Mike Tomlin is adamant James Harrison was correctly on the field. Ben Roethlisberger insists he shouldn’t have been.
Mike Mitchell contends Tomlin told him to try to make a surprise play — one Jets coach Rex Ryan called “bush league” — at the end of an already-lost game. Tomlin said Mitchell was wrong, and there won’t be any repeat of it.
The confusion caused by the Steelers’ totally unexpected 20-13 loss to the New York Jets continues to reverberate with coaches and players alike, with the only agreement being that it doesn’t need to be season-wrecking.
“We’re still 6-4, there’s six games left, and we’re far from out of it,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday on his weekly 93.7 FM radio show. “It’s important to get this next one (Monday at Tennessee) because the bye week’s coming.
“It’s all about when you get hot. … If we can get hot, put some wins together and start playing great football, we’ll be fine.”
Or exactly what the Steelers were doing during a three-game winning streak that was abruptly halted by the Jets (2-8), who had lost eight straight. Between them, the Jets and Buccaneers (1-8) own only three wins, but two are over the Steelers.
The Titans (2-7), losers of seven of eight, would appear to be the perfect team to face with a bye week approaching — except they’re exactly the type of team the Steelers keep losing to regularly.
Asked about that pattern of bad losses to bad teams, Tomlin said, “I’m sure we can bounce around a myriad of things regarding the mental element of it. (But) I tend to focus on the tangible and, in regards to Sunday, we turned the ball over a lot (four times).”
The intangibles attached to the defeat remain difficult to sort out.
First, what was Harrison — the linebacker who was retired less than two months ago — doing running a pass pattern on a first-and-goal play?
“The game plan Saturday night, all week, was the first (goal-line) play was going to be a pass,” Roethlisberger said. “I don’t really know what happened, but … James is not supposed to be in the game on pass, he’s supposed to be in on the run, and the pass play got called.
“I don’t know where the confusion came from, but it was not the right play call.”
However, Tomlin said there was no such mistake.
“James has been practicing at short-yardage and goal-line fullback for a number of weeks. … He likes running down the center of people. That’s an asset that could be valuable for us in short-yardage and goal-line and we’re going to utilize it,” Tomlin said.
Fullback Will Johnson is on the Steelers’ roster for those duties, but he played only five plays Sunday.
As for Mitchell’s much-criticized leap toward quarterback Michael Vick with the Jets lined up in a victory formation, Tomlin said, “It was not professional. Mike is an emotional guy. He’s new to us, learning how we do business.”
Roethlisberger was critical, too, saying, “(Our) guys would go nuts, would probably come off the bench” if someone did that to the Steelers.
However, Mitchell was emphatic after the game in saying he was following Tomlin’s orders because “I’m going to do whatever coach T tells me to do.”
“He came over and said something to me prior to that sequence. To be honest, I couldn’t hear what he said,” Tomlin said. “I just kind of acknowledged him and nodded. I guess he assumed I gave him those instructions. … (But) we don’t want to play football like that.”
But the Steelers keep playing football like that against teams like the Jets, and maybe that’s why Roethlisberger said the Titans now are the biggest game on the schedule.
“I never look at records,” Roethlisberger said.
Even if the ever-growing evidence suggests the Steelers do exactly that.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.