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Tomlin prepares for Steelers’ season-ender

December 26, 2012
The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH - For the first time in his six-year head coaching career, Mike Tomlin will go into a game with his team already eliminated from playoff contention.

Tomlin insists he isn't going to treat the week of preparation any differently.

A day after his Pittsburgh Steelers were knocked out of the postseason race with a loss to Cincinnati, Tomlin vowed that injuries would be the only factor dictating lineup changes for the regular-season finale Sunday.

Don't look for an abundance of younger players auditioning for 2013 jobs.

"This is an opportunity to play and play to win, to get this sour taste out of our mouth," Tomlin said. "I am not going to approach it with that (look-ahead to 2013) mentality."

Among those who won't play for the Steelers (7-8) against the Cleveland Browns (5-10) is tight end Heath Miller, who sustained multiple torn ligaments in his right knee during the loss to the Bengals. Miller, a prime candidate for the Pro Bowl and team MVP, has torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments as well as a possible tear in his posterior cruciate ligament.

Typical recovery time would extend well into next season's training camp. Just this past year, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, offensive tackle Max Starks and nose tackle Casey Hampton began camp on the physically unable to perform list after sustaining torn ACLs over the first eight days of January.

"I think we need to let the dust settle to know exactly what it is we're dealing with before we start framing his recovery or his rate of recovery," Tomlin said.

"He's been rock-solid for us, and we really appreciate his efforts."

Miller, of course, faces surgery. Reserve running back Baron Batch had surgery to repair a broken forearm on Monday morning. Tomlin said roster moves will be made to replace those two so that the Steelers are not carrying any "dead weight" for Sunday's game.

Starting cornerback Ike Taylor (ankle fracture) is getting closer to being cleared to play after missing the past three games. But Tomlin indicated there isn't any reason to rush him back.

Receiver Mike Wallace (hip strain), rookie guard David DeCastro (left hamstring) and cornerback Curtis Brown (left ankle) also were injured during the Bengals game and will be evaluated throughout the week. Cornerback Keenan Lewis also was noticeably hobbled Sunday.

Tomlin acknowledged that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is "less than 100 percent," but refused to attribute his struggles over the past three games to the effects of a shoulder and rib injury that sidelined him in the previous three contests.

Roethlisberger had 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in nine games before being knocked out against Kansas City Nov. 12. He has had four interceptions in the three games - all losses - since coming back.

Roethlisberger's 58.6 passer rating Sunday was his third worst for a game since Nov. 3, 2008, when he was knocked out of a win at Washington with a shoulder injury.

"You can attribute it to whatever you want to," Tomlin said. "Obviously, the play is what it is. It hasn't been consistently good enough for us to win."

The same can be said for the Steelers as a whole. Impressive wins at the New York Giants and Baltimore this season were overshadowed by head-scratching losses at Tennessee and Oakland, each on a last-second field goal after Pittsburgh blew a fourth-quarter lead, then failed to win it with a scoring drive later.

"We've been in a lot of close football games and we just consistently haven't made the necessary plays to win those games," Tomlin said.

Weeden questionable

BEREA, Ohio - Though two of his star players got hurt, Browns coach Pat Shurmur defended playing his regulars late in a blowout loss in Denver.

Shurmur said he was just trying to win when prized rookies Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden were injured in the second half of the 34-12 loss.

"What do we do, just stop playing?" Shurmur said Monday. "So you just run the ball and get out of there, warm up the buses? Is that what? We're trying to do what we can to move the football. At that time it was a three-score game. Typically that means throw it."

Facing a defense that knew he had to pass, backup Colt McCoy was sacked four times during his brief relief appearance for Weeden.

"I was just trying to not get knocked out," said McCoy, whose 2011 season ended when he sustained a concussion in Pittsburgh. He hadn't thrown a pass since then in a regular-season game until a wobbly Weeden went out Sunday.

"We were pretty far behind at that point when I got in, so I assumed we would start throwing," McCoy said. "It took a couple series getting used to the pocket - hadn't had any reps, hadn't sat back there in a while - so getting a feel for how those guys were playing, I maybe missed a couple throws early.

"A couple times I just threw the ball in the dirt to let those guys [teammates] rest. We were throwing the ball down the field and those guys were tired."

Shurmur said he was unaware of McCoy's comments. He did know about kick returner Josh Cribbs' profane postgame tweet to fans and did not approve.

"That's not acceptable," Shurmur said. "I don't like that and he shouldn't do that. I think he's remorseful. But he shouldn't be reading tweets after a game. Emotions are raw when you don't win. It is important we use good judgment."

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