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Tomlin trying to keep reeling Steelers focused despite odds

December 25, 2018
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New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis (56) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during an NFL football game in New Orleans on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018. New Orleans won, 31-28. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Tomlin isn’t going to complain about the officiating. Or lament the turnovers and missed opportunities over the last month that have the Pittsburgh Steelers on the outside of the playoffs looking in heading into Week 17.

The longtime head coach doesn’t see the point in it. Spending too much time looking back and not enough time looking forward can be just as dangerous as any of the missteps or handful of questionable calls that have hit the Steelers (8-6-1) during a slide that’s seen them drop four of five to fall behind Baltimore for the top spot in the AFC North.

“The bottom line is when they’re done, they’re done, you move on,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “What truly defines you (are) the plays that lie ahead.”

Maybe, but the sting of a 31-28 loss on the road in New Orleans on Sunday could linger well into the offseason if Pittsburgh can’t slip past the Ravens to reach the playoffs for the fifth straight year. The Steelers need to beat Cincinnati and hope Cleveland beats Baltimore on the road after letting another fourth-quarter lead slip away against the Saints.

Pittsburgh had its chances. But its final three possessions in New Orleans ended with two fumbles sandwiched around a fake punt in which up back Roosevelt Nix was stopped a foot short of a first down that would have allowed the Steelers to bleed the clock. The Saints responded by driving for the go-ahead score, one abetted by a fourth-down pass interference call against cornerback Joe Haden that gave New Orleans a first down.

Several Steelers contended Drew Brees’ pass intended for Michael Thomas was tipped at the line, which would have negated the penalty. The league reviewed it and agreed with the call on the field. So did Tomlin, at least to a point: Tomlin doesn’t believe defensive end Stephon Tuitt got a hand on the ball either, but did offer an addendum.

“I also don’t believe it was (pass interference),” he said.

It was the second pass interference call against Haden on the day. He drew a 33-yard penalty in the first quarter when officials ruled he illegally prevented New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara from trying to haul in a Brees pass that sailed well over the head of both players. New Orleans running back Mark Ingram bulled over from 1 yard on the next play.

Tomlin, a member of the NFL’s competition committee known to critique the officiating at times, refused to blame his team’s current position on one iffy call. Asked to describe how a team responds to a tough break, the father of three shrugged.

“How do you deal with it when your kids don’t listen?” Tomlin said. “You move on. You focus on the things within your control.”

That’s an approach — for this week anyway — that might not have any impact on whether the Steelers play into January. The beat-up Bengals (6-9) have won a single game since Halloween and oddsmakers have already made Pittsburgh a heavy favorite. Yet, even a convincing win won’t matter if the Ravens turn back the Browns and the season-ending matchup between Indianapolis and Tennessee on Sunday night ends in a tie.

Tomlin pointed out Sunday won’t be any different than any other weekend, when the results from other games have a ripple effect on the course of Pittsburgh’s season. It’s just that it will be monitored more closely. He’s got enough to worry about without spending the day glancing up at the scoreboard.

The loss in New Orleans wasn’t much different than most of the five defeats that came before it. The Steelers turned over the ball more than they took it away and couldn’t get a defensive stop when they absolutely needed one.

Five of Pittsburgh’s six losses have come by a touchdown or less. The margin for error is small. Too often the Steelers have been on the wrong side it.

“We’re not going to make it to be something mystical, or pretend it’s something out of our control,” Tomlin said. “It is preparation, detail, schematics, coaching. All of those things are very tangible. We’ve fallen short for a variety or myriad of reasons.”

NOTES: S Sean Davis (quadriceps) and LB Vince Williams (toe) could be limited early in the week after getting hurt in New Orleans. ... Tomlin is optimistic RB James Conner could be available. Conner has missed each of the last three games. ... Tomlin defended his decision to call for a fake punt on fourth-and-5 at the Pittsburgh 42 with just over four minutes to play. “We’re not going to play not to lose,” Tomlin said. “We’re going to play to win. The guys understand it. That’s just how we live.”

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