Mike Tomlin amused many at his news conference while talking about Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs Monday.
"We cannot let Josh Cribbs do what he's done to us time and time again in the past. We've been dead Indians in his cowboy movie enough," Tomlin said in a not-quite-PC comment because the coach apparently wasn't talking about the Cleveland Indians.
No, Tomlin meant the Steelers because they have been victims of Cribbs through the years, mostly as a return man. The problem for the Cleveland Browns is that has not been enough. The Steelers have beaten the Browns 14 of the past 15 times they've played, 20 of the past 22.
Thursday, they play again and there is no evidence the Browns can become the cowboys at Heinz Field, no matter how hard Mike Tomlin tried to come to their defense. The Browns are 4-8 (1-4 on the road) after their 24-10 whipping Sunday in Baltimore in which the Ravens ran over them the way the Indians ran over Custer, rushing for 290 yards, 204 by Ray Rice.
- Game: Steelers vs. Browns.
- When: 8:20 p.m. Thursday.
- Where: Heinz Field.
- TV, radio: NFL Network/KDKA; WDVE-FM (102.5)/WBGG-AM (970).
To suggest this is a team that might come to Heinz Field on a short week and pull the kind of upset they did in 2009 in Cleveland is to say the Steelers coach will do anything to keep his team's eye on the prize.
Thus, the question: Might the Steelers take the Browns lightly or even look past them to their weekend off considering they've triumphed 14 times in the past 15 against them?
"If we would have played them 14 or 15 times this year, then yes," Tomlin said. "But the team we are assembling and the team they are assembling are different than some of the teams that have taken part in that history.
"We tend to live in the now. We are looking at what they are capable of this year compared to what we've done and what we're capable of this year. We are probably not going to have a level of comfort when looking at it from that perspective."
The Steelers put together their most complete and dominant game of the season Sunday, beating Cincinnati, 35-7. And they are tied for the best record in the AFC at 9-3. Yet they find themselves desperately trying to nose out Baltimore to win the AFC North Division and perhaps get one of the two playoff byes that go to the top two seeds in each conference.
If they don't win the division, they are looking at all playoff games on the road starting that first week, probably at the AFC West Division winner, Denver (and would Ryan Clark be able to play if they do?) or Oakland.
It's why their players have been talking about having to win their remaining four games.
"It's even more important in December," linebacker James Farrior said of playing well. "These are the games that count. These are the games that are going to put you in place to make your run."
That may have been the case in the past, when they had showdown games with Baltimore in December, but the game that really counts, the one that's holding them back occurred Nov. 6 in Heinz Field when Baltimore mounted a 92-yard drive to score a touchdown with eight seconds left for a 23-20 victory. Had the Steelers won that game, they'd be in control and not the Ravens. They also would be a game ahead of New England and Houston with the best record in the conference and the second-best record in the NFL.
If they do not win the division, it will be November football that did them in. They aren't so much peaking too early, but perhaps too late.
"We're behind in the division right now so we have to keep winning," Farrior said. "That's all we can focus on."
LaMarr Woodley left Sunday's game in the first quarter and Tomlin said he does not know if Woodley will play Thursday.
"I don't know if you want to characterize it as a setback at this point. I think that the week will provide that legitimate information for us. Obviously, he felt something, and he was mature enough to not do any further damage to it. We appreciate that. We will see if that provides an opportunity for us to put him in play this week."
In other injury news, according to Tomlin:
• He's not sure about right guard Ramon Foster, who left with a sprained left ankle Sunday and was replaced with Trai Essex. If Foster cannot play, Essex is not the one who necessarily would replace him Thursday. Chris Kemoeatu and Doug Legursky could start at left and right guards.
• Arnaz Battle and Chris Carter likely will not play again because of their hamstring injuries.
• Chris Hoke had a nagging injury from a pinched nerve or stinger examined by a doctor Monday.
• Jonathan Dwyer has an issue with his foot.
• Larry Foote has "a legitimate chance" to return to play Thursday after missing one game with a hamstring injury.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published December 6, 2011 5:00 AM