Mike Tomlin met with the media Tuesday and got a visit from Santa Claus. Tomlin, who's focused on the Pittsburgh Steelers finishing 12-4, was unamused. Here's what he had to say other than that:
Opening statement: Good afternoon. I will start with a quick summary of Sunday's performance. In reviewing the tape, it was much like it looked to us on Sunday. Quite simply, there were not enough good things to win in that kind of environment versus that kind of football team. There were some good things. I thought that we did a nice job of rebounding from first-half miscues. We marched the ball down the field at the end of the first half and had an opportunity to tie the game up at halftime; of course we didn't do that. That tends to be deflating, but I thought that our team overcame that and came out and started the second half the way that we needed to start the second half; we actually took the lead. Give them credit, they are a good team. They responded and put together a drive of their own to go up by three. The miscues from that point on didn't enable us to come back. Of course, we turned the football over; we were a minus-four in turnover ratio. When you play good people and they take the ball away from you, and you do not take the ball away from them, it is tough to win. We have to do a better job of protecting the football; we have to do a better job of getting the football. I think that over the four or five games that we won in a row, we did a nice job of protecting the football and getting it. I think that it is a dual responsibility as we talk about us as a team as we push and move forward; that has to be our personality. It wasn't our personality during that football game; that is one of the major reasons that the score was what it was. We will use that as a learning experience; we had our team in here yesterday to review the tape, to talk about it and set the stage for this week as we begin our preparations for the Cleveland Browns. Talking briefly about them, this is a big week for us; and I will tell you why. It is a football game and we are playing the Cleveland Browns; they are a division opponent. When you want to be the kind of team that we aspire to be, it starts with dominating our division. We made no bones about that when we talked about some of the goals that we had at the beginning of the season. We have an opportunity to sweep our division, and that hasn't been done around here since 2002. We have an opportunity to play in front of our fans and put an exclamation point on what has been a solid season. One of the things that I look at when I study what we have done up through this point is that we have been pretty solid in everything that we have done throughout. We have an opportunity to be 6-2 at home; of course we are 6-2 on the road. We started the season 6-2 in the first eight games; with a win on Sunday we can finish it 6-2. We have an opportunity to be 3-1 in every quarter of the season. However you shape it, a winning performance for us this weekend puts an exclamation point on what has been a solid regular season, and moves us into the playoffs in a good frame of mind to chase the goals that we set out to chase.
It is Cleveland; that makes it easier. We know the history of this rivalry and we respect that. We expect those guys to come in here and play big-time and play to win. We expect to do the same. Ryan Clark has a right shoulder injury and he will be out for this game. We will evaluate him next week. If we had to play the following week, he probably wouldn't make that either; we don't, so that is a good thing. James Harrison will be limited here at the beginning of the week with a hip pointer. Ben (Roethlisberger) will be limit with a right ankle sprain. Brett Keisel came out of the game ok in his first game back in a significant period of time for him. We have various other bumps and bruises that may or may not limited people here at the beginning of the week. We intend to do that, and we intend to come in here tomorrow with our football team to start hard-core preparations for what is going to be an exciting week, and hopefully an exciting end to our season. With that being said, I will answer any questions.
What did Tennessee do up front on defense?
From my perspective, I think that it was just a matter of execution. Those guys, just like I said prior to the game, have played a bunch of people. Historically, they have used an eight-man rotation. With the injuries, they were down two people. The guys that they play probably had to play 8-10 more snaps; the eight-man rotation became a six-man rotation. All of those guys went out and played well.
Is Willie Parker's production a function of health or the offense?
I think that anybody that you talk about on our football team, in terms of what they are doing, it is a function of all of us collectively; players and coaches. His production is among the examples. Would we like him to be having more success? Absolutely. But we all take ownership of that; players and coaches.
How much will you play Ben?
We are playing; we are playing.
Does Ben need to get back on track?
It is our next game. We are playing the game and we are playing to win. That is what the National Football League is all about. You rebound from negative performances; we have had a few this year. Thankfully, we have always bounced back and found a way to win the following week. Everything we do on Sunday will be with that in mind.
Can you gain momentum for the playoffs from this game?
Absolutely. There will be 12 teams in the playoff field and there can only be one (to win the Super Bowl). I guarantee you that one will be one that is on the rise heading into January football. That always appears to be the case. We have been a team on the rise up until last weekend. Hopefully we can put that behind us with a solid performance this week and then go into January with the right frame of mind as we chase our goals.
Compare last year's regular-season finale versus this year's?
Last year really doesn't (factor in) in terms of our mentality, of where our team is right now. They are two different football teams, two different circumstances. The variables are many and different. We are just addressing what we need to in terms of putting ourselves in position to be effective in January football this year.
What can Cleveland do to threaten you on Sunday?
That is the same football team that beat the New York Giants on Monday Night (Football earlier in the season); it really is. They have great players. Jamal Lewis went over 10,000 yards last week; he is over 900 for the season. Braylon Edwards is a Pro Bowl-caliber football player. D'Qwell Jackson had probably one of the better football games that I have seen from any defender this year just a couple of weeks ago. They have great, young corner play in Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright. They also have solid safety play with (Brodney) Pool. They are a capable football team; we all know what Joshua Cribbs has done to us in recent years. They have a great coaching staff; respect those guys and what they are capable of. There is a fine line between being 4-11 and 11-4 in this league. If you don't believe me, just look around at some of the examples. It happens year in and year out. We respect that process that makes people successful on weekends. I don't have the reasons why they are not successful this year, just like I don't have the reasons why Jacksonville isn't successful this year. We respect those football teams and we respect everybody that we compete against in this league. It just speaks to the parity and how good this league is from top-to-bottom. You better take care of yourself on a weekly basis to put yourself in a position to play well. That is what is required to win.
Can you confuse their quarterbacks?
That is just one element of the game. I am not going to say that is solely going to affect the outcome of the game; it may be a factor. I think that when you are playing with your third and fourth quarterback it is significant. Significant enough to be a difference in the outcome of a football game? Maybe not. We better be solid in all areas to get the kind of performance that we are looking for.
Did you see this coming for the Browns back in Week 2?
I just went with what I knew to that point. I just knew that they had a bunch of quality players; they sent a bunch of guys to the Pro Bowl a year ago. They were a 10-6 team; they had found their quarterback in (Derek) Anderson. Of course it was Week 2; it was a tough environment to go in to. They played with a great deal of passion and emotion and got after us pretty good. We had a tough time blocking Shaun Rogers. We left that stadium that day with a win, 10-6, thinking that we got out of there with a tough one; and it was. The things that have transpired since then are kind of their story of 2008; it doesn't make them any less dangerous.
Are you concerned about the running game?
I am concerned about it. My concern is solely based upon one thing, and that is winning. I think that with an effective running game, it increases our chances of winning. Therein lies my concern; do we need to get hot in the running game? Absolutely. We need to get hot as a football team in general if we are going to march forward into January football. To me, that is what it is about. You can take any element of a football team, highlight it, and talk about how important it is to move on to the next step when you get into elimination football. From my perspective we need to be hitting on all cylinders, and need to be playing well in all areas to continue to do that.
Might you take a longer look at Gary Russell in this game?
We are playing.
Are you concerned about the punting game in terms of generating field position?
I thought that it was pretty good last Sunday. We have had some adverse weather conditions; we have also changed personnel in that area. Hopefully last week is an indication of what we are capable of doing in that area. I think that we were right around 40 yards in net for that game; we downed two inside the 20; one well inside the 20. Hopefully that is a weapon for us as we move forward.
There is no change in Marvel and Max has done a solid job. You know what goes with playing left tackle in this league. The challenges are many week in and week out. He stood up well for us and gave us the kind of production that we need to win games. Of course, he has some big challenges that lie ahead; they start with (Kamerion) Wimbley this weekend.
Do you stand by your offensive coordinator and what he has done?
It is so not the time to talk about that, truth-be-known. We are so focused on the men that we have in our circle, and winning, that I won't even dignify that with an answer. We are going to play the Cleveland Browns this week; after that we have a bye, and then we are getting ready for playoff football.
What's your reaction to the treatment of the terrible towel.
I have no reaction unless we see those guys again. Then there will be probably a question that is worthy to be answered.
Do you stay away from the run because it hasn't been working?
You have to have a short memory in this business. That's said about corners and defensive backs quite a bit. I think it applies to everybody. We can't be intimidated by what occurs in the past. If you do you will never get over the hump in regards to anything that you do. We acknowledge some of the errors that we are deficient in, we work at them, we wait for the next opportunity to prove that we are not. That's the same mentality I have regarding the run game and all of our deficiencies. I tend to have a short memory and can't wait to have the opportunity to prove that we have improved.
The penetration in the back field, is it getting beat physically or confusion?
Usually it is both, when you are consistently below the line. We've had some success. We have had some failure. I think the specific thing that was troubling at times last Sunday were the negative runs. There was a significant number, five or six runs where we had zero or minus yardage gained. Some of them were a function of no huddle football; we called a draw into a teeth of a blitz and things of that nature. Those things happen, some of those plays are high risk, high reward. But in general, we just need to be more consistent in some of the things we are doing in that area.
How much is that a function of the running back himself?
It's all of us. Players and coaches. To look at that any other way would be to assign blame. I tend to think that we are an accountability group as opposed to one. That assigns blame.
Is rust a disadvantage to the bye?
I really don't see any disadvantages to the bye. It's a pass to the second round of the playoffs. I'll take it.
How do you work thru the holiday?
What we are doing is we are providing everybody the opportunity to spend their mornings at home. We realize that is a special part of the day, especially for those who have children. Then we intend to have everyone home in time for dinner. But between that we are going to get ourselves a normal Thursday's work-day in. I think our fans would appreciate that and I know that is what we need to do.
Was the loss in Tennessee a wakeup call or a slap in the face?
We're not going to ride the emotional rollercoaster win or lose. We won five or so games in a row and we were the same football team. I am not going to go in the other direction and try to make more out of this loss than what it is. We didn't do enough good things to win in a hostile environment versus a good team. It is what it is. We put it with the rest of our losses for the season. It's ours, we take ownership of it. We hopefully make corrections that are better for it and move forward into our next challenge and that is what we intend to do. I know the tendency is to make more out of it than it is because it was a big game, but we won a bunch of big games prior to that one and we made a point not to make a big deal out of those wins. We are going to make a point to not make a big deal out of this loss and hopefully we will get an opportunity to redeem ourselves, but not on anything on a personal level. Maybe that's things we get to do along the way as we chase what we ultimately seek.
Were things that went wrong correctable?
It is. But it looked correctible when we lost to the Giants when we turned the ball over and didn't get it. The bottom line is that when you play good people you better be prepared to win the turnover battle. If you don't get the football, you better hold onto it. If you don't do either, chances are you are going to lose. That's why we lost to the Giants and that is why we lost to that team. Hopefully we understand that as we move forward.
If James Harrison can't play, will Lawrence Timmons start?
I anticipate James being able to start. When I talked about him, I said that he was going to be limited somewhat at the beginning of the week.
Who starts for Ryan Clark?
The penalty on Chris Hoke – did it upset you?
They made the call so I am not going to pass judgment on the officiating. It is illegal. They made the call.
What's to be gained there?
I don't know.