Never take it for granted: The Steelers host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday Night Football in the AFC Wild Card Round at Heinz Field, and Coach Mike Tomlin understands what it means to be one of 14 teams still standing after what was a wild and crazy 2020 season in the midst of a pandemic.
The Steelers won the AFC North, and are one of three AFC North teams in the seven team field in the AFC, joining the Browns and Baltimore Ravens.
"We are excited about being in the tournament," said Tomlin. "We understand the scarcity of these things. We don't take that for granted. We also take a great deal of pride being representatives of the AFC North in this tournament, and the other representatives of the AFC North in this tournament. We've got a lot of divisional pride, we believe the tough battles that are on display week in and week out as we push toward this tournament in terms of sorting out the AFC North really hardens us for this tournament because it positions us for this tournament. I am sure Baltimore and Cleveland feels the same way.
"But at the end of the week, all of the talking is going to stop and it's just going to be the play and that's how it should be."
Tomlin said he feels no different heading into the postseason this year than he has at any other point in his career, and truly does appreciate the scarcity of making it to this point.
"Not everyone has been afforded an opportunity to work and continue to play today," said Tomlin. "We are one of the teams that do. I'm respectful and appreciative of that. That's one of the things that I love most about the single-elimination tournament. Man, this is a precious opportunity and we are all getting an opportunity to live out and pursue our dreams."
Stepping it up: After struggling earlier in the season, receiver Diontae Johnson has stepped it up, and on Sunday in Cleveland, he had three receptions for 96 yards, including a 41-yard catch on a field goal drive, an eight-yard grab on a touchdown drive, and a 47-yard deep catch on a touchdown drive that would have tied the game had the Steelers connected on the two-point conversion.
Johnson was benched for part of the Buffalo Bills game by Tomlin after dropped passes plagued him again, but the way he rebounded has impressed his coach and the timing is just right for his bounce back.
"It is important that we all, if we can, going into this single-elimination tournament on the upswing," said Tomlin. "There are ups and downs over the course of the season and sometimes you are not afforded that opportunity. You don't get do-overs. It is what it is. The tape is our tape and it is our walking, talking, breathing resume. It's not about what we say, it's about what we do. Through it all, I think he understands that, and he has not run away from that and I think that's why his play is moving in the direction that it is moving."
Checking his phone: The COVID-19 pandemic is on the mind of everyone in the country right now, and the NFL is no different. The Cleveland Browns announced on Tuesday that Coach Kevin Stefanski, as well as two additional coaches and two players, tested positive for the virus.
Tomlin was asked if that is a daily reminder to him and the team about the pandemic, to which Tomlin quickly said he doesn't need a reminder.
"We don't need a daily reminder because we have daily continual reminders of how fragile these circumstances are," said Tomlin. "Every morning a 6 a.m., I am looking at my phone waiting for verification of the previous day's test results. Are we in the clear or are we not and what necessary adjustments need to be made? What investigations if any need to be made? That has been our life, and not only ours here in Pittsburgh, but ours collectively as members of the National Football League since July. There are daily reminders. There are continual reminders of how fragile these circumstances are. So, what has transpired in Cleveland is not reinforcement or verification, it's just more of the same for us like it has been and for everyone else throughout the course of this journey."
The Steelers currently have three players on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, including tight end Eric Ebron, cornerback Joe Haden and linebacker Cassius Marsh. Tomlin said he won't speculate about their status one way or another for this week but did say regarding the news on the Steelers test results on Tuesday, "It was a good morning."