This wasn’t the way things were supposed to be the final week of the regular season. The goal that was first set in the offseason, when players were working on fundamentals during OTAs, to training camp when they were sweating it out at St. Vincent College, was to be preparing for the playoffs right now.
But too many injuries, too many missed opportunities, have the Steelers in a place they didn’t expect to be, getting ready for their final game of the season this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.
“It will be our last football game for the 2012 season,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “We look forward to preparing for it, performing in it, performing well for our fans and finishing on a positive note here at Heinz Field and within our division. I fully expect the guys to do that. I know that they are capable.”
There is nothing on the line for either team on Sunday, as the Steelers were officially eliminated from playoff contention when they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals. But, there is still plenty to play for.
“We take pride in our work,” said Tomlin. “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. Obviously, we lost the game against these guys the last time we played them so there’s some motivation there.
“But more than anything, it’s about the personal, individual relationships that we all have, players and coaches, with the game of football and doing things in the appropriate manner and the competitors that we are. I know I’ve got a group that exemplifies that and I expect them to show that regardless of the circumstances.”
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Cornerback Keenan Lewis played against the Bengals with a nagging hip injury, visibly limping at times on the field but staying in the game to help an already injury riddled secondary.
“It was gritty,” said Tomlin. “We appreciate it, but at the same time we expect it, not only from him but from all our guys. That’s what these moments are about for us. This time of year, when you are fighting for positions and opportunities, he recognized the gravity of the moment, and he gave us what he had to give, and we appreciate it.”
Lewis won the starting left cornerback job during training camp this year, and played solid defense all season. Tomlin expects to see more of the same in the future, and then some, from Lewis.
“He’s done a nice job from a growth and development standpoint,” said Tomlin. “Coach Carnell Lake has done an awesome job with him. If he continues, the arrow is pointing up. I can’t see a reason why he can’t grow and be a dominant player. There is no question he improved his game from 2011 to 2012.”