By BOB LABRIOLA
Steelers.com In the immediate aftermath of the loss to the Ravens in Baltimore last Sunday night, Coach Mike Tomlin vowed to "unleash hell" over the final month of the 2009 NFL season.
A couple of days later, the avowed fan of the movie "Gladiator" explained that whatever hell is unleashed won't be on the psyche of the players making up the team currently mired in a three-game losing streak.
"We will unleash hell here in December because we have to," said Tomlin last Sunday night in an interview room at M&T Bank Stadium. "We won't go in a shell. We'll go into attack mode, because that's what's required."
Some 48 hours later at his regularly scheduled news conference, Tomlin revealed how he came up with the "unleash hell" reference, and how he plans to present the task at hand when he meets with the players on Wednesday morning.
"We're a 6-5 team, in the thick of things with a lot of other teams with similar records," said Tomlin. "It's going to test our mental toughness. The big thing for us as we prepare for this week – and ultimately as we move through December – is that we don't carry the baggage of recent weeks."
The baggage, obviously, is the Steelers' three-game losing streak – the longest of the Tomlin era – and many of the particulars responsible for it.
"When you're sitting where we sit, a lot of it's about attitude and momentum and your willingness to work," said Tomlin. "Some teams sitting at 6-5 might have a different perspective on their 6-5 record than we do. For instance, the Ravens dropped three games in a row much earlier in the year, and they've rebounded to 6-5. Of course, a few weeks ago, we were sitting at 6-2 and now we're sitting at 6-5, and so it leaves somewhat of a nasty taste in your mouth."
When the Steelers were sporting that 6-2 record, another AFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs seemed to be there for the taking. Three weeks later, the Steelers find themselves two-games behind the division-leading Bengals and in the hunt for a wild card berth along with Denver, Baltimore, Jacksonville, and maybe even Miami, the Jets, Houston and Tennessee.
The Broncos currently lead this pack at 7-4, while the Ravens and Jaguars are 6-5 just like the Steelers, and the Dolphins, Jets, Texans and Titans all are one-game behind that at 5-6.
"We really have to exercise mental toughness," said Tomlin. "We have to prepare to play winning football this weekend, and then ultimately play it. Then move on, if you will. That is very critical. You look at a team like the Tennessee Titans. They're sitting at 5-6. I'm sure they feel a lot better about their 5-6 than we do about our 6-5, because of how they got there. They started out 0-6 and won five in a row. They're building upon that momentum. We have to be a mentally tough group, shake off some recent failures, and prepare, and ultimately play winning football."
Especially if they plan on unleashing hell on the teams they'll face over the final five weekends of their regular season.
"Truth be known, it was kind of Russell Crowe inspired," said Tomlin about his choice of words. "Man, I watched, 'Gladiator' the night before the game in the hotel. Seriously, that's one of my favorite movies.
"I've got a great deal of respect for this group (of players), because I like the way they fight. I know they won't blink. Adversity is adversity, injuries and so forth, we've dealt with it in the past, I expect us to deal with it successfully in the future. I know that they won't let go of the rope, I know that we're going to fight and I know that how we got to 6-5 won't kill our spirit.
"We have an opportunity, we also have some challenges. It's very important that we see it with great clarity. I think the men are capable of doing that. That's why I spoke with the optimism I spoke with after the game."
Tomlin: Leave the baggage behind
By BOB LABRIOLA