The Steelers regular season finale will be played at 1 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field, and the theme for the game is Fan Appreciation. There will be a slew of thingson game day associated with that theme, but as with all sporting events what fans appreciate most is seeing their team win.
Mike Tomlin said he appreciates Steelers fans and the plan is to show that appreciation by preparing the team and then playing Sunday's regular season finale to win. But because the Steelers have clinched the AFC North Division and are locked into the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the AFC, which means single-elimination play will begin for them on the weekend of Jan. 7-8, there will be some adjustments made with respect to the personnel charged with securing a victory. Where possible, of course.
"There are several guys I'll look hard at preserving and protecting and getting into the playoff round with the understanding that we are a No. 3 seed," said Tomlin. "Guys like Ben will get that consideration. Le'Veon Bell will get that consideration. It'll be nice to take Le'Veon Bell into a playoff stadium. That's something we haven't been able to do in either of the last two years. Antonio Brown. It'll be nice to take Antonio into a playoff stadium. We went to Denver last year without Antonio. That's not quite as fun as doing it with Antonio. Maurkice Pouncey is another guy. I've been in playoff stadiums without Maurkice Pouncey. I've been in the Super Bowl without Maurkice Pouncey. It's more fun to do it with Maurkice Pouncey.
"So, those are some of the guys I'll give consideration to, and if I get an opportunity to deem those guys inactive, then I will."
The Steelers will carry a six-game winning streak into Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, who eliminated the possibility of becoming the second 0-16 team in NFL history last Saturday by defeating the San Diego Chargers at FirstEnergy Stadium.
But while this game will represent the polar opposite of the Christmas Day game against the Ravens in both hype and significance, Tomlin is not of the mind to treat it in a polar opposite fashion.
"In general our approach is going to be: if you're dressed it's business as usual," said Tomlin, "and I think that's the appropriate approach to take from a play standpoint, from a preparation-to-play standpoint, and from a planning standpoint. As a staff, we're not going to live in our fears. We're not going to fear the what-ifs. We're going to prepare, and we're going to play this game to give Steelers Nation what it is they deserve, which is preparation that leads to a winning performance."
For the Steelers, Sunday's game against the Browns will be somewhat similar to the 2004 regular season finale in Buffalo against the Bills. Back then the Steelers went to Western New York having secured the top seed in the AFC Playoffs, and Coach Bill Cowher took the opportunity to rest some key guys. Jerome Bettis, rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Deshea Townsend, Plaxico Burress, and Clark Haggans all were among the inactives that day, and many other starters played sparingly.
But the backups played hard, and even though the Bills needed a victory to clinch a playoff spot for themselves, the Steelers won, 29-25.
"A lot of people like to compare these opportunities to a preseason game, to a fourth preseason game. The numbers are very different," said Tomlin in a reference to the disparity in the size of preseason rosters to the size of regular season rosters. "That's the mentality we're bringing to the table. It's business as usual for those who are dressed. We have to prepare that way. We have to ultimately play that way, and we will."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Robert Golden sustained an ankle injury in the game that could affect his availability this week. We have a bunch of other guys with bumps and bruises associated with playing the Ravens. We'll see how their participation leads us in terms of making those decisions. Guys who are currently out, who have been out, we'll watch those guys. Stephon Tuitt (knee) is downstairs rehabbing right now in the pool. We'll put him in the category of watching his participation and seeing where it leads us. And Ladarius Green is still in the concussion protocol. Don't know where he is in the protocol. I'm sure I'll get some detailed information as I get into this afternoon."