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Starkey: Don't bury wretched Steelers yet

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Felix Jones carries against the Bengals on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

Cris Carter had the quote of the night Monday. Asked on the ESPN set how much trouble the Steelers are in these days, Carter said, “On a scale of 1-to-10? Let's go Isiah Thomas, No. 11.”

That was before their 20-10 loss.

If it was hard to argue with Carter's assessment then, it's harder now. The Steelers stink. But so does the rest of the AFC, save for the Broncos and maybe the Bengals. I could see the Patriots, Bengals, Texans and Broncos winning their divisions, and then what?

Here's what: A bunch of teams hanging around .500 and hoping to do the Victor Cruz Salsa, circa 2011, come January. That's basically what you need to do in the modern-day NFL — sneak into the playoffs like Cruz's 2011 Giants and get hot.

Sad as they are, the Steelers could hang around. They could even wake up Monday tied for first in the AFC North if they beat the Bears while the Bengals lose to the Packers and the Ravens lose to the Texans. Not an unrealistic scenario.

Still, only three teams since 1990 have gone from 0-3 to the playoffs, which makes Sunday's game feel like a must-win. Tomlin addressed that idea and a bunch of related issues Tuesday on the South Side, his weekly session lasting an unusually long 24:30.

Some of it made sense. Some of it didn't.

Upon further review …

Tomlin on Heath Miller: “We expect him to work fully this week and see where that participation takes us. Now, make no mistake, we're not expecting Heath to step out of a phone booth with a cape on.”

My take: A one-legged Miller would help this offense. Three-quarters of him (Heath Mil) would be wonderful. The whole David Paulson thing isn't really working.

Tomlin on the tripping call against Marcus Gilbert: “It wasn't a trip. But the reality is that those guys are going to miss calls. We have to be good enough to overcome it.”

Take: Well said. The Steelers aren't good enough to overcome bad breaks these days. But let this also be said: That ridiculous call irrevocably changed the complexion of the game. Inexcusable over-officiating.

Tomlin on what's wrong with a running game that has gone eight consecutive games without producing 100 yards: “The problems are many. We lack detail. We lack finish. Hats on hats at times. It's popcorn. And not to say that with a discouraged mind state. I just say that that's a part of things when you're not functioning well, and that we're capable of fixing these things.”

Take: What?

Take II: It's popcorn?

Tomlin: “We have to continue to turn the stones over and look at the men we're utilizing and what we're asking them to do and put them in the most advantageous positions to succeed.”

Take: Surely, putting players in the “most advantageous positions to succeed” can never, ever mean Jerricho Cotchery on an end-around. I asked Tomlin if there had been some confusion in personnel on the play. In other words, was Cotchery even supposed to be in the game, or was that play ticketed for Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders or someone who can, you know, run?

His cryptic answer: “It wasn't a well-executed play. Obviously, we're capable of using other people, but he was the guy in there at that time.”

Tomlin on Felix Jones in the backfield: “I was encouraged by some of the things Felix did.”

Take: I wasn't. Jones gained 14 yards on a give-up, third-and-long draw. His other nine carries netted 23 yards.

Tomlin on the notion of going to a full-time, hurry-up offense: “I don't think it's sustainable in the big picture. I think it's an awesome weapon, … If you're leaning on it heavily, obviously, I think it's going to be exposed in some form or fashion.”

Take: That's fair, but I'd still like to see more of the hurry-up attack — with Roethlisberger calling the plays. It can't get worse than the six three-and-outs we saw Monday night, can it?

Don't answer that.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at

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