Tomlin: Some Steelers about to lose jobs

No more motivational slogans from coach Mike Tomlin. No more

talk of his Pittsburgh Steelers redeeming themselves for past

mistakes. No more grandiose promises to unleash havoc on the NFL

for the rest of the season.

Tomlin’s response to the Super Bowl champions’ latest improbable

loss and the franchise’s longest losing streak since a five-game

slide in 2003? He’s taking out an eraser and wiping away names.

A starter gone here, a backup moving up there. A rookie starts,

a veteran goes to the bench.

The Steelers traditionally don’t make panicky personnel moves or

bench a player because of a bad game or two. But what Tomlin calls

“a pattern of behavior that’s unacceptable” during a four-game

slump will result in lineup changes Thursday in Cleveland.

“I assure you there are going to be some,” Tomlin said Monday,

calling the Steelers “a very average team … and our recent

record might indicate that’s a kind assessment.”

Rookie cornerback Joe Burnett is expected to start for the

oft-beaten William Gay, who sustained a concussion late in the

Steelers’ can-you-believe-it 27-24 loss to the Raiders on Sunday.

Gay might not play in Cleveland.

Another rookie cornerback, Keenan Lewis, plus defensive end

Ziggy Hood and wide receiver Mike Wallace, also might earn elevated

status for the Browns (1-11). Wallace is expected to start if Hines

Ward (hamstring) can’t go, which seems likely given the short

week.

“We can’t stay status quo in terms of how we’re approaching

this and expect the pattern of behavior or outcome to change,”

Tomlin said. “That’s unrealistic. That’s hoping. This is not a

hope business.”

Tomlin, who hasn’t been tested like this previously during his

three seasons in Pittsburgh, stayed patient during an 18-12 loss to

Cincinnati and twin overtime defeats to the Chiefs and Ravens.

Losing three leads in the fourth quarter against the lowly Raiders

(4-8) made him lose that, and a lot more.

Tomlin was as close to agitated as he gets in public on Monday,

suggesting longevity and loyalty don’t count for nearly as much

when a team is losing like the Steelers are.

“Nothing stays the same in this game,” Tomlin said. “Players

are ascending, players are descending. People catch up with

schemes, schemes evolve. Playing and coaching, this thing is

ever-changing.”

A defense that was easily the NFL’s best a year ago squandered

three leads in the final eight-plus minutes Sunday as Bruce

Gradkowski became the first Raiders quarterback in 30 years to

throw three TD passes in the fourth quarter. It was the fifth time

in six losses the Steelers’ defense couldn’t hold a lead in the

fourth quarter.

Wide receiver Santonio Holmes said “the party was getting ready

to get started” when Ward caught an 11-yard TD pass in the final

two minutes that put Pittsburgh ahead 24-20, but the defense didn’t

hold up.

“That’s how we felt, knowing that the offense went down and did

our job,” Holmes said. “We left everything to the defense. A

couple of mishaps here and there, and they (the Raiders) won the

ballgame.”

A couple of mishaps against the Chiefs and Raiders, two teams

that figured to give them little trouble, and the Steelers are 6-6

instead of being at least 8-4. No wonder Tomlin is concerned about

his team’s confidence, which was shaken when the special teams

recently gave up four kickoff return touchdowns in five games.

“You’ve got to acknowledge the potential this can be kind of a

shaken group,” Tomlin said. “We’ve swallowed a lot. I’m going to

be looking very closely at these men … in terms of who

legitimately is mentally tough and who can stand the test of

adversity.”

No matter what happens down the stretch, the Steelers are

expected to undergo more changes than usual during the offseason.

There could be coaching staff moves – none was made following the

Super Bowl win – and more departing veterans than usual,

particularly from a defense loaded with starters in their 30s.

It hasn’t helped that star safety Tory Polamalu has missed seven

games and most of two others with a pair of left knee injuries. The

Steelers are 2-5 when he doesn’t start, and he’s unlikely to play

in Cleveland.

“I’m, not going to make excuses,” Tomlin said. “I think we’re

capable of playing winning football with or without Troy. Are we

different? Yes, because Troy’s a unique individual. Maybe the

ceiling is different but the floor, the level of expectation, is

the same.”