Quotebook: Steelers close it down

HInes Ward (Tom E. Puskar/AP)

The Pittsburgh Steelers spoke quietly after their 31-29 loss to Jacksonville in the first round of the NFL playoffs.

MIKE TOMLIN

Needless to say there's a bunch of disappointment that this season came to an end tonight. Disappointed for those guys. Disappointed because we don't get a chance to do it again. This group will always be special to me, no denying that. Disappointed that we weren't able to deliver for our fans tonight. Steeler Nation is something else. They're awesome and they deserve the best. They deserve a team that pursues championships. Sorry we weren't able to get it done for them. Nothing really soothes the feelings that we have right now. It's part of it. We understand there can only be one, but it doesn't lessen the feelings that you have when you pour everything you've got into the pursuit of the prize. We came up short. I'll answer any questions.

Mike, once the penalty came on the two-point conversion, why go for it 12 yards away?

It was insignificant if we got the one. We were playing the charts. That's not out of bounds. That's just baseball. Everybody's got that chart.

Does everybody go to the chart with 10 and a half minutes left?

I don't know that there were 10 and a half minutes left. There were 10 and a half minutes left when we scored that first touchdown with Santonio. We kicked the extra points.

You went for it twice, you missed twice and you lost by two. That's why I wanted to know if you have regrets.

If I had a crystal ball and I knew we'd lose by two, I probably would've kicked the extra point, if that makes you feel good.

Could you talk about Ben bouncing back from his poor first half?

He's a competitor. I've got a bunch of competitors in that room. Competitive spirit is not an issue. We fall short in terms of execution. The Jaguars are to be congratulated. They made probably one significant play more than we did as a football team. We accept that.

Any thought of throwing the football when you got the ball back with 3:43 left?

There was, particularly on the third-down play. We had something we worked on all week we felt good about it. We actually had the look. We just didn't execute. Good play by them.

What happened in the first half?

That's been our story here of late. I like the way we fight but we don't execute well enough early on. I felt good about the way we started the game. We marched down and kind of talked about that all week offensively. Started fast. Sent a message but also put ourselves in position to control the clock and win the time of possession. Put together a nice drive, scored. They answered with a kickoff return. That's been a struggle of ours and it really cost us tonight.

How would you evaluate your first year as coach?

We fell short of our ultimate goal. I'll leave the evaluations and grades to you guys. We're single-minded in terms of how we compete. This is the National Football League, man. It's the elite of the elite and everybody's competing for the Lombardi Trophy. That's our intentions; that will always be our intentions. We fell short.

JAMES FARRIOR

What happened on their fourth-down play?

He was scrambling, found a lane and hit it. I don't think it was a breakdown. They just made a good play.

How much will this stick with you guys after coming back?

It hurts. We're all going to be disappointed for a while about this one. We've got to regroup, get ourselves together and get ready for next year. That's all we got to look forward to.

How tough is this loss?

It ranks up there, probably at the top. It was pretty bad today. The way we fought back and the effort we showed today – we were down and out for a little while there and we fought our way back into it and had an opportunity to win the game but we just came up a little short.

Is this a microcosm of the season with the kickoff return, coming back, taking a lead, and letting it get away?

I don't know. Each game is different. You've just got to go with how the game plays out. It went kind of the way it was going all year. It was one of those type of days, but I'm proud of this team for the way we fought and stayed in the game. We had a chance but we just couldn't do it at the end.

HINES WARD

How do you feel?

It's very disappointing. We wanted to start off fast and Ben did a great job of that. But we gave them too many opportunities: the kickoff return, the turnovers. You can't do that against a great team like Jacksonville.

Why did the offense stall after that opening drive?

They adjusted. That's the thing, we got into a rhythm but we never stayed the course. We got off rhythm and we didn't help ourselves with the turnovers. We fought hard, just like we did last time. It just sucks that you put all your effort and energy into it and it falls apart like that.

Was it a disappointing year?

We didn't hit our goals like we wanted to. We didn't win the championship. But all in all, I don't know. We had a good home stretch but Jacksonville came in here and they beat us twice at home, so hats off to Jacksonville. They played a great game.

What's it been like playing with Alan Faneca all these years?

Since we came in together he's always been a guy who's always been great in the community, great for this organization. It comes to a crossroad and I think Alan's hit the crossroad. We'll see. I'm still going to lobby for him to come back. He's had a phenomenal year. He's always put it down for us ever since he's put on the black and gold, so it's really up to Faneca now. I hope he stays. We had some great runs together. We'll see. It's still early.

He said if it was going to happen, it would've happened already. Do you feel that way? Is the door open enough?

I try to stay out of contract situations. It's not my business. It's between Faneca's agent and the Steeler organization. He's got to do what's best for him. All I know, every time he put on that black and gold, he laid it on the line. Some of you guys thought he was washed up; I don't know what you guys have been looking at. He's been the consummate pro: teaching the young guys, playing his heart out and never complained or griped about anything. It'll be a loss to our organization if he's not here next year.

Did you think you had the game won when you scored the go-ahead touchdown?

I don't know. There was still a lot of time left. The two-point conversion, that penalty, I don't know what happened on the penalty. That was huge. We score two points and they kick a field goal, we're tied. Everything gets magnified in the playoffs. On that play, we executed but we had a penalty called.

Were you a man possessed on that last touchdown drive?

I laid it all on the lie. It's playoffs, doing it on a messed-up knee. That's why it hurt so much for me because you lay it all on the line and you fall short like that. Our season's over with. It's disappointing because I think we had a great year.

Was that pass interference penalty a savvy veteran move?

I tried to flop and he had me. It was the right call.

What was going on with you and the DBs?

I'm trying to win. They didn't like the way I play. If I had an opportunity to hit you, I was going to hit you. They didn't like that, but it's playoffs. I'm not worried about their DBs. I know when to push the limit and when not to do nothing. They were more concerned with me than they were about playing. I was just trying to get into their mindset and I did a pretty good job with that.

Do you wish you'd have called a more aggressive game at the end?

If we execute the play nobody talks about it. We just didn't execute the play. I never question B.A.'s play-calling. He calls the plays and we execute them. We didn't do a job of that and gave them an opportunity with a short field and they went down and kicked a field goal.

What's it like going through an emotional roller coaster like that?

No work place ever can you get that: go from an all-time high to an all-time low and I think today in this game we experienced all that. The way we fought back hard in the fourth quarter like we did last time, and to fall short like we did is very disappointing. It's like déjà vu. You couldn't believe it was happening again.

This team will make a serious run at Faneca and Starks. What else needs fixed?

I can't answer that question. We just lost the game, so it's hard for me to evaluate. Faneca is a top priority, I think. He's the catalyst of our offensive line. We've got some young guys waiting in the wings. That's Kevin Colbert's job. I've just got to worry about me and the receivers. Santonio's coming into his own. I think we're starting to complement each other very well. Nate Washington's come along. For me, come back next year even hungrier than I was last year.

TROY POLAMALU

How did Coach Tomlin and Coach LeBeau interact?

Great. Great. I think Coach Tomlin did an excellent job his first year. You can't say anything bad about him.

What did LeBeau say at the two-minute warning in the defensive huddle?

He really didn't have to say much.

Did he have a message?

No.

What about Garrard's run on fourth down? Were you surprised by that?

No, we were in a pretty good call quite honestly.

Wasn't the middle of the field wide open?

I'd have to look at the film.

How would you sum up this season?

I think we've got a lot to learn. I really do. When you have a coach here for a long time, it's kind of a continuation of things. We're going to go through this off-season and into next year as a continuation of what happened in the past kind of. It's a whole new personality, a whole new team, a new head coach. It's going to be interesting this off-season goes.

So this was a transition year?

Yeah, definitely.

Did it show up more so after you got off to a 7-2 start?

Yeah. I would definitely say so.

Can you give us an instance or two?

It was a feeling-out process for a new coach and a system. He's a first-year coach and he's going to have a first-year off-season. The whole year lasts from the first off-season all the way through the end of the second off-season: How we react to losing, how we react to a winning season, how we react to a Super Bowl win. It's all kind of like a career process. I have no doubt that Coach Tomlin is going to take us there some day.

Do you sense changes coming or will you keep the ball rolling?

God-willing. Players like Alan and Clark, those guys have been the heart of our team for a long time. That would be a start.

What's it been like to be Alan's teammate all these years?

A blessing. It really is. I've never seen anybody show up and work like him every day and never complain. He's really a leader on this team – whether he wants to admit it or not. I really hope we do something good for him because he really deserves it more than anybody I've ever seen in this organization.

They plan to make a serious run at him and they put the odds at 50-50. Would that establish even as a better leader if he can be satisfied economically?

Yeah, and I think it would say a lot to the players as well. You want to see the guys that have really worked hard get paid off. It would mean a lot to the team and obviously a lot to him and his family.

It was an injury-plagued season. Are you planning to revisit your approach in the off-season?

I think I want to revisit my approach throughout the season. There are a lot of little things you have to look at in hindsight. I'll collect my thoughts and see what I could've done better this season to stay healthy and make plays.

BEN ROETHLISBERGER

What did you tell your team?

I just wanted them to know, for everybody, not just the offense or defense, that no one should blame anybody or anything other than myself. I take the heat for that. I dug us a hole. We got out of the hole a little bit, but it was too deep. I'm ashamed of the way I played today. I told the guys I apologize and it's unfortunate it had to end this way.

What about the way the defense played in the second half?

It was fun to watch them play. They got us back into it. They helped me out and got us the ball back and let us have a chance to win the game. That's all you can ask for. I do want to say that if this was my last game with Alan Faneca, and I hope it isn't, it truly was an honor and a privilege to ge his quarterback. I love him to death.

Did you want to go for two from the 12?

We had to do it. We had a good play call. They just covered it up. The play was to try to let me run. I tried to run up and got to the four or five yard line, just didn't quite get in.

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