Labriola on win over Rams

What started as a curiosity, as one of those catchy phrases that look good on a T-shirt, has grown into something more. When Mike Tomlin took the job in January 2007, it was something that only he said. Today, it is something they all believe.

Professional football is an attrition sport. Games are won, championships are won, by wearing down an opponent or series of opponents, but attrition also is a factor over the long haul of an entire season. Professional football also is a violent sport, and anymore, teams only have a chance to compete for a championship if they can handle the attrition that inevitably strikes at a roster over the months of a season.

Tomlin once explained that he found it curious the way players on a particular team could perceive themselves as actually being what the labels they wore claimed they were. Starters. Backups. It was as if being called one of those things made it true and somehow therefore lessened the team's chance to win if the starters didn't start. He believes every man in the NFL is among the minute percentage of the population in possession of the required package of skills and commitment to play the sport professionally. So why should the absence of a few have a dramatic effect on the fortunes of the whole team?

The standard is the standard.

That's how Tomlin verbalizes it. And that's how it played out on Christmas Eve against the St. Louis Rams.

Yes, it was the Rams. Only the Rams. The two-win Rams. But the Steelers needed a win, and the Rams were next on the schedule. What could have made it interesting was that the Steelers would play without their franchise quarterback, Pro Bowl center, Pro Bowl outside linebacker, utility running back, starting right tackle, and then two plays into it they would lose another center. But what ultimately made it so mundane was how well the replacement pieces stepped into the breech.

It was 27-0 at the end, and if the shutout had a lot to do with Rams placekicker Josh Brown having an awful afternoon, the ease of the victory deserves to be attributed to the contributions of Charlie Batch and Trai Essex, of Jonathan Scott, of Jason Worilds and even just-up-from-the-practice-squad John Clay.

When Tomlin arrived in 2007, it may have been perceived as phenomenal for the Steelers to win without their franchise quarterback and Pro Bowl center and Pro Bowl outside linebacker and utility running back and starting right tackle and then two plays into it without another center.

Today, beating the Rams under those very set of circumstances isn't considered phenomenal at all. In truth, it was expected, demanded even, because it was necessary for the team to move forward.

Because yes, this matchup of playoff-bound Steelers vs. possible-top-pick-in-the-draft Rams had playoff implications simply as a result of its location on the schedule. With one week left in this regular season, the Steelers still can win the AFC North Division, can still earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs, still can be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

And that's the standard.

Steelers clinch AFC North title and a first-round bye if:
PIT win BAL loss or tie;
PIT tie BAL loss
Steelers clinch No. 1 seed in AFC playoffs if:
PIT win BAL loss or tie NE loss

Read the rest of this column in its entirety in the current issue of Steelers Digest. To subscribe, call 1-800-334-4005, or visit:

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.