The Mike Tomlin news conference is a Tuesday staple at the team's practice facility, and so it was again yesterday, some 48 hours after the New England Patriots put a 55-31 whupping on the Steelers.
Since it was a second straight loss and that it dropped the Steelers to 2-6 at the midway point, since no opponent in 81 seasons of franchise history ever had scored more points or amassed more yards than the Patriots did last Sunday at Gillette Stadium, there were a lot of issues to raise. And most of them would be negative.
Understood. No problem there, and the questions covered a gamut of issues, including these:
Tomlin was asked whether he noticed any lack of effort from his players during the loss to the Patriots, and he also was asked why he didn't pull Ben Roethlisberger from the game with a couple of minutes left.
Let's deal with each one of those individually:
Pertaining to the effort given by the players, Tomlin had opened the door on the topic during his post-game media briefing with this exchange:
Q. You talk about the effort you want to see from this team. Did you see that down the stretch?
A. Not good enough. Not good enough. It just wasn't. We are going to comb through this with a fine-toothed comb, as we should. Those people who were lacking effort won't be playing. It's just that simple.
Because the issue of players' effort already had been brought up, Tomlin began by addressing it as part of his opening statement:
"I had concerns about quality effort and things of that nature after a performance like that," said Tomlin. "After combing through the tape, there were no blatant breaches of that. I really think, kind of more than anything, that we were beaten. And it happens from time to time, as humbling as it may seem. I think we can grow from this and move forward."
When it came to the question-and-answer portion of the news conference, there was a follow-up about this, also understandable.
It was posed this way: So, going back and watching the tape you didn't see any lapses in terms of effort? It was simply an execution problem?
Tomlin's response: "No, I didn't, and really I think that's a knee-jerk response after a performance like that when you're defeated in that manner, is to look first at those things. There wasn't any blatant disregard or blatant breaches of effort and hustle on the tape. What was on the tape was that we were soundly beaten in that game."
Four questions later, Tomlin was asked this: Can you explain again why you left Ben Roethlisberger in the game with a couple of minutes left? And do you still feel it was the right decision?
This also was a topic first broached after the game, and when it was Tomlin's answer included: "Because we have to get better and those are snap opportunities to get better. We aren't running away from anything. The guys who were healthy were going to stay on the grass and finish the game."
Later in the visitor's locker room, Roethlisberger was incredulous when asked if he was surprised he still was playing at the end.
"No, not at all," said Roethlisberger. "I wouldn't have (come out). They would have had to drag me off. I'm not going to quit. I'm going to stay out there and fight until the end.
And so when it was brought up again in the news conference, Tomlin said:
"I believe that (it was the right decision). We're a group that still believes some good football is ahead of us. We also acknowledge we're a group that needs to improve. That was an opportunity to continue to do that. The healthy guys were going to stay on the field and play with an attempt to move the ball and, obviously, get better at our football."
Does anyone else see the conflict in these lines of questioning?
In other words, you're asking Tomlin if any of his players quit, and then you're asking him why he didn't quit. Because that's what a coach is doing by pulling his quarterback at the end. He's quitting.
He would be quitting by pulling a player who has quarterbacked the team to three Super Bowls and won two. He would be quitting by pulling the quarterback who owns virtually every single significant passing record in franchise history when the team is in a situation of having to throw the ball to catch up. He would be quitting because the coach's job is to play every game to win, and Bruce Gradkowski simply does not give the team a better chance to win than Ben Roethlisberger, whose performance had not been so below-the-line as to be compromising that effort.
Pulling the franchise quarterback is a message from the coach to the rest of the team that he has given up, and if the argument is that it's to protect the quarterback from injury in a lopsided game, well, who else deserves protection? What message does a coach send when his team is playing a game that counts in the standings and some guys are "protected" while the rest are left to fend for themselves?
Pulling the franchise quarterback in that situation is an example of the coach quitting. And if the coach quits, how can he expect the players to be any different?