that injuries provide you. We were able to find out what Mewelde Moore was capable of giving us due to injury. As people have come back, he's continued to do some of the things that he's done to help us win. I think to turn a blind eye to that would be naive. When guys show that they're capable of chipping in and helping you win, you look for ways to let them help you continue to do that. I think it creates and air of competition within the group and competition is the ultimate motivator, it makes us all better.
When you win close games, does that create an expectation to win close games?
Hopefully our team expects to win without evidence. Hopefully they expect to win without getting into games recently that we've won. No doubt that actually doing it helps. But from a mentality standpoint, I think that our team expects to win regardless.
Did the last drive show what your passing game and receivers are capable of?
Sure it did. Again, I thought they were capable of that before the last drive. We have guys that like to make plays and like to deliver for our team. It was a unique experience, having to go 92 yards to win a game and a division title. It's part of Steelers lore now, if you will, it's cool to be a part of that. But we march on as we continue to write the story of ‘08.
Did you ask for an explanation from Walt Coleman at the time when they said no touchdown?
No I didn't. I expected those guys to review that decision. That's why we let the clock run a little bit before making the decision because we expected them to stop and look at it. When they did that, we were just pondering the possibilities based on the outcome. When they ruled it a touchdown, we were pretty excited.
Were you curious? Did you go back and look at it to see if he was in or not?
What did your coaches upstairs tell you?
We all thought it was a touchdown. But we would have thought it was a touchdown if they had ruled it wasn't. It's perspective under those circumstances that usually rule you. It's an emotional thing. I'm sure Baltimore thought he wasn't in. That's why we have officials at games.
Re: Kerry Collins?
Here's the thing about him, he utilizes all the eligibles. He's very inclusive in terms of how he administers the offense. He doesn't make mistakes. I think he's thrown seven interceptions on the season and I think he's been sacked seven times. As a team, they've only been sacked eight. Pressure is going to be an issue in this game for us, not sacks, just pressure, forcing him to throw the ball in a timely manner. They've proven that you can't get there and get there consistently. I think those are some of the things he brings to the table and why they're a 12-2 team.
What is about Ben (Roethlisberger) that he can do nothing for 3 1/2 quarters and then lead your right down the field at the end of a game?
He's a ridiculous competitor. Some people live for those moments and that's part of what makes them who they are. I truly believe he's one of those people.
Was that a no-no-no, yeah-yeah-yeah play when he was making that last play?
I've seen it so much that I'm usually of the yeah, yeah, yeah mentality. I'm glad he plays for us.
Re: Lack of holding calls against James Harrison?
I'm going to focus on coaching and let the officials officiate. I've pretty much had that mentality and stance all year and I'm probably going to stick to it here in December.
How is your team's freshness considering you've had to play so many guys?
I think it's easy to be fresher when you're winning. I think we're fresher right now because we're 11-3. The mental wear and tear, particularly when you're not winning is a difficult thing. We've had the opportunity to play some people due to injury, they've performed well. Through it all, we've been able to win more times than not. I think all of that helps us as we move forward.
Are you concerned about a sense of relief now that they've clinched the No. 2 seed?
I'm really not worried about the relief mentality. We've got some tangible, big-time goals to achieve in front of us here in the regular season. Having an opportunity to play the best in our conference at their place here this weekend is motivation enough to get out of bed and be ready to rock-and-roll professionally. Our staff is of that mentality. Our team is of that mentality. We'll get ready to see them first hand tomorrow morning. But I'll be shocked if we're not champing at the bit if we're not ready to start the preparation to play this football game.
(And the winner of the dumb question award) Are you at all surprised at what your team has accomplished this year given the schedule and injuries. I know you don't like to reflect (then why ask him to?) but up to this point has anything surprised you about the resilience?
Quite honestly, I'd like to be 14-0. But 11-3 is what we are.