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Tomlin reflects on the 2014 Steelers

They came for answers. Answers about his vision of the team moving forward and who would be included, and in some cases, who might be told they no longer were in those plans.

But Mike Tomlin wasn't ready yet for those kinds of questions at his final weekly news conference of the season, even as he admitted the answers to them would have to be determined sooner rather than later.

"We met as a football team (Monday)," said Tomlin. "It's still very painful and raw for us, and as I told the team, it should be. If there aren't those feelings, then something is wrong because of what's required of us, to chase what we chase, the amount of energy and focus, what you give of yourself to pursue what we pursue. When the journey comes to an end, there should be elation or bitter disappointment. We don't run away from that. I embrace that. It's just part of being who we are in this profession."

Who the 2014 Steelers were was a group of young and/or new professionals who came together to win a division championship and host a playoff game. But less than one week after the excitement of those accomplishments came the disappointment of losing a home playoff game to a bitter rival.

Of the 53-man roster the Steelers brought into that Wild Card Round game vs. the Baltimore Ravens, more than 30 of the players either were experiencing an NFL postseason for the first time, or experiencing it for the first time in the black-and-gold.

"I was trying to educate some of the young guys to that, how to utilize these feelings (of disappointment) that they have a fuel moving forward," said Tomlin. "I'm excited about watching them do that, but now is really not the time. Now is about reflecting and learning from the experiences that we had, wrapping a bow around those experiences to maximize the learning opportunity that is that experience."

As for the immediate future, Tomlin said he will conduct exit interviews with all the players and all of his assistant coaches. That process began today, and Tomlin said it will continue through the rest of this week and possibly into next week if necessary. He admitted that in some instances, the exit interviews will be somewhat unpleasant.

"To experience the things we experienced this year and to not solidify it and talk about it and learn from it and use it as a tool as we move forward would be less than professional," said Tomlin.

"More than anything, I'm just thankful for the efforts of the men – players and coaches. It wasn't an easy journey, it never is and I wasn't expecting it to be. But a lot of it was enjoyable. Often, it's not what you do, it's who you're doing it with."

Even as far back as training camp, Tomlin spoke about the qualities he saw in this team, and he reiterated many of those sentiments during this news conference.

"We had a selfless group. We had a legitimately close group," said Tomlin. "We had men, both players and coaches, who put the agenda of the group in front of their own agendas, and that's mandatory if you're to have any chance of being what it is you desire to be. We didn't work against ourselves. A lot of times we created our own adversity, but that's a learning process in itself. Hopefully there will be less of that as we move forward.

"Again, I'm thankful for the men. What they're willing to do, forget what they're capable of, what they're willing to do on a day in and day out basis in terms working to get better, and largely they did that. But we didn't realize our goal, and our goal is and always will be to be the champ. We fell short this year, and we accept that."

Following consecutive playoffless seasons of 8-8 during which the organization re-made a roster that played in three Super Bowls and won two of them over a six-season span, the Steelers finished atop their division for the 21st time in franchise history. Tomlin was asked if the 2014 Steelers were considerably better than the 2013 Steelers.

"Just looking at 2014," said Tomlin, "I think we were a much better team at the end of the journey."

"(Mike Mitchell) is on a short list of guys looking at having offseason surgery to correct that (groin) issue. Ben could have an offseason surgery, a minor procedure, to clean up his knee. Matt Spaeth could have an offseason surgery to clean up some things with his elbow."

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