Are you ready for some preseason football? That's about what to expect Sunday at Heinz Field, where, for the first time since 2006, the Steelers will play their final regular-season game knowing it will end there.
Even in 2006, they had the pleasure of knocking the Bengals out of the playoffs by beating them in overtime in Cincinnati. Sunday, the only tangible benefit to the Steelers beating Cleveland would be to avoid their first losing season since 2003.
"We take pride in our work," Mike Tomlin noted at his Monday news conference. "We take pride in our opportunity to come together and compete again as the 2012 Steelers. To perform for our fans, to perform for them at Heinz Field."
There likely won't be as many fans attending a game that not only will be missing any kinds of importance, but more starters as well.
The Steelers lost another to injury Sunday, and the news got worse when Tomlin revealed that in addition to his MCL and possibly PCL tears in his right knee, Heath Miller has an ACL tear. He and Baron Batch, who had surgery on his broken arm Monday, will go on injured reserve.
Other players also could go missing, and here are some hints from Tomlin: Mike Wallace has a hip rotator strain. David DeCastro has a left hamstring injury. Curtis Brown has a left ankle injury.
Then there was Keenan Lewis, playing on practically one leg Sunday, and Ike Taylor likely to miss another game with his broken ankle.
"What we don't want is to have a bunch of dead weight from an injury standpoint, not only on our 53, but on our game-day roster," Tomlin said. "Being the situation that it is, we have some capable guys that could help us and we're going to utilize them.
"I think injuries are going to be the primary reasoning that drives personnel moves for us. This is an opportunity to play and play to win, to get this sour taste out of our mouth. I am not going to approach it with that mentality."
Injury bug keeps biting
The Steelers will announce their most valuable player today, and they will excuse him if he does not attend the ceremony. Heath Miller is laid up with the triple crown of knee injuries -- ACL, MCL and possible PCL -- and is the favorite to win the award.
Miller leads the Steelers with 71 receptions, seven more than Mike Wallace, and can become the first tight end to lead them in that category since Eric Green caught 63 passes in 1993. Miller also leads all of their position players with 50 points -- eight touchdown catches and one 2-point conversion.
The revelation of the ACL tear means Miller will have a long offseason of rehabilitating his right knee. Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL Jan. 1 and missed the first three games of the 2012 season.
"It's just an unfortunate injury to a man that's given us everything that he's had all season," Tomlin said. "We appreciate his efforts. At the same time, we acknowledge that injuries are a part of the game and, unfortunately for him, it brings his season to a close."
Miller's injury adds another injured starter to a pile that has proliferated. The Steelers lost 69 starts to injury, covering 15 different players from fullback David Johnson's preseason knee injury that placed him on injured reserve to the one game missed by both Ryan Clark and Maurkice Pouncey.
That number now reaches 16 players and at least 73 starts, counting Miller and three other former starters on injured reserve who won't play Sunday. If Taylor does not play, it would be 74 starts missed -- or an average of 4.6 starters missing for each of the 16 games.
Veterans' last hurrah?
Larry Foote said he will have plenty of incentive to play Sunday.
"As an older guy, I have a lot to play for. It might be my last game, some other guys' [too]. Good thing it's at Heinz Field so I can get geared up for it."
The Steelers began their transition from their three Super Bowl teams last year when they released veterans Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and James Farrior and Chris Hoke retired. They might wield a similar axe to older players in 2013.
"I'm 32 years old," Foote said. "I'll be 33. It's a possibility. Hopefully, they might want me back. Hopefully, I don't wake up in February and say I don't want to play anymore. Right now I still do. I want to play but you never know at this age."
2013 schedule finalized
The final two opponents for 2013 have been determined, based on the AFC standings. The Steelers will play the third-place finishers in the AFC South, Tennessee, at home. They will travel to Oakland, the third-place finishers in the AFC West.
The rest of their schedule was predetermined. Besides home-and-homes against their three AFC North foes, they play home games against Buffalo, Miami, Chicago and Detroit. They travel to New England, the New York Jets, Green Bay and will play Minnesota Sept. 29 in London. The other dates will be determined in April.
• Tomlin on the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: "It hasn't been consistently good enough for us to win."
• Tomlin's former mentor Tony Dungy, speaking on NBC's "Football Night in America Sunday" regarding the Steelers game: "With 14 seconds left, we had bad coaching and bad play."
• Tomlin on Mendenhall's return to the field for the first time in a month after he was inactive for two games and suspended for a third when he did not show up for the second: "I like the response that Rashard had to his circumstance. I thought he was a positive contributor to our efforts."
• Tomlin on Charlie Batch's apparent promotion over Byron Leftwich to No. 2 quarterback: "Charlie has earned the right to dress based on merit and based on his performance when he was given the opportunity to play."
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 25, 2012 5:00 AM