It was some time after 6 p.m., some six hours after his normally scheduled weekly news conference was to begin, that Coach Mike Tomlin found a way to put the whole day into perspective.
"At times we're challenged and we have to be light on our feet, and we've openly talked about that as a football team throughout this process," said Tomlin, "and so now we get an opportunity to live it out."
Beyond the expected of having to face an undefeated Tennessee Titans team this weekend on the road, the challenge Tomlin undoubtedly had in mind was the one posed by the morning announcement that eight members of the Tennessee organization – three players and five staff members – had tested positive for COVID-19. Shortly after, the NFL and the NFLPA issued the following statement:
"On Tuesday morning, the Titans COVID testing results returned three new player positives and five new personnel positives. The Titans will suspend in-person club activities starting today. Likewise, the Vikings, who played the Titans on Sunday, will also suspend in-person club activities. Both clubs are working closely with the NFL and the NFLPA, including our infectious disease experts, to evaluate close contacts, perform additional testing and monitor developments. All decisions will be made with health and safety as our primary consideration. We will continue to share updates as more information becomes available."
While the NFL then spent much of the afternoon working through the ramifications of this development, Tomlin said he and his staff spent Tuesday as they always spend Tuesdays during the course of a typical regular season.
"We don't have a lot of definitive answers about long-term, what the prognosis looks like," said Tomlin. "We've been given a mandate to prepare as if the game is going to be played and played on time, and so that is our mentality. We've gone about today's business from a game-planning standpoint with that mentality, and we intend to push into tomorrow with a normal scheduled Wednesday and our slate of work for a Wednesday.
"We'll take it day by day," continued Tomlin. "We've talked openly throughout this process that 2020 is going to have its challenges, that we have to be light on our feet, that we have to be ready to adjust and have a hardcore plan. We're ready to live that out. We understand the uncertainty, but we have to have a high level of professionalism and singular focus in spite of that. And those are our intentions."
Tomlin said he has not heard from any individual members of the team about concerns over a trip to Nashville to face a team that had eight new positive COVID tests on the Tuesday before a scheduled Sunday game.
"We're going to trust the medical experts," said Tomlin. "If they deem it safe for us to proceed, then we're going to go down there with the intentions of playing and playing to win."
Over the course of the afternoon, social media was abuzz with possible outcomes, from moving bye weeks around and playing the game closer to the end of October, to moving the game back a day and playing it on Monday, Oct. 5, to moving the game back two days and playing it on Tuesday, Oct. 6, to playing the game as scheduled at 1 p.m. on Sunday. When Tomlin met the media in the early evening on Tuesday, no decisions regarding that had been reached.
"I'm sure they are pondering the possibilities as they're gathering information relative to the current circumstance," said Tomlin. "We, or I specifically haven't been a part of those discussions. We're singularly focused on preparing to play. That's the element of the equation we can control today, and so we better make good use of the day."
As the NFL was slogging through its virtual offseason with cancelled OTAs and minicamps, Tomlin went on record as being in favor of whatever plan the league put forth as long as it was fair to all 32 teams. The Steelers now find themselves in a situation that very possibly could end for them in an unfair way, but Tomlin said he has no issues with however things ultimately work out because of this.
"I also was very clear," said Tomlin, "that once we left the station and we got all teams into a training camp setting, we as a collective, meaning the National Football League, acknowledged that this COVID environment could be challenging to that (sense of fairness). So we all proceeded with that understanding."
And as things proceeded on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin, the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a member of the NFL's Competition Committee, detailed his input in this whole process.
"None," said Tomlin. "Those discussions are ongoing. That is their charge. My mentality and our mentality is we're going to proceed as if regularly scheduled until we receive further information."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Derek Watt has a hamstring, and he could be classified as out or doubtful, if you will. I doubt his participation (in practice) is going to lead to play in his regard. Marcus Allen has plantar fasciitis. He could be classified as doubtful. If it perks up, his chances are better than Watt's. Diontae Johnson is in the concussion protocol, and the protocol speaks for itself. I won't speculate there. As he goes through the week, his availability will be determined by that process. We feel really good about David DeCastro's participation in practice and him getting back to play. Him and some others, we might limit their participation in practice at the beginning of the week in an effort to get them into the very best physical condition we can get them in and proceed to the next challenge."