STEELERS VS. JAGUARSAFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFSaturday, January 5, 2008at Heinz FieldKickoff 8 p.m. on NBCSteelers Conference Calls
HEAD COACH MIKE TOMLIN
(what's happened with your team the last month of the season?) "We haven't put together winning performances. We don't make any excuses for what has transpired. Every week we prepare. We play to win. We play to the best of our abilities. We do the same thing from a coaching standpoint. The reality is we've come up short some."
(any particular reason you've been coming up short?) "Lack of execution, quality execution by our opponents. It is what it is. That's really kind of not my focus at this point. It's about moving forward."
(at what point do you learn to accept the mentality that you don't use injuries as excuses and you plug the next guy in and move on?) "I can't speak for others but I recognize injuries as part of this game as much as blocking and tackling and you learn how to deal with it. You understand that everybody on your football team is a potential playmaker and has to be ready to deliver. That's what makes it the ultimate team game. That's why I'm not going to make excuses about what happened over the last month of the season. I didn't know if that what you guys were referring to or not but I refuse to acknowledge that as an issue."
(when did you start refusing to acknowledge that? Was that as a player or did you learn that as an assistant coach?) "As an assistant coach."
(was the problem not the injuries but that you're not the team you use to be?) "That's your opinion."
(where is your team right now?) "I'm not necessarily concerned about characterizing what kind of team we are. We're just concerned about preparing to play this football game. I'll leave that to the people that get paid to do that."
(what are your thoughts on Jacksonville after playing them a couple weeks ago?) "They're a very good football team. They play an attrition game. They run two very good running backs at you, they wear you down. They have big strong people particularly up front defensively. I think Sammy Knight has been an awesome addition to those guys. He's an above the neck football player and makes good quality plays for them. They have good physical corners in (Rashean) Mathis and (Brian) Williams. Really, their body of work, what they've done this season speaks to what they are. They're brutally consistent. They're a good football team."
(you have players on your team who have playoff experience but yet this is your first time as a head coach) "Every football team is different and I've talked quit a bit to our guys about that. A lot of times when people talk about our football team they talk about we're X-amount months removed away from the Super Bowl. The reality is that no team is the same and it changes from year to year. We've been focused on writing the story of 2007 Pittsburgh Steelers as individual guys who have had experiences in the past that they can lean on in terms of dealing with some of the issues that we face. I've been a part of a playoff as a coach in another city but the reality is that we are in Pittsburgh and this is the 2007 Steelers and really together we're moving into unchartered territory and the same thing will happen next year and so forth and so on."
(how helpful is it that you a quarterback that's been in the playoff stretch before as opposed to one who hasn't?) "It is very helpful because he knows what he's going to be feeling; it won't foreign to him. It's tough to simulate what playoff football is about and those who have been a part of it have an understanding of it and those that haven't don't. When your quarterback has been a part of it and has an understanding of what lies ahead, of course that's very helpful to you."
(in the last game against Jacksonville, there were a couple plays where Hines Ward and Heath Miller dropped the ball and you don't see that very often from those guys. How do you evaluate that as you move on?) "Like we do with everything that we do, it's in our rearview. We have an understanding of what we've done in the past. We have to learn from it and try and prevent the negative things from happening again, try to recreate the positive things. (It was) uncharacteristic of those two men and we're just moving forward."
(do you rotate players now at the running back position?) "Yeah, we have to rotate guys, that's just the reality of it. When you lose the NFL's leading rusher, it's going to take the committee of people to fill those shoes and Najeh (Davenport) has done an excellent job but we're also going to call on some others. I think that's the right thing to do."
(do you feel any pressure coaching in the playoffs in Pittsburgh?) "If you don't like pressure, you're in the wrong business. I don't worry about that. I'm a competitor."
(so you don't feel any extra pressure?) "No more than I've placed up on myself."
(does the legacies of the Super Bowl trophies add any additional pressure?) "I walk past those Lombardi's every day. It's a source of motivation for me."
(how is it going to work blocking with your third string left tackle, Trai Essex?) "We're going to do the best we can. Who we have is who we have. He has to do the best that he's capable of doing. I thought that he did a solid job in the 3-1/2-plus quarters that he played in Baltimore but that being said, this is the third person to play left tackle for us this season so as coaches we have to acknowledge that we anticipate schematically to help him and we will."
(what do people not know about Trai Essex that they're going to learn?) "We'll see. He's a smart guy. He's a Northwestern guy. I was impressed by the way he played from an assignment standpoint given the limited number of snaps that he's been involved in this year. I was impressed by that. He has a desire to be great. Like everybody else this guy has been working and waiting on an opportunity and here it is, he has it. So we'll all find out together."
(since Aaron Smith has been out, teams have been running on your defense. Does he make that big a difference?) "Aaron Smith is a quality, quality football player but the standard of expectation doesn't change. We've struggled stopping the run because we struggle stopping the run. Not going to make any excuses for that."
QUARTERBACK BEN ROETHLISBERGER
(do you make any changes playing the Jaguars twice in a month?) "We watch a lot of film from the last game and make corrections and try not to make the same mistakes we made last time. We can't afford to do that against this team."
(on the better play in the second half by the Steelers the last time) "It was good for us and was big for us to fight back but we came up short and that's all that matters. We lost the game and it's not a good feeling when you lose."
(on the running game without Willie Parker) "The good thing about being in the NFL is that you have backups and we've got other backups."
(on Najeh Davenport) "Well, it's more than Najeh (Davenport). It's Najeh, Carey Davis, Verron Haynes and Gary Russell now. We have all kinds of guys that are going to tote the ball. Obviously, you miss Willie but it's the nature of the beast of this game and those guys have been able to do some really good things. They have been getting a lot of reps this week and last week in practice, so it's big. I think everyone is going to step up just fine."
(at what point in the development of a player that does it not matter who is in the lineup and just play?) "I think that has to be the mentality of every team and every player in the NFL. Everyone knows that you are one play away. The backups have to be ready to go at any minute and why I think Najeh and those guys are ready to go."
(on Trai Essex taking over at left tackle) "I know Trai (Essex). Trai and I have worked together. He did some stuff the year we won the Super Bowl so I have confidence in Trai that he will be able to get it done."
(on extra stock in having players with playoff experience) "I think it helps. I think you have to know what the mentality is because I remember my first year I didn't know what it was about and I got killed with it. I think it's good to have that experience."
(what do you mean 'you got killed'?) "Just that the game's faster. It's a different game and everyone plays it differently."
(on being the underdog at home) "It's a great feeling. It really is. They are the better team. They beat us at home last time so they should be the favorite."
(does that give you extra incentive?) "I tell you what if you need incentive in the playoffs to win a game and you have to use the who's favored and who's not favored, then there is something wrong with you. I think the playoffs should be incentive enough."
(how do you play when the game is faster?) "You better go faster too. Your reads better be faster, your decisions better be quicker and they better be the best decision. One mistake in the playoffs can kill you. It might not kill you in the regular season, but it will in the postseason."
(how do you judge how you played this year?) "I don't judge how I played until the season's over therefore, I don't like to look back until it's over."
(on being a division champion and the talk out of Pittsburgh is no one expects the Steelers to win) "We have been in that situation before. We just go out and take care of the business we have to take care of and that's why you can't get caught up in what people write and people say. You have to go out and do what you have to do."
(on the dropped balls in the first game) "Well it was incredible windy and obviously everyone who say the game saw the elements. It was one of those freak things. We got guys like Hines (Ward) who never drops passes, Heath Miller who never drops passes. When they are dropping passes, it's crazy. I tried to equate it to trying to catch a knuckleball from Tim Wakefield. It wasn't easy out there."
(will it be windy on Saturday night?) "I haven't (looked). We just got a bunch of snow last night. I am not exactly sure what the weather will be, I haven't looked that far in advance yet. In Pittsburgh, you might as well wait until game time to make any decision about the weather around here."
(are the Steelers rebuilding at all this year? What is the status of the team?) "I feel that we have a good status. The two previous years, we were pretty good and last year, we were .500 and a lot of team would take that. This year we won the division, so I wouldn't say we have had any falling off. Like I said, we have to take care of what we take care of."
(on going into the playoffs with a rookie head coach, Mike Tomlin) "I don't think that will factor in because, just like all year, he's letting the coordinators coordinate. Both coordinators have been to the playoffs and to a Super Bowl and the players are the ones playing. So I don't think, I could be wrong but, I don't think that him being a first-time head coach in the playoffs will have a factor."
(on any similarities to the 2005 game in Indianapolis when the Steelers lost in the regular season and won in the playoffs) "I hope so. I would like for it to work that way, but you never know."
(are you aware no team has ever defeated the Steelers at home twice in a season) "Not until you just told me. I did not know that."
(is it harder to play the Steelers at home in the playoffs than in other places?) "Jacksonville is the only team to beat us at home so it must be hard whether it's the regular season or the postseason, because it's not easy to come to Pittsburgh and play. A lot of it has to do with the elements, you never know what you are going to get. Our crowd is great and we always seem to play better at home. Hopefully, it will all play to our advantage."
(on the condition of the field) "I haven't seen the field since the last time we played on it. So I assume it's in pretty good shape. Our grounds people have been working on it. I would assume it's covered."
(on getting excited for playoff games) "Absolutely. You are in the playoffs; there are only 12 teams in the playoffs. Everyone else is at home watching."