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Several players may not return next season

December 31, 2012
By John Mehno , The Altoona Mirror

PITTSBURGH - It was more than the last game of the season for some of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For some, Sunday was their last day in a Steelers uniform.

Decisions will be made in the months ahead, but some players clearly had a sense that Sunday afternoon's 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns was their Steelers' swan song.

There's no doubt quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be back, but he was just as certain that he'll have new teammates for the season opener in September.

"It's tough," Roethlisberger said. "You're used to seeing the same faces around here. You want everybody back, but you know that's not what's going to happen."

On offense, there are questions about running back Rashard Mendenhall, receiver Mike Wallace and tackle Max Starks. The two back-up quarterbacks, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch, are also at the end of their contracts.

The list of decisions on defense includes nose tackle Casey Hampton, linebackers James Harrison and Larry Foote, safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Keenan Lewis.

"That's part of the game," Harrison said. "Nobody can play this game forever. And each year, it's a different mix of people. There's nothing I can do about that. I'm just a player. I work here. So I'll wait, wait until OTAs roll back around and get out there. Whoever we've got, we're going to hit the ground running."

Hampton and Foote lingered on the bench after the game, as though they were taking one last long look in case it was their last game with the Steelers.

Hampton said last week that if the Steelers don't invite him back, he'll seek a spot with another team. Hampton, 35, said he believes he can play for two more seasons.

Wallace said it was too soon to offer any thoughts on his future. The Steelers could still tag him as their franchise player, but it's unlikely they would do that after a disappointing season.

"There are a lot of different things that are going to factor in, but, most definitely, I'd like to be here," Wallace said.

Asked if he could see himself back with the Steelers, Wallace said, "That's where I've been the whole time. I don't know anything else. I love playing here. I love my teammates. I love my coaches. So it most definitely could be the best situation for me."

Is money the deciding factor for Wallace?

"I'm not going to really say that," he said. "I just want to be in a good situation, a good fit for myself, no matter if it's here or anywhere else. I just want to be a in a good situation. Money is not really a problem."

Starks took a decidedly un-sentimental view of the possibility his days with the Steelers are over.

"I have some grass stains left in my socks," Starks said. "So I saved a piece of Heinz Field with me, just in case I do go. But no, I've had nine years. I have a lot of memories here. So it wasn't anything that made me want to savor it extra long. It's been a great run if this is the end of it in Pittsburgh. I've had some great memories and it's always good to go out with a victory."

Mixed message?

Roethlisberger had an efficient game on Sunday, completing 15 of 23 passes for 134 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 120.3.

Roethlisberger hadn't done nearly as well since returning from a three and a half game absence because of shoulder and rib injuries. That raised questions about whether Roethlisberger was completely healthy when he came back.

"I'm fine," Roethlisberger said. When asked if he should have come back when he did, he said, "No regrets."

But he also said that his priority in the offseason is to "get healed up" and that he was already working on a program with strength and conditioning coordinator Garrett Giemont.

Roethlisberger was named an alternate for the Pro Bowl and was asked if he would go if the opportunity presented itself.

"I didn't get the nod, but I don't know if I'm healthy enough to go anyway," he said.

Like old times

One of Roethlisberger's touchdown passes was a 12-yard throw to Plaxico Burress in the fourth quarter. It was the first Roethlisberger-Burress connection for a score since 2004.

Despite tight coverage, Burress was able to grab and hold the high pass.

"It was fun," Roethlisberger said. "They doubled him every time we got down there but that time they didn't. I tried to look the linebacker off. He's a big body down there and he made a great catch."

Burress was targeted three times and caught two passes. It was his busiest day in six weeks with the Steelers. He got more snaps because Wallace was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week with a leg injury.

As the Steelers build for next season, could Burress be back? He would be more specialist than regular, a receiver who presents an attractive target in the red zone.

"He has plenty of game left," Roethlisberger said. "You could really see it getting better every week. He was getting his legs back and playing really good football."

Burress, 35, was out of work until the Steelers called late in the season. Burress said he would like to come back.

"We'll see how it goes," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'll sit down with Coach Tomlin and [General Manager] Kevin Colbert. I understand it's a business. I'm just going to keep working hard. I know I'll be back somewhere."

Foul tempers

The game included several shoving matches, and Steelers center Doug Legursky seemed to be a central figure in that hostility.

"It was a pretty grimy game," Legursky said. "That's the way we like it. At the end of the day, there are no hard feelings. We were competing to win."

The Browns picked up two personal foul penalties on the same play for the post-whistle fighting.

Last day?

Reports from Cleveland say Browns coach Pat Shurmur will be fired today.

The Browns had an ownership change during the season, and the belief is the new administration will want to start over with a new coach. Mike Holmgren, who had been running football operations, was dismissed from that job during the season.

Shurmur said he hadn't spoken to owner Jimmy Haslam or CEO Joe Banner "in quite some time."

He refused to disclose what he said to the team after the game, saying, "That's between me and the players."

Injury report

Tomlin detailed these injuries after the game:

"Keenan Lewis re-injured his knee. He's getting it examined. The same thing for [Brett] Keisel, it's probably an MCL but we're getting that examined. [David] DeCastro has a stinger and Kelvin Beachum had a concussion."

Wait 'til next year

One date on the Steelers;' 2013 schedule is set: They'll play the Minnesota Vikings in London on Sept. 29.

That's considered a home game for the Vikings. The Steelers' other road games are at New England, the New York Jets, Green Bay and Oakland. They'll also play divisional opponents Baltimore, Cincinnati and Cleveland home and away.

The non-divisional home games are against Buffalo, Miami, Chicago, Detroit and Tennessee.

The full schedule will be announced in April.

Stats and streaks

The Steelers have won nine consecutive home games against Cleveland.

Tight end Leonard Pope caught three passes all season, two for touchdowns.

Cornerback Cortez Allen had five forced turnovers (three fumbles and two interceptions) in the last two games.

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