Tomlin sets a tone that resonates

They know the situation, and what’s at stake.

They’ve been reminded of how they’ll be expected to respond.

“I think it’s exactly kind of what we needed to hear in the moment,” tight end Vance McDonald said of head coach Mike Tomlin’s message to the Steelers during Wednesday morning’s team meeting.

The Steelers were reconvening for the first time since last Sunday’s frustrating, 24-21 loss to the Raiders in Oakland. 

As they began preparations for the Patriots this Sunday at Heinz Field, Tomlin emphasized the current three-game losing streak, while disappointing, is not defining.

“Coach Tomlin did a great job of not only identifying where we’re at but just kind of grabbing the bull by its horns and just saying, ‘You know guys, this is the expectation, and the expectation is to stare adversity right in the face,’” McDonald said today on an appearance on the WDVE Morning Show.

The adversity at present includes the Steelers’ lead over the Ravens in the AFC North Division shrinking to a half-game, and the Patriots coming to town riding a five-game winning streak against the Steelers and having won 11 of the last 14 meetings. 

“Our professional careers are defined by moments kind of like this,” McDonald continued. “Even individually, all through college, how we got here, so it’s no different whenever you look at it from a team perspective. 

“I really liked our approach (on Wednesday). Other guys I’ve talked to in the locker room, this really is the biggest week of our year. Not because it’s the present and because it’s the next opponent but just because of what’s at stake.”

Tomlin also emphasized the faith he still has in his team while addressing the Steelers.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 15 matchup against the New England Patriots

“He’s never lost sight of who he knows we can be, the potential of the talent and the experience and the amount of veterans we have on this team and what we can accomplish with them,” McDonald said. “It was absolutely not meant to be inspiring but more or less just realize, realize who we are and what we’re capable of doing and do it.

“No excuses, no pity parties, no time for any of that, we’re gown men. We have nothing ahead of us that we can’t do.”

How the Steelers do it against New England remains to be revealed.

Cornerback Artie Burns, who hasn’t started since Oct. 14 at Cincinnati, confirmed he worked with the first-team defense Wednesday and today.

“Just a little bit,” Burns said. “I’m just going with the flow of the rotation they have going right now, testing out the gameplan, seeing what we want to do.

“If my number’s called, definitely I want to be out there. If it comes back around to me, definitely I have to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Defensive back Cam Sutton said he’s worked the last two days with the first-team defense at nickel cornerback.

“Just taking the reps that they give me,” Sutton said.

The depth chart lists Coty Sensabaugh as the first-team right cornerback and Mike Hilton as the nickel.

Burns at cornerback opposite Joe Haden and Sutton as the nickel is an option for New England.

“If that’s what it is, then we’ll be ready to go,” Sutton said. “If not, we’ll still be ready to go.”

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler didn’t want to comment on “anybody starting or not starting.”

But Butler addressed how a player in Burns’ situation might respond.

“If it was me, in my experience, I would be on edge trying to play my best football game,” Butler said. “I think anybody that’s been in that situation and has gotten a chance to come back and play, you’re always going to try to be in your very best mind frame and try to put your best effort, and I think he’ll do that.

“Shoot, I hope it helps us. We need some help.”

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