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Labriola On

Moving on from big wins to define Steelers

After what was perceived at the time as a convincing road win over a quality Carolina Panthers team, they lost at home to what was a winless group of Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then after a win in Jacksonville, they were beaten soundly by a Browns team they already had defeated.

It has happened to them twice already this season, and there are countless examples of it elsewhere over the course of every NFL season. Mike Tomlin wants it to stop happening to the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers, which was illustrated clearly by his decision to mention it at the top of his weekly news conference.

"That's quite frankly one of the things we have to guard against," said Tomlin. "Winning a big, emotional game like that and having the ability to move forward individually and collectively to the next challenge will define us. It always does. It's universal in football. There are many examples you can cite of teams having to move on."

The Steelers' present situation certainly seems ripe for this kind of letdown, a scenario where a team coming off a significant victory losses the following week to what's perceived to be an inferior opponent. To put names to it, the Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 43-23, last Sunday and travel to face the 1-8 New York Jets this Sunday.

"An element of it is human nature, particularly when you have a young group, like we have a young football team," said Tomlin about the tendency to view the opposition through the prism of its won-loss record alone.

"The veteran players who have played enough football, who have played in the NFL for an extended period of time, they know when you step into a stadium on weekends that anybody can win. That it's a level playing field. The Jets are a 1-8 football team, but if you look across them positionally, they've got Pro Bowl caliber players and established, highly respected coaches just about at every turn. There are a myriad of reasons why a team continues to struggle, but every time you step into a stadium you have an opportunity to rectify it.

"We started off 2-6 a year ago, and what we were able to do over the second half is a reflection of that. You better respect teams when you step into stadiums. We respect the Jets. I respect those guys and what they're capable of. I respect anybody we play week in and week out. There are no homecoming games, there are no I-AA opponents in the NFL."

The Steelers will bring a 6-3 record that includes a three-game winning streak with them to New Jersey this weekend, and Tomlin is trying to guard against a return to the early-season pattern of one-step-forward, one-step-backward in which the team was mired earlier this season.

And what Tomlin said he saw in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's win over the Ravens just might have emphasized the issue in his mind.

"We gave up a 108-yard kickoff return that quite frankly was ridiculous. Guys dancing around and so forth before the ball is kicked, and to then get one run back on them is unacceptable," said Tomlin about the return by Jacoby Jones after a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Antonio Brown had given the Steelers a 29-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. "You won't see our kickoff team dancing anymore before we kick the ball off, moving forward.

"We're faced with a stiff challenge this week (on returns) with Percy Harvin. He has a great reputation that is well earned, but some of the things … it's just about your mental approach and how you approach what it is you do and your readiness. We let the moment get away from us. We had just scored a significant touchdown, an emotional score, and the music is playing, and the bottom line is we looked ill-prepared. And that's unacceptable. We'll make the necessary corrections there and hopefully that won't happen again."

"As we look at the state of our team from an injury standpoint, we have a few things we have to deal with, but such is life. We'll just simply make the necessary adjustments and move forward. Troy Polamalu will be out this week with a knee sprain, and then we'll evaluate him at the top of next week and see where we are. The same can be said for Ryan Shazier with an ankle sprain. He will be out this week. Ike Taylor is getting evaluated today, a CT scan. I anticipate him to be a partial participant in practice and continue to work himself back into form, but we'll wait to see what the CT scan says before we change anything regarding him. Shamarko Thomas has another hamstring injury, the opposite hamstring, and he can be characterized as out this week. We'll characterize Ross Ventrone (hamstring) as questionable. We'll leave the light on for him, particularly considering how thin we're running in the secondary."

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