Tomlin just being honest

PITTSBURGH — So Mike Tomlin came out and said it — the Steelers are aware they play the New England Patriots on Dec. 17.

Coaching rhetoric being as guarded as it is, this was seismic news.

Tomlin was interviewed by Tony Dungy for the NBC-TV pre-game show on Sunday and admitted what everyone already knew. The Steelers have a showdown home game against the Patriots in three weeks, one that might determine which team gets home field advantage in the playoffs.

The standard answer is supposed to be that the team is unaware of any opponent other than the one it will face immediately.

Tomlin is generally a traditionalist on matters like that, but he chose to openly discuss the Patriots.

Good for him. The game will be a huge deal. The players know that, and so do the fans.

Acknowledging the obvious is revolutionary in the coaching profession, though.

Big change

These must be desperate times in New Jersey, where the New York Giants announced that Eli Manning will not start at quarterback this week.

If that plan holds, it will end a streak of 210 consecutive starts for Manning. The Giants were considered a contender, but they’re now one of the teams counting the minutes until this miserable season ends.

Geno Smith will start instead. He isn’t very good, but Manning hasn’t been very good, either.

There aren’t clear indications that Manning is through. Unlike older brother Peyton, he isn’t barely able to physically function.

Maybe a change of scenery would help Manning at this point, and let the Giants get started on a fresh plan.

Given the scarcity of quality quarterbacks in the NFL, there would be no shortage of teams anxious to add Manning.

Knocked out

Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said that the time for a Stanley Cup hangover has passed. He wants to see his team start winning on a more consistent basis.

That will be made more difficult with the absence of starting goalie Matt Murray, who is officially week to week with a lower body injury. The inside word is Murray will miss at least two weeks and maybe as many as four.

That leaves the Penguins with Tristan Jarry to start most games. He’s a promising rookie, but is ready to handle a full-time workload in Murray’s absence?

Jarry is being backed up by Casey DeSmith, who has posted good minor league numbers but played just once in the NHL.

Meanwhile, rumors say that defenseman Ian Cole is soon to be traded after falling out favor with coach Mike Sullivan.

Cole has been part of two Stanley Cup winners, but he generally isn’t among the Penguins’ top four defensemen. He’s expendable. Can Cole, a pending free agent, bring a forward in return? The Penguins need someone who can produce from the third and fourth lines.

The Cole rumors come from his sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch. Sullivan said there’s nothing to that beyond a player who is struggling through a small portion of the season. He may be right.

Of course, if the Penguins are trying to deal Cole, they wouldn’t admit to that anyway. After all, hockey is the sport where injuries are top secret.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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