When is a bye not a bye? When you don't know that it's going to be a bye.
That bit of convoluted logic drove the Steelers' schedule last week, a week that began normally and according to the regular season schedule the NFL released back in the spring, before ending with nothing to do from a football standpoint.
On that Monday, the Steelers reviewed their performance in the victory over the Houston Texans that upped their record to 3-0, and then after their typical day off on Tuesday, they returned to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Wednesday to begin preparation for what they assumed would be a weekend visit to Nashville and a 1 p.m. Sunday game against the 3-0 Titans at LP Field.
But the global pandemic intervened, and by that Thursday afternoon, the NFL and NFLPA determined the proper course of action was to postpone the Steelers-Titans game until later in this regular season. And so it was that the Steelers were assigned a bye for the weekend of Oct. 4.
"We had a bye week, an unanticipated bye week," said Coach Mike Tomlin during his weekly news conference on Tuesday, "and as I look back, it was a really productive one largely because we didn't know it was a bye week. We got a lot of good, schematic work done at the top of the week in preparation for what we thought was a Tennessee Titans game. We were able to put some of that preparation away and file it for later. We'll get an opportunity to play those guys, and then we'll see how productive the bye week was in terms of plans we were able to put in place and get around to utilizing."
The final determination on the rescheduling of the Oct. 4 game will have the Steelers facing the Titans on Oct. 25, and then visiting the Ravens the following Sunday, which will be Nov. 1.
"Other than that, it was an opportunity for us to pause and take a global perspective on competition, and we were able to do that," said Tomlin. "Equally as important, we were able to get some minor bumps and bruises handled to allow guys to catch their breath and get focused.
"We came in (Monday) and had a good bonus day in preparation for Philadelphia, and we look forward to continuing to do that this week."
According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, players are assured four consecutive days off during their bye week, but the Steelers practiced on Thursday before learning of the postponement, and then reported back to work the following Monday. Tomlin explained how that happened.
"We were given special permission, and (Monday) was not really a bonus day," said Tomlin. "We always work on Mondays coming out of byes, but very rarely do we work on (the previous) Thursday. The issue for us last week was that we didn't know we had a bye until we already reported to work on Thursday, so the NFLPA and the league were considerate of those special circumstances and allowed us to stick to our schedule. We did nothing special on Monday. It was just more general work for us in terms of us getting acclimated and getting back to work after coming off a weekend."
And in the days leading up to the bye, the Steelers were preparing for the Titans because they didn't know for sure whether the game was going to be delayed a day or two vs. being postponed for weeks, and so a lot of the individual development of young players that typically happens during their bye never took place this year.
"When we were working last week, we were preparing as if it was a normal game week, so we didn't take that step back and worry about development and macro things," said Tomlin. "We were singularly focused on preparing for the Tennessee Titans and formulating a plan that allowed us to do that."
And now, with their bye over, and the NFL sending a memo to all teams explaining that future schedule disruptions could result in increased levels of punishment to teams found to be violating or ignoring protocols, Tomlin was asked how he viewed about such punishment potentially rising to the level of forfeits.
"I'm not involved in the investigative group that determines negligence and so forth," said Tomlin. "Sure, there should be a penalty for negligence, because there's a one-fail-all-fail mentality in the environment that we're in. But to the extent of what it should be and all of that, that's not my charge. I've been focused on running this football outfit and making sure that we adhere to the protocols that are delivered to us out of New York."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"A couple of guys are working their way back from injury, and we'll let their participation (in practice) be our guide in terms of their availability (for the game). Derek Watt (hamstring) has been running some. We'll see if he can do the unanticipated movement that encompasses football play, and if he can we'll let that be our guide about potentially including him. Marcus Allen, the same thing with his foot injury. He ran in the pool (Tuesday), and he'll have the opportunity to run on land I'm sure in the upcoming days, and we'll see where that leads us. The rest are bumps and bruises associated with play. Diontae Johnson is out of the (concussion) protocol, so he'll be a full participant throughout the week in preparation for play (in the game), so we're excited about having him back."