We had plenty of opportunities in that game. Our inability to get off the field on third down, sort of a bugaboo all year, came up and bit us again. We had the ball first and 10 at midfield twice in the last four minutes of that game. And in both of those situations, we had to punt. Certainly, the opportunities were there and we did not take advantage of them. Consequently, we fell short.
I will also say that I was very much wrong in charging the official after the game. I saw him talking to the umpire, Chad Brown. I thought there was a timeout, but obviously the game was over at that point. I should never have done what I did and was wrong in doing that. I'll say this about the officiating. I have a lot of confidence in the people in New York and what they're attempting to do. There's so much scrutiny that takes place. I honestly feel that they're making every attempt to work with coaches and helping us understand what the rules and interpretations are. They do a great job of communicating with us on a weekly basis. I think the officiating we've got is, for the most part, very, very solid. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the guys out there doing that job. I like the situation that is in place with replay and I think there's a lot of positives. I think there's too much emphasis and publicity put on the negative part of it.
In regards to free agency, we have three starters who are unrestricted free agents: Jerame Tuman, Wayne Gandy and Lee Flowers. We also have two players in Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart who I think as an organization, what we need to do is look at the roster, look at our cap and we're going to have to talk about the options and direction we want to take with these players. I think it would really be unfair at this point for me to discuss any of those decisions. We have to sit down and look at the options we have, the direction we're going as it relates to our roster and the cap. Certainly that's something that will take place in the upcoming weeks.
I'll say this in regards to the season: This year, our coaching staff worked extremely hard. They worked through a lot of the high expectations and adjustments we had to make throughout the year and I'm proud of each and every one of them. As that relates to our players, they did everything that was asked of them. We talked about taking a very unselfish approach and I think to a man that they did that. I think that the team went out and played with nagging injuries. We had a lot of players playing hurt during the course of this year. We had a lot of players step in when other players went down. The most important thing they did, they threw themselves emotionally into playing as one team for one goal. I think that was echoed throughout the season. When questions arose, they stuck together. I couldn't ask them to do any more than they did. We fell short this year and that falls totally on me. I accept that responsibility in us falling short. It stops here and starts here. I think we have a a very good nucleus returning, but you recognize that there's going to be change like there is every year. But I really believe that this football team has an opportunity next year, with the nucleus in place, to make a run at a championship. That is the only goal we'll ever have.
At the end of this season we have only two surgeries that I know of. We have MRIs pending. John Fiala will have his shoulder scoped and Jerome will have his knee scoped. I'm not sure what's going to come out if, but he's going to have it scoped the Monday after the Super Bowl. We'll have a better sense of where he's at that point.
How much of the off-season is spent working on how teams attacked you and how you want to attack teams?
One of the projects we will certainly look at is the empty-backfield set and how we will attack that. I think we have projects every year. Once you get into the off-season, once you get into free agency and preparing for the draft, we always try to take a morning where we break down what we did offensively and defensively in cutups. We'll look at individual players and we'll rank them. We'll rank them after looking at all the cutups at the end of the year because sometimes it's tough to get a true sense of how a guy played until you look at all the cutups. After doing that and getting through the draft and some of the spring practices, we'll look at some special projects. Certainly we have to look at third downs on defense. We have to look at the spread offenses. Offensively, you look at the running game. Maybe it wasn't as consistent as we'd like to have it. Other special things that may come up as we sit back and look. Maybe our red zone offense, how we were efficiently there and third downs. We try to look at some of the teams who do very well in those areas and you try to break down how they do it that maybe you can apply to what you're doing. When you look at some of the deficiencies that we had this year and look at No. 1 what we're doing, and then certainly who you're doing it with.
Would it be safe to say that one of your top priorities will be upgrading the secondary?
Like I said, I think we have to sit back and look at what we're doing and who we're doing it with. You can make all the assumptions you want, but we have to look and see what the breakdowns are and see what the result of the breakdowns were and see if it showed up repetitively week-in and week-out. You're trying to do that on a weekly basis throughout the year, but certainly when the season's over you can sit back and get a more comprehensive look.
Is one of those things revisiting have Kendrell in the dime?
Yeah, there's a number of things we'll look at. We spent a whole off-season talking about that and then we come out and the guy gets a high ankle sprain in the second preseason game. So much for that project. You go in with thoughts and ideas, but it's like every year, you've got to be able to adjust. Where we were offensively and what took place, I don't know that we had that we had any intention of doing that. It's just how the game unfolded. Part of it is how things go from week-to-week and how you adjust to it.
Will there be any changes on your staff?
I'm going to sit down with the coaches tomorrow on an individual basis and we'll see. There's a chance there could be some changes. There could be some changes made for us. We'll see with Mike situation. It's hard to say right now.
Yesterday Dan Rooney said this was one of your best coaching jobs, if not the best. Do you agree with his perception and how would you rate your performance?
I appreciate his viewpoint, but we fell short. And that falls with me. We didn't win a championship and that's my responsibility. That's how you're judged in this buisiness, so I can't feel anything different than the fact that we threw our heart and soul into this thing and we had high expectations and we did not meet them. So there's a feeling that it's a job left undone.
Did you get a fine or reprimand from the league?
What's the difference between roughing and running into the kicker and would you like to see that rule changed?
It's the severity. Let me say this. I've seen cases where that call has been made and I've seen cases where that call hasn't been made. Like I said before, in overtime of a playoff game, I didn't think it was appropriate that call should have that kind of impact on the game.
Couldn't they have called unsportsmanlike conduct on him, given the fact he admitted he embellished on the play?
I guess if you view it that way. The best thing to do if they viewed it that way is to call nothing. If you view it as a guy who took a dive, then don't call anything if that's what he's trying to do.
Do you think there will be some changes in officiating, making them full time, for instance?
Everybody's got their own opinion on that. It's like I said. I look at our season and the amount of games, I think they throw as much time into it in the six months it lasts that they can. I don't know what they would do more. I know we do send some officials over to the world league to get some experience there. It's a fast game we play. I know they're doing everything they can to make it as good as possible and so I'm comfortable with the people they have heading up the department and the attempts they're making. They're trying to blend in and not be the focus of the game. Nobody wants the officials to be the focus of the game. The focus should be on the players playing the game. That's the thing to me that bothers me when you look at our game and the San Francisco game, we shouldn't have put ourselves in that situation. The Giants shouldn't have put themselves in that situation. You just wish the focus would have been on the game, not a call. That's the thing that bothers me most. It's a good game we have. I think for the most part they do a good job.
Do you think a change is needed in the way run overtime?
I've always stated that. We've done so much to promote offense. I think everyone would say they'd rather see a game played in the 30s than a game played in the teens. People will say it was a good defensive game if you're a purist. But there aren't many purists. If you're promoting offense, if you're going to make rules that promote offense, then why when you get into overtime do you then take the potential of two teams in the 30s or 20s, that only one of them is going to get a chance to touch the ball? At least give both offensive teams a chance to touch the ball and not rely on the coin flip. I've felt that way since the Detroit game on. That did prompt me to feel that way. Ever since then, it's been a case with the coin flip, you'd better have a good kicker. That year, we didn't kick the ball very deep and they had a great kicker in Detroit. They got two first downs, kicked a field goal and the game was over. We never touched the ball. If the first team scores, put the onus on the other team to have to get more points than that team did. They kick a field goal, then you have to score a touchdown. They score a touchdown, then you have to score a touchdown and go for two. If they score a touchdown and then make a two-point conversion, then the game is over because you can't beat them. At least give both teams a chance to touch the ball. That's what I would propose.
Do you like the bye system?
I don't know how else you get around it. You earn that. You earn the seeds. You've gotta earn that right. Our six-day rest, we had opportunities to win that football game. Would I have liked to have the bye? Sure. Did it make things tougher? Yes. But they earned that right during the season. That's why game 1 is as important as game 16. It's part of earning the best two records to get that bye.
Does this loss sting more than last year?
I guess the closer you lose a game, it hurts more. Look at this loss as opposed to this year's loss. Last year, we had chances to come back. We were behind that whole game. This was a game that was back and forth. We had the lead and you went through the whole gamut of emotions. The ball was kicked, they missed it and you're euphoric. Then you see the flag and it's "oh no." It's the whole gamut of emotions. It hurt.
Were you happy with your overall running game this year? Was it where you wanted it to be?
Certainly from a numbers standpoint, we were certainly a better running team the previous year. We were more consistent. I don't know that we were consistent this year. Do some of the games dictate that? Again, I think that's something we have to look at, rather than sit here after three days and look at the whole season. That would be unfair of me to say that. Let's look at it and compare it to last season and look at some of the plays and how the numbers stack up. We may have by design threw the ball a lot more as opposed to having to throw the ball. We were a lot more open offense this year than we were in year's past. There's no question about that.
You talked about Jerome and his surgery. How much of your running game revolves around what happens with him?
Time will tell. It's hard to say. I feel good about all of the running backs we have. Amos did a great job. When Fu was healthy, he did well. Certainly, when Jerome was healthy, he ran very well. We've got to look back at what we did and we'll have to make decisions about players and it would be unfair to talk about the future without all of the information.
But there's a chance Jerome won't be back?
I'm not going to speculate. I'm not going to discuss anything in regards to that. It's not fair to do that. There's two high-profile players, Jerome and Kordell, and free agency. There's a lot of questions as to not only will they come back, but what would their roles be. Those are all things that you have to sit down and look at the roster, look at the cap, and see what our options are. Those are things that will be forthcoming in the upcoming weeks.
Are you comfortable with your cap situation heading into the off-season?
Yes, from what I understand. I have not had a chance to sit down and look at it. I have talked briefly with Kevin Colbert about it. It is one of those things where it is never going to look good. How much bad do you want to look at right after the game, can we have a couple of days? It is not so much the cap right now, this is the time of the year where the focus is on the coaching staff. This is the time of the year where these are very important decisions. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. This has been an outstanding coaching staff and if people are fortunate enough to get promotions then you have to be able to make adjustments quickly. That is where the focus is going to be in the next week.
How much would you like to see Coach Mularkey back here next year?
Mike is a good football coach and his day is coming. It is just a question of when. You don't like to lose anyone. It is disruptive. I can't remember the last time where we have had the same staff a couple of years in a row. Some of it has been by choice, but we will see how it plays out. He is an outstanding football coach and did an outstanding job this year.
If there was a possible situation of one of your coaches going to a place where it wouldn't be in his best interest would you tell him that?
I have always, with all of the guys that have left here, we have had three of them, Jim Haslett, Dom Capers, and Chan Gailey. I just offer them my insight and if they don't want it then I am not going to force it on them. Those guys are pretty much aware of the situations and we try to give them as much information as we can. You give them your opinion and ultimately it is their decision. You try to be there for them and certainly that will be the case with Mike.
Is Charlie Batch a wild card in the mix at quarterback?
Yes, he is an unrestricted free agent and with all these guys we have to look and see the cap, roster and options and what direction we are going to go. He is certainly a viable option.
Did all the players meet with you?
I have met with most of them.
Did any not show up?
They still have until the end of the day. I have met with a few more of them today.
Have you always used six defensive backs here in the dime?
I have used six, seven, and five. We have used them all.
Is six defensive backs the standard?
Yes, that is pretty standard.
Is it frustrating to build such a dominating run stopping defense and then not really being able to use your players to their strengths because of the open offense this year?
No, it is not frustrating. That is where the game is. You have to be able to adjust to those things. You have to be able to stop whatever they throw at you. That is part of the game. No one says that there are going to be limitations being put on what teams are allowed to do. That is all part of the game and playing defense, to match what they are trying to do and stop it. That is part of the chess match and you putting together a football team that doesn't have a weakness. If you have a weakness it is going to get exposed. There are too many good coaches and teams in this league that are going to try and expose the weaknesses you have. You are only going to be as strong as your weakest link.
Are you still going to be a 3-4 team?
As I sit here today I would say yes.
Would you be open to change?
I am open to everything and anything.
Is it all depending on the draft?
Whatever, I am open to everything.
I anticipate Josh to be 100 percent. Again, it was his shoulder. We were hopeful to get through the season. We knew it needed surgery after the season, unfortunately it started to affect his mechanics during the year so we had to do it sooner than expected. Jeff Reed, what can you say about the guy. He came in and we are going to go into camp with him and Todd Peterson and as I told them both it is Jeff Reed's job to lose. He had a great year and hopefully we found a guy on a Tuesday afternoon at Heinz Field and hopefully it will be a great story someday.
Have any coaches contacted you about your running ability?
I don't think I looked as fast as Joe Paterno did when he was chasing the guy down. I didn't have as far to go though. Whenever I saw Joe, I thought to myself why Joe why would you do that and then I just did that. I guess the more you are in this business the more you start to understand the emotions. It is a very, highly emotional game and I don't condone that. It was one of those thing that when you did it you think to yourself why did I do that. When I first did it I did not know that the game was over because I saw him talking to Chad Brown the umpire and I knew Jason Gildon was trying to call a timeout. That does not give me any justification for doing what I did. I was totally out of line for doing that and was wrong for doing that.
If Kordell Stewart leaves, how will you remember his time here?
Kordell Stewart has done a lot for this organization. He is a class guy. You talk about taking an unselfish approach. He did nothing but support Tommy Maddox throughout the course of the year. He kept himself prepared and came in when Tommy went down and won two very important games for us. Even then when he was asked to take a back seat to Tommy he still prepared each week. He is very professional and he has had a tremendous impact on this football team and on other teams since I have been here. I have the utmost respect for him as a player and even more as a person.
How hard of a decision was it to put Tommy in there over Kordell?
It was not easy. There was a lot of unknown and there could have been some ramifications for doing it. Sometimes you have to do what you think is best and there may be some risk involved with it. I commend Kordell for how he handled it and I commend Tommy for him seizing the opportunity. Both of them are consummate pros and both are good football players.
What was the biggest bright spot of the year?
It would be unfair to pinpoint any one. It was probably the closest football team we have had since I have been here. You deal with the high expectation that we dealt with and get off to the start we got off to. It could have easily separated us. There were a lot of things that were tested and they responded. The coaches did a great job of keeping things together and never panicking. They went from total jubilation from a 17-point comeback to a gut-wrenching loss and in six days they may have experienced more emotion than a lot of people who have been playing in this league a long time have ever experience. For that they are going to become stronger people. All I asked them to do is to not let that experience be the sand that puts out the little flame in all of us, but allow it to be the gas that ignites us and put it into next year. That is why you are in this business. When you put your heart and soul into something you are going to risk and the risk you are going to have is that feeling on the plane on the way back. You couldn't hear a sound. It was as disappointing a locker room that I have ever experienced. A lot of that is because of what they felt going into that game. I couldn't ask them to do more. That is what sports are all about. It is those things that keep bringing us back because those are things you will never experience in any other profession.
-- Dale Lolley