By Teresa Varley
When the Steelers gathered for a 2 p.m. meeting at their practice facility at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on Monday, the original hope was that it was going to be a playoff preview, an overview of their opponent in the wildcard round.
Instead it was their season-ending meeting, a final word from Coach Mike Tomlin on a season that ended with a victory in Miami, but missing the playoffs when they didn't get help from outside.
"It is weird to see everyone in that team meeting room for that last time," said center Justin Hartwig. "Usually everybody is real focused, intense and getting at the business at hand for the day and today everyone was just sitting in there like, 'What do we do now.?' We have this ultimate purpose that we are fighting for every week and now it's like that purpose is gone and it is a letdown for everybody. "We are after wins; we are after the Lombardi Trophy. It's very black and white and like he said, there are going to be 31 other teams that are very disappointed every year. Us winning that trophy every year is the standard. So when we don't get that done it is going to be disappointing and it is. It is a letdown today."
Linebacker James Farrior tried to remember back to the final team meeting after the 2008 season, but couldn't recall it. There was a reason. Following the team's win in Super Bowl XLIII, there wasn't a meeting.
"I think we just went from the Super Bowl to the parade," said Farrior.
Things were much different this year, as the Steelers finished third in the AFC North after running the table in the division just a year ago. And the message from Tomlin reflected that finish.
"Going out there and losing those five games we did lose, three of those were divisional losses," said linebacker LaMarr Woodley. "When you put yourself in that situation you have to live with it."
Others got the message as well.
"I think the most important thing that he talked about that I took from the meeting was division play," said Farrior. "That's what basically was the downfall of our season. We didn't dominate the division like we did last year. I think we were 2-4 in the division. Basically, that's where our goal started, is winning the division, dominating the division. We didn't do that this year and that's what his message was to us.
"We didn't do well in our division and that cost us not getting in the playoffs this year. He said it to us earlier and I guess we didn't listen good enough."
What frustrated many players the day after the season ended is many felt that despite the 9-7 record, the talent was there to make the playoffs and possibly another run at a Super Bowl championship. But mistakes, miscues and the like had them fall short of that goal.
"It's tough to go out at any point knowing we're capable of winning the ball game and to have five straight losses in the season," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes. "It hurts. We know that we control our own fate and things just didn't work out in our favor this year. We had a lot of injuries, a lot of things go wrong, a lot of people missing in different positions, and guys playing sometimes injured trying to help this team. A lot of things just didn't go the way we planned."
And the goal is to turn things around in 2010 and make sure everyone does their part to insure that next season doesn't end in the same disappointing manner.
"From the time OTAs start to training camp to the season, that's going to be our singular focus, to do what it is to make it to the Super Bowl," said Holmes. "We don't want to think of anything else or just making the playoffs or making it through a Wild Card, being in the chase or anything. We want to be at the top of our division every year. We don't want to lose any games to our division opponents, make it to the playoffs and compete for a Super Bowl."