By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin described the Jets game Sunday as one that “got away from us,” although he didn’t want to devalue accountability and what his club could have done better to pull out a victory instead of falling short at the end.
“We’ve been through those games quite a bit this year, and usually we find a way to make a play or two to step out of the stadium victorious,” Tomlin said Monday during his weekly press conference. “We didn’t, and the Jets did. It was similar to the first Baltimore game when the Ravens did, and we didn’t.”
Tomlin’s presser was held early due to the short practice week. The Steelers (10-4) face the Carolina Panthers (2-12) Thursday at 8:20 p.m. at Heinz Field. The Steelers already qualified for the playoffs, due to a strength of schedule tie-breaker, but must beat the Panthers and win the finale at Cleveland to win the AFC North and earn a first-round bye if the Ravens don’t lose this week.
Tomlin also discussed the club’s injury situation, including special teams player Arnaz Battle, who suffered a shoulder and rib contusion during the game.
“He should be touch and go this week on a short week,” Tomlin said. “We’ll see how that unfolds.” This is the second time Battle hurt his shoulder.
“We anticipate Heath (Miller) being fine,” Tomlin noted, after the Steelers starting tight end missed a second straight game with post-concussion syndrome. “(And) Steve McLendon should be find coming back off his stinger.”
The two unknown injuries concern safety Troy Polamalu’s ankle and defensive end Aaron Smith’s shoulder. Both are getting healthier by the day. Tomlin noted that Polamalu’s availability this week will be based solely on his health.
“Aaron Smith is going to be fitted for a shoulder brace,” Tomlin said. “We’ll see where his participation goes from a practice standpoint. And as of yet, I have not received word on Troy’s visit into the building. So, it’s still early in the week in terms of where he is on his ability to practice and ultimately play.
“Troy’s experiencing some discomfort in his lower leg, but as soon as the discomfort subsides he’ll be back in action. I think we’re moving close to that. We’ll see where this week takes us. … We’re going to fit (Smith) for a brace and see where that takes us.”
If Polamalu sits again this week, Tomlin likely would replace him with Ryan Mundy again. The second-year player had four tackles, including one solo, and one pass breakup. However, he missed a clean sack off a blitz that would have moved the Jets out of field-goal range that they kicked to win the game.
“I thought (Mundy) was solid,” Tomlin said. “I thought he played above-the-line football.”
The same couldn’t be said for offensive tackle Jonathan Scott. He eventually was replaced on the left side by Trai Essex for the final Steelers’ drive.
“(Scott) was less than 100 percent from a physical standpoint, and we felt like Trai gave us the best opportunity to navigate the ball downfield,” Tomlin said, but he added that it was too early to say if the replacement was permanent.
“We’re still in the process of evaluating (our) performance and putting together a formula for success this week,” Tomlin said. “A lot of things are involved in that. Personnel matchups are part of that. We’ll address that at the appropriate time. I’m just not ready to have that kind of discussion at this juncture.”
Tomlin also wasn’t interested in discussing the playoffs with two games left.
“Of course, we’re excited about being insured an opportunity to advance into the playoffs,” Tomlin said. “I don’t like how it unfolded. You feel like you’re crawling in on your belly, but we’ve got two weeks to do something about that. Our focus is on Carolina this week.
“All of the goals we set out for ourselves are still attainable. We’ve got to play ball this week. I still think a division title is in our sites if we handle our business, but it starts with playing good, winning football Thursday night.”
The Steelers have a full practice Tuesday and walk-through Wednesday to prepare for the Panthrs, so there basically is just one practice day.