Can we all agree the Steelers weren't ready to play Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field?
"I don't run away from that," coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday.
We're not talking about strategic stuff or preparation here. Tomlin and the players insisted the team had a good week of practice last week. We're talking about an emotional letdown. The Steelers weren't ready emotionally to take on the 4-8 Chargers a week after they went to Baltimore and stunned the first-place Ravens in a 23-20 win.
That's inexcusable, especially for a team that is fighting for a playoff spot and wants to get on a roll before playing what Tomlin likes to call "January football."
It's especially inexcusable because it happened to the Steelers three times earlier in the season. They had no business losing to the 0-2 Oakland Raiders, the 1-4 Tennessee Titans and the 2-8 Cleveland Browns.
That's a disturbing trend.
How did nose tackle Casey Hampton put it Sunday?
"Everybody in this league is capable of beating anybody on any given day. So, if guys play down to the level of their competition, then shame on them. We are professionals. No matter who we are playing, we are supposed to get up for the game and be ready to play it. It shouldn't even be an issue."
So who is to blame?
Tomlin and his coaches?
Or the players?
I'm old. I go back to the Chuck Noll days. When he was coaching the Steelers rather successfully, he always said it wasn't his job to be a motivator. It was up to each player to motivate himself. The players were being paid well. He shouldn't have to get them ready emotionally for any game.
I go back to Hampton's word.
Not enough of the Steelers qualified as such Sunday.
It's not as if Tomlin took it easy on the team in practice last week. He also made it a point to stress how dangerous the Chargers could be.
"He talked a lot about [quarterback] Philip Rivers and the damage he can do," linebacker Larry Foote said.
Defensive captain Brett Keisel tried to make the same point during what some teammates called an impassioned pregame speech. He said afterward he had a bad feeling about the game. He told the players they would be beaten if they didn't bring it onto Heinz Field.
"Obviously, it didn't do any good," Keisel said.
Let's go back to Hampton one more time.
"Shame on the players."
But you know what they say, right? You can't fire all 53 players. Of course, the coach ultimately is responsible for the product on the field. If his team loses enough, he is gone. That is as it should be.
I'm just saying the bashing of Tomlin -- and there's been a ton of it this week -- isn't justified in this specific instance. There were other more legitimate reasons to pick on Tomlin after the Chargers game.
I won't get on Tomlin for not punting on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 47 with two minutes left in the first half. Running back Isaac Redman was stopped for no gain after back Jonathan Dwyer had gained nothing on a third-and-1 play. I share Tomlin's belief that you probably don't deserve to win if you can't get 1 yard in that situation. His team was down, 10-0, and he was trying to get something going. Sure, you can argue offensive coordinator Todd Haley should have called a play-action pass, but it's always easy to call the plays after the fact. Everyone is a genius play-caller after the fact.
What is harder to take was the Chargers converting a fake punt late in the third quarter. Those things should never work. Too bad the Steelers couldn't have been as ready for the fake as the New York Giants were Nov. 4 when the Steelers ran an unsuccessful fake field goal on fourth-and-1 from the New York 3 with the Giants leading, 20-17, early in the fourth quarter. In his way, Tomlin apologized to his players after the game for that bone-headed decision.
Then, there was Tomlin's decision not to go for 2 points against the Chargers with 6:07 left after the Steelers scored to make it 34-16. A successful 2-point play would have brought them within two possessions of tying the score. They kicked to make it 34-17 and it stayed a three-possession game.
Tomlin explained after the game that he didn't want to put his 2-point plays "on tape," presumably not to reveal confidential information to future opponents. Silly, right? Well, as crazy as that was, Tomlin -- normally a fluid public orator -- made even less sense Tuesday when he talked incoherently about hoping to force the Chargers into their clock-killing offense instead of allowing them to keep their full playbook open. Say what?
The best guess here is that Tomlin was saying he didn't think his defense could stop Rivers and the Chargers. More likely, Tomlin simply believed the game was over.
"It was bleak at that point," he said Tuesday.
What an amazing admission.
You want to blame Tomlin for something, blame him for quitting on the game. The Steelers almost certainly would have lost, anyway. But they had no chance after he gave up. What a sad message to send to your team.mobilehome - roncook
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.