PITTSBURGH STEELERS SEASON-ENDING PLAYER INTERVIEWS JANUARY 4, 2010
**Lineabacker James Farrior
What was the message like this year compared to last year?
Last year I don't remember a final meeting, I think we just went from the Super Bowl to the parade, but this year I think the most important thing that he talked about that I took from the meeting was division play. 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 was his message to us.
*Do you remember the Bengals game with Coach Tomlin talking about division games coming into play?
I'm not too sure. Earlier in the season?
*He was emphasizing to win the division and not deal in tie-breakers.
Yes, it definitely makes a lot more sense now, that's basically what it was. 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
*How frustrating was it for the defense to struggle? How much of an impact was it missing Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith?
It was definitely a disappointing season for our defense as a group, we definitely feel like we didn't do a lot of things well at the end of games, we cost the team, we didn't play as well as we could've played, we had some plays out there that we left on the field that cost us games. Definitely having Aaron Smith and [Troy] Polamalu out, those are basically our two best players on defense, having those two guys out really affected the way we went out there and played. It was tough out there for us. Having those two impact-type of players not out there, I think it hurt us a little bit.
*Are you concerned about the age of the defense?
Not really. We've been getting old for a few years now. I think it's all relative and it is what it is. If you've got it, you've got it. If you don't, you don't. I don't really think about the age issue.
*Do you think you've lost a step as you've gotten older?
You lose a step every year. I feel like every year is going to be different. You cant get faster every year, eventually you're going to slow down. I definitely think that my age is getting up there and I might've lost a step, but I think my mental part of the game helps me keep up pace. I think that's what it is for a lot of older guys, if you've got the mental capacity, and you're able to be smarter than the other guy, it keeps you on the same pace?
*Do you need some inside linebacker help with that being said? Should Lawrence Timmons help you out more?
No, Lawrence [Timmons] is a great player and he's going to be a good player in this league in the years to come. I think everybody has their own responsibilities and it's up to us to just go out and do our job. We don't need to emphasize anybody else doing something different. We've all got our jobs, we can do it.
*Are there similarities between the two seasons after winning the Super Bowl?
I think it's a little different. I think this year was probably different than any other year I've been around. I think it was pretty much a tale of a couple different seasons put together in one. We started off slow, off to a 1-2 start, we got hot, won five straight, then we got extremely cold, lost five straight and then we tried to rally back at the end, but it was just a little too late. I've never been a part of a season like this, it was definitely tough. I don't think it really compares to the first time, I think it was a whole different situation.
Do you expect changes this year?
I think after you sit and take a step back and look at it, right now it's too early to try and make decisions about it, the season's still fresh. You need time to go back and think about everything. I don't know if we're going to have a lot of changes but that happens every year, that's a part of the business. That's something that we go through anyway, win or lose.
What would you change if you could?
If I could? I wouldn't change nothing. I like this group, I like this team, I like the coaches.
I'm sorry, I meant about the season.
What would I change about the season? We would take a couple of those games back, some of our division games we let slip away. Some of the games that came down to communication errors, not usual of our defense, I'm just speaking in defensive terms when I'm talking.
What are your thoughts on Coach LeBeau coming back next season?
I'm looking forward to Coach LeBeau coming back next year and next year will be no different than any other year coming into the season. He didn't have a whole lot to say to us, but he was glad to work with everybody. It's going to be 31 teams mad, in our same position, it's only one team that can to win the championship. If you don't win it then everybody's in the same boat, that was pretty much his message to us. We've got to go back to work, next year's going to be a new start and it's time to go back and try and do it again.
**You have no doubt on him not coming back?
Not really. He told us in a meeting a couple of weeks ago, I think the rumors had started going around again about him retiring and not coming back again, he laid it to bed with me. He told our defense they're going to have to kick him up out of here so I took his word for it.
Center Justin Hartwig
Can you give us the feel of the last meeting?
We all just sat in there and Coach Tomlin talked. This is a real black and white business. Our record is what it is. That's what we are after. 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. It is weird to see everyone in that team meeting room for that last time and 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.
What do you account for the losing streak and can you put your finger on one thing?
No I really can't. Through the course of the year, if you look at our team as I was telling someone yesterday, I've never been on a team where all of the games have been so close. And that's been something I've noticed since I have been with the Steelers. Even when we won last year, those close games, we didn't win those games this year and I think that was the difference, us finishing the games. I don't think you can put your finger on one thing and say, if we would have had this one guy or did this one thing better we would have had a better record, it is hard to do that. But just collectively as a team, we didn't finish the way that we did last year. I hear some people say, if the Steelers would have done this or that they would have been 7-9. I look at it and think, shoot, if we win one more of those games we are in the playoffs right now. I think our team is capable of beating anybody. Certainly we have the talent and the personnel to do that, just unfortunately things didn't fall our way this year.
Does it make is easier to accept or more frustrating?
The bottom line is that it is frustrating because we aren't in the playoffs and we don't have a chance to win that trophy. That is the bottom line every year. Every year, unless you hoist that trophy you are going to be not good enough. You simply weren't good enough. That's like Coach Tomlin said, very black and white. I'm not going to sit here and say it was easier to accept because we got close to winning games. The bottom line is winning games and it is just something that I noticed since being with this team. You are not going to blow us out. That is something that has just not happened since I have been here. We certainly haven't blown out a lot of teams ourselves. We are going to be in every game we play. It is a characteristic that I think is a good thing in some respects. Coach Tomlin talks about not riding the emotional rollercoaster, and you see teams do that. You see teams where things don't go their way, or they are getting blown out or they are giving up on the season and that's not going to be something that we are a part of.
This is a passing offense now, is passing the way you move into the future?
I really don't know what the direction is in the future. Obviously that's been the decision making process this season at least. I don't think that is just a Bruce Arians' decision. I think that's probably an organization decision that they want to lean a little more on the passing game. When you have a playmaker like Ben Roethlisberger, is it kind of hard to second guess that decision. Who knows what the future will hold for our offense.
Are you expecting a lot of change? Will players or coaches be back?
I think we have a really good core group. I think that with the group that we have, obviously we are capable of winning a Super Bowl with the group that we have. I'd be surprised if there was a lot of turnover. We've proven that we can get it done with the group of guys we have. Obviously though, that is part of the business. Every year there is going to be changes with coaches possibly, with players possibly, we are going to bring in a whole new draft class next year. Who knows who is going to be the next Ramon Foster or Mike Wallace, but change is inevitable.
How would you evaluate the offensive line?
I was pleased with the way our offensive line progressed from where we started off last year to where we ended this year. I think we played better as a unit this year. Every game you can look at things that we could have done better, but overall I was pleased with the way our group progressed. With that being said, I still think the sky is the limit. We have a lot of young guys and I think that to be the group that we aspire to be and as individual offensive lineman I think that a lot of guys have potential in that room and guys need to pay more attention to the little details and once guys start getting those things down we have several players who are pro bowl capable. I think that in time those guys will take the next step, hopefully.
*Do you expect your position coach and coordinator to be back next year?
I have no idea.
Would you like to see them back?
Yeah. I thought offensively our offensive coordinator talked about how we definitely improved in several areas this year and weren't good in some. I think that our red zone and third-down efficiency wasn't as good but we did improve in a lot of areas and we ended up ranked seventh in the NFL in offense. I think that it is something that those coaches and players can hang their hat on a little bit. But yeah, I hope those guys come back. I enjoyed working with them and I think seventh offensively in the NFL isn't too bad.
Are you going to bring the mustache back anytime soon?
Probably not. My girlfriend is not too keen on it and it is itchy.
Wide Receiver Santonio Holmes
Can you compare the emotions between the end of last year and this year?
It's tough man, to go out at any point knowing we're capable of winning the ball game and to have five straight losses in the season, 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, guys playing sometimes injured trying to help this team. A lot of things just didn't go the way we planned.
*Are injuries the one thing that stand out to you?
You can't point your fingers at anything because we play as a team, we lose as a team, we win as a team. Special teams played big this year. Offense, our productive guys were very productive this year and our defense did what they could do. So you really can't point the finger at one guy or one position on the field.
Do you expect a lot of changes, a small amount of changes or general turnover?
I hope things change for the better. I'm not a guy that works in the front office. I don't know who needs to be here and who doesn't. All I can do is know I've got to go this offseason and get better, come back healthy, ready to play another 16 games.
Do you feel like this team is close to winning the Super Bowl?
That's always going to be our focus. 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. 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.
The defense has been perceived as the dominant unit on this team. Is that still the case or do you see the offense becoming that?
That's the perception that everybody wants from our team is that our defense is what holds our team together. But when you have weapons on offense such as myself, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, Mike Wallace, Rashard (Mendenhall) and Ben (Roethlisberger), you have to allow your playmakers to make plays. This year we focused a lot on our offense getting that much better. It proved this year that we've gotten better. We had two 1,000-yard receivers, three receivers with over 70 catches. I think every one of us receivers had over five touchdowns this season so the product we produced I think was better on the team on the offensive side.
Is there more responsibility on the offense to not have down games?
The biggest responsibility for our offense is to go out and score as many touchdowns so that we don't have to put a lot of pressure on our defense. We didn't get that done as many times as we were supposed to this year and as many times as we would have liked to. We didn't produce enough points this season to win ballgames and it put our defense in a bind at times this season. That's going to be our focus next year on how well we continue to score touchdowns when we get in the red zone.
Wallace is a rookie, Mendenhall is a second-year guy, you're still emerging. When do you hit top end and what is that?
I think it just comes with growth. It comes with faith from the coaches belief in ourselves as playmakers and just going out and getting the job done with the opportunities that we get presented.
*What does the production the offense had this season say about Bruce Arians?
He gave his playmakers an opportunity to make plays and we took full advantage of every opportunity that he's given us throughout this season. The job that he's done with us and helped molding us into complete players is something he definitely can take a lot of credit for.
*Does an underachieving season motivate you more when you are working in the offseason?
It's motivating to some players. It should be motivating to us all. However some guys come in and take it, that's how they take it. We know that the guys that want to play, want to make plays and want to be successful are the guys that step up week in and week out.
Have you talked to Limas [Sweed] and any idea on how he is doing and what do you think he needs to do to take that next step?
Limas came into practice I think one day (last) week and we all got a chance to see him and talk to him. I just laughed at him and laughed with him, just to keep his spirits up. I definitely think he's going to be more motivated to come back this year and prove to a lot of people that he's capable of being one of those receivers out there with us, making plays and to prove he's going to be a productive receiver in the NFL one day.
When you think about the losses to K.C., Oakland and Cleveland do you say how did that happen?
You want to look back but you allow the coaches to look back and make those decisions on where things went wrong. You as a player you've got to believe that every time you leave the field that you did everything that you think you can do to allow your team to win. When you have those doubts on yourself, that things didn't happen the way they were supposed to or you didn't get the job done then you know you have to focus on some things and come back next year to be productive again.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley
What was the message from Coach Tomlin and what did you take out of it?
It was pretty much what he has been saying all year, that we put ourselves in this position. Going out there and losing those five games we did lose, three of those were divisional losses. When you put yourself in that situation you have to live with it.
How much did losing Troy (Polamalu) and Aaron (Smith) hurt?
I still feel like we were in a good position to still go out and win games without those two guys. Troy wasn't in there so we were getting as many turnovers but we still had a lot of opportunities. A lot of games we lost we had the lead and we allowed teams to go into the fourth quarter and put points on the board. We were in the game, had games won, we just didn't close them out.
Are those two so unique that the scheme can't allow for them not to be there?
Those are veteran guys, guys with experience. When you got guys with experience out there that communicate – Aaron Smith communicates with you a lot because he knows what's coming. He works with all of us. When you have Troy out there it confuses offenses. Troy might be lined up on the line of scrimmage and might be dropping back in coverage or might be blitzing. It confuses offenses.
If they go down again, can you find another Troy or Aaron to step up?
I feel like guys stepped up this year and did a great job, we just didn't close out the games. We gave up the big pass plays at the end, we didn't put pressure on the quarterback, we didn't do a good job wrapping up on tackles. We had the games won, we gave them up at the end.
Can you put a finger on what happened?
It was multiple things. It starts up front, putting pressure on the quarterback, wrapping up, staying in your lane, not allowing teams to get out of third-down situations, and not giving up big plays. Not allowing teams to score fast. When we were losing those games in the fourth quarter we were allowing teams to score fast. They might have an 80-yard drive on six plays or something like that. That's the things you have to eliminate.
Was it intangible problems – lack of focus?
I can't say that at all. There were some mistakes here and there. You are going to have mistakes in football. It's just we had them at the wrong time. We had them at the end of the game. We had mistakes at the end of the game when you can't come back off of them.
Does Coach LeBeau still have the fire and passion?
He said he is looking forward to getting ready for next year. He talked to us for a minute briefly, just about a few things, the season. He said get ready for next year to come out and play good.
Did you watch the other games? You made the comment about teams laying down.
You saw it. I don't need to say any more.
Re: Cincinnati game
It was a good game. The Jets went out there and put it on them. I only caught a piece of the game. From the score the Jets went out and played a good game. I got friends on all of those teams. Leon Hall on Cincinnati, we're good friends. I got Braylon Edwards with the Jets, him and Dave Harris are good friends. I would love to see those guys do good. I was just calling it how I see it. If I feel like somebody is going to lay down, I have the right to say it. If you watched the game yesterday, I don't need to say no more about it.
Any of your friends get a hold of you before those games?
No, not at all. They know what type of guy I am. I am not a guy that starts no trouble. Sometimes you have to speak what's on your mind. Sometimes when you speak it you are wrong, sometimes you are right. You watched it yesterday. You can tell me if I was wrong or right.
The Patriots gave it a shot with Wes Welker getting hurt.
Yeah, but you look at an injury like that and you can get hurt. The guy was cutting, it ain't like he got hit. He could have been walking down some stairs and fell down some steps and got hurt. Not wishing a bad injury like that on him, he wasn't doing anything but what he usually does, cutting. He wasn't hit.
Does it make you angry when you see those teams in the playoffs and you aren't?
Not really, those guys deserve it. They played hard all year long. They put themselves in that position and we put ourselves in this position where we are not in the playoffs. You can't be angry at those guys for having the opportunity to go out and play in the playoffs.
(Roger) Goodell will look in to an incentive to make teams competitive in Week 17, your thoughts?
Hopefully they don't need to do all of that. Teams and coaches are going to make that decision, if they want to rest their players or if they want to go out there and play. It's about how the coach's attitude is and the players. You have competitive players out there that want to play and win games. I would like to go out there and win. I don't like to lose. If we were put into that situation don't want to rest. I want to go out there and play. I like that winning record. Putting incentives and all of that, for what. If they aren't going to play, they aren't going to play.
Do you expect changes this offseason?
It's hard to say. There's always going to be changes on your team. We won the Super Bowl and there were changes. There are going to be changes always. People are going to be here. People are going to leave, no matter what the situation.
Did you play better later in the season at Michigan?
When I was at Michigan I was a player that played hard throughout the whole year. I think sometimes people get confused a little bit because they feel if you are not out there getting the sacks you are not being productive. Sometimes when you go out there and put pressure on quarterbacks, getting a hit here and there, that's also being productive, it just doesn't get recorded as a stat. I did that early this year, put the pressure on the quarterback. Now I am able to get sacks and still put pressure on the quarterback. I have kind of been productive ever since I have played this game. Not to brag on myself, that's just the way it is.
How did you grade yourself this year against the run and the pass?
I played the run great. That's what I do best, play the run. When you got guys running at you it's like a challenge, who's going to win. Who is going to be that physical guy. Whenever there is a run play I feel like I do a good job of staying in my lane and letting the guy make the tackle who is supposed to make the tackle.
How do you look at it heading towards next season?
This whole offseason you are going to look at it, things that you could have done to help your team win. The mistakes that you made out there on the field, if I got there a split second faster this would have happened. You take that into your offseason program and you work doing that.