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Harris: Tomlin backed down from promise

CLEVELAND — Win or lose, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should have attended Thursday night's news conference with his mouth taped shut.

After seemingly giving up on the season following Sunday's loss to Oakland when he flippantly cast aside his team's fading playoff chances, Tomlin promised lineup changes entering last night's game against the Cleveland Browns.

At halftime, the Steelers trailed 13-3. There were no changes in the starting lineup. It looked like the same team that fell apart in the fourth quarter four days earlier as Cleveland dominated both sides of the ball.

Final score: Cleveland 13, Steelers 6.

What movie will Tomlin decide to quote from this time for inspiration• "Alvin and the Chipmunks?"

Maybe he'll promise to start five new offensive linemen based on what transpired against Cleveland.

But, seriously, the biggest change was sure-handed Mewelde Moore replacing Stefan Logan as the kickoff returner. Moore quickly made an impact when he fumbled on two returns.

Tomlin had no answers before or after the game. It's too late now for the Steelers to save their season.

No coach should ever publicly give up on his team when there's still a mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs, no matter how slight. It was Tomlin's responsibility to keep his players going, even when the well appeared dry.

What kind of message did that send to his veterans who won two Super Bowls in the last five years?

"As a veteran, I always feel like it's better in these type of situations to go with the veteran guy that's been there before," defensive co-captain James Farrior said of Tomlin's broken promise to make changes on defense.

To say that Tomlin jumped the gun in writing off the season is stating the case mildly.

What if former coach Bill Cowher had taken that approach when the Steelers were 7-5 and struggling late during the 2005 season• No way the Steelers would have won Super Bowl XL, much less qualified for the postseason.

The Steelers lacked the fire last night that has enabled them to dominate the Browns well before Tomlin took over.

Afterward, an emotional and red-eyed Hines Ward said he wants to see what players are going to approach the final three games like they want to be with the Steelers.

Does that mean Ward believes some of his teammates quit?

"I don't know. I'm never going to judge somebody," Ward said. "Time will tell. We have three games left. It's gut-check time. I hope nobody quit, because that's not the type of characters we have on our team."

Clearly, Tomlin's pre-game strategy backfield. The Steelers played last night's first half as if they took Tomlin's words literally.

As the game progressed, the Browns took control of the line of scrimmage, running the ball right at the Steelers and harassing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as if they knew the snap count.

When the Steelers had the ball, they tried to finesse the Browns with passes. It was quite a role reversal from recent Steelers-Browns games, when the Steelers offense did whatever it pleased.

Faced with third and short on back-to-back possessions to open the game, Roethlisberger, who lined up in the shotgun, was sacked both times.

Tomlin's rise in the coaching ranks is a fascinating one.

He received his first coaching position right out of college in 1995 as an assistant under current West Virginia coach Bill Stewart at Virginia Military Institute.

In 2007, he became coach of the Steelers.

Tomlin has been the golden child, so to speak, enjoying fabulous peaks and precious few valleys so far.

There's a first time for everything. Let the second-guessing begin.

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