Steelers Notebook: Faneca realizes his time here might be over


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Steelers Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca may have played his final game for the Steelers in the 31-29 loss to Jacksonville last night.

Faneca, in his 10th year, can become a free agent in March, and most of the speculation has been that he would not be returning to the club because of what was expected to be a too-expensive price tag.

"This is the first time I've really thought about that," Faneca said after the game. "I put it out of my mind so I could focus on football.

"It hit me when I blew a kiss to my wife [Julie] like I always do after a game. It choked me up when I did it, so I had to hurry up and jog off the field."

Faneca, 31, has never been a free agent.

"I really don't know how this goes," he said. "But I'm sure [the Steelers and Faneca's agent] will talk. I'm sure there's going to be dialogue."

Faneca is one of the team captains. And he received a nod from another of the team's captains, wide receiver Hines Ward.

"Alan is at the crossroads," Ward said. "We'll see. I just hope he stays."

Turf wars

The field looked to be in good shape last night. They removed the tarp in the morning. The past three weeks, they rolled the field, fertilized it, seeded it and covered it with a growth tarp that is just what it sounds like -- it helps the grass grow.

It could be the last time a game is played on grass in Heinz Field. The Steelers are contemplating installation of an artificial turf for next season and have been investigating various turfs.

Fired-up Tomlin

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has been composed along the sideline all season and even has drawn criticism for his calm demeanor from fans who believe he should be more emotional.

They got their emotional coach before the start of last night's game. Tomlin jogged out of the tunnel and on the way out exhorted the crowd with his hands, then approached the sideline seats and encouraged them by lifting up his arms for more noise.

Essex performs well

Trai Essex, a third-string tackle who was forced into a starting role last night because of injuries to Marvel Smith and Max Starks, made a good impression.

Essex was able to handle his assignments, for the most part, protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side from the left tackle spot.

And aside from the one sack to end the game, the offensive line protected Roethlisberger much better in the second half than in the first, when they surrendered four sacks.'

"We just knew what we had to do in the second half," Essex, who was drafted in the 2005 draft in the third round out of Northwestern, said. "We knew if we were going to have a chance, we had to protect Ben."

Yet to Bloom

Teams in the playoffs can not sign more than one outsider a week to their squad, one reason the Steelers may not have added Jeremy Bloom to the 53-man roster last week.

Bloom, a former champion skier, signed with the Steelers' practice squad. He's a wide receiver and return man and the Steelers might have been able to use him yesterday because Allen Rossum, who returns punts and kickoffs, was made inactive. They already had signed tackle Jason Capizzi, who was on Kansas City's practice squad, to their 53-man roster. They also promoted tackle Jeremy Parquet from their practice squad.

Bloom will make it or not as a return man with the Steelers next year.

"It's a great opportunity," Bloom said. "You just kind of put your head down and work ... It seems like a great group of guys and obviously they're playing great. When I got the call, I was very excited to come here and play football."

Surprised by decision

A number of people were surprised by the fact that, trailing, 28-23, Tomlin opted to go for the 2-point conversion, even though the Steelers were penalized for holding on the first attempt and that meant they'd have to try it from the 12.

Count Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio as one of them.

"I wasn't expecting that," Del Rio said. "We thought they'd forgo the 2-point attempt there and kick it but we all have to make the decisions based on what we think is best for our team."

Quick hits

Commissioner Roger Goodell attended last night's game. ... Western Pennsylvania native Tony Steratore served as the back judge. ... Del Rio lost an early replay challenge when he contested a call on Matt Spaeth's 6-yard reception to the 1 on the Steelers' first drive. Spaeth fumbled, but not until after his knee hit the ground. ... Kickoff came at 8:13 p.m., five minutes later than scheduled because the early game in Seattle lasted long. ... With Allen Rossum out with a hamstring injury, Najeh Davenport returned kicks for the Steelers and Cedrick Wilson returned punts.

Inactives

Last night's inactives:

Steelers -- WR Willie Reid, PR/KR Allen Rossum, OT Jeremy Parquet, OT Jason Capizzi, OT Marvel Smith, TE Jon Dekker, DE Ryan McBean, No. 3 QB Brian St. Pierre.

Jaguars -- RB LaBrandon Toefield, CB, S Lamont Thompson, LB Shantee Orr, LB Mike Peterson, G Uche Nwaneri, OL Tutan Reyes, WR Chad Owens.


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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