Ron Cook: Despite injuries, Steelers in high spirits entering playoffs
January 4, 2016 12:00 AM
Steelers tight end Heath Miller celebrates his touchdown against the Cleveland Browns in the first half at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CLEVELAND — When the Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs after the 2005 season, Bill Cowher couldn’t help himself. He jumped into the locker-room celebration with his players and did a “Who Dey? We Dey!” chant that seemed to mock the Bengals on a day they lost quarterback Carson Palmer to a serious knee injury from a hit by defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen. Many in Cincinnati still haven’t forgotten.
Mike Tomlin was at it Sunday after the Steelers hit the daily double to make the playoffs as the sixth seed from the AFC.
“We’ll go anywhere to play anybody!” Tomlin gushed to his offensive linemen.
Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers win over the Browns
Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers win over the Browns this afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. (Video by Peter Diana 1/3/2016)
This was after the Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns, 28-12, and the New York Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills, 22-17, to give the Steelers their playoff slot. It was before Tomlin and his team knew whom they would be playing in the wild-card round this weekend. At that point, the Bengals, Denver Broncos or Kansas City Chiefs could have been the opponent.
“Let’s go to a neutral site in Lincoln, Nebraska, and play all of ’em,” Tomlin said as his players hooted and hollered.
Tomlin’s excitement was understandable. His team avoided missing the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. But, by now, Tomlin surely realizes just beating the hated Bengals Saturday night in Cincinnati will be tough enough. That especially will be true if the Steelers have to go without running back DeAngelo Williams, who left Sunday with a right ankle injury and was in a walking boot after the game.
Next man up: Fitzgerald Toussaint.
“I’m very comfortable,” Toussaint said. “My preparation throughout the week will help me get ready. You can never take a day off. Even on an off day, you get in the playbook. I’ll be ready for everything.”
Williams was hurt early in the second quarter when defensive end John Hughes III fell on his ankle. The Steelers were encouraged that Williams returned to the sideline after a brief trip to the locker room and tried to run. “I gave him a Superman chant,” guard Ramon Foster said. But Williams quickly shut himself down or was shut down by the team’s medical staff. He was done for the day with five carries for 8 yards and two catches for 13 yards. Tomlin said Williams’ status will be monitored during the week. “We’re not counting DeAngelo out yet.”
“He wants this so bad,” Foster said of Williams, who signed as a free agent with the Steelers in the offseason to get a shot at a Super Bowl ring. “We’ve got to play to get him back if he’s not going to be in next week. We’ve got to fight for him. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever seen come in. I want to do it for guys like him.”
Williams saved the Steelers season after All-Pro Le’Veon Bell went down with a knee injury Nov. 1 in a game against the Bengals. He finished with 907 rushing yards on 200 carries, a 4.5-yards-per-carry average. He also scored 11 touchdowns.
“It definitely hurts you [if Williams is out],” Ben Roethlisberger said. “He is such a weapon for us. You saw it today. He caught a couple of check-downs and made something happen. Good blocker. Good runner, even if the yards weren’t there today. He’s definitely an integral part of our offense.”
But Roethlisberger insisted the Steelers will be in better shape if Williams can’t play against the Bengals than they were in the playoffs last season against the Baltimore Ravens when they had to go without Bell, who had a knee injury in the final regular-season game against the Bengals. The Steelers signed Ben Tate as a free agent only days before that game and went with him and Josh Harris, whom they had promoted off their practice squad in November. Tate and Harris combined for just 44 rushing yards on 14 carries in a 30-17 loss.
“We’re leaps and bounds ahead of where we were last year,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s no knock of Tate. He hadn’t been here. Fitz has been here. He knows what he’s doing.”
Toussaint spent the 2014 season — his rookie year — with the Ravens but played sparingly. He was signed to the Steelers practice squad in September and was promoted to the active roster in November after beating out free agent Jordan Todman. Toussaint’s 12 carries for 24 yards against the Browns gave him 18 carries for 42 yards for the season.
“We have to run the ball better than we did today if we want to stay in this tournament for any length of time,” Tomlin said.
Foster said he shares Toussaint’s confidence that Touissaint can be the guy, if necessary.
“I knew he would be fine. His preparation has been really good. [Running backs coach James Saxon] trusts him. Ben was communicating with him. There were no negative thoughts with him coming in. I was like, ‘Do your job. This is what you prep for.’ I’m happy for the guy. He’s done a good job.”
It’s funny, Roethlisberger spoke at length after the game about what makes the Steelers a special group. He mentioned significant injuries to Bell, Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum.
“Coach [Tomlin] always says, ‘Next man up, next man up,’ ” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t know that that can be any more true than this year. Guys just stepped up and did everything they could to not miss a beat.”
Now, perhaps, it will be Toussaint’s chance.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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