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Tomlin needs victory to avoid 1st losing season

| Monday, Dec. 24, 2012, 1:40 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Linebacker Larry Foote said this could be his last season with the Steelers. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The Steelers (7-8) must beat the Browns (5-10) on Sunday at Heinz Field to avoid their first losing season in coach Mike Tomlin's tenure.

They last had a sub-.500 season under Bill Cowher in 2003, when they went 6-10. They have had three losing records in 20 years: 2003, 1999 (6-10) and 1998 (7-9).

Their three consecutive home losses to the Ravens, Chargers and Bengals represent their longest streak at Heinz since they also dropped three in a row in 2003.

• The Steelers haven't lost to the Browns in Pittsburgh since 2003. They are 8-0 since then.

• Illustrating how different this nearly meaningless end-of-season game is for the Steelers: Tomlin did not give a detailed personnel evaluation of the Browns during his weekly news conference Monday. Normally, he spends a good chunk of his podium time discussing the upcoming opponent.

• Linebacker Larry Foote said Sunday this could be his final NFL game. His Steelers contract is up, and he doesn't know if they'll offer him another one or if he'll seek work elsewhere next season at age 33. “It's going to mean a lot to me personally,” he said of playing against Cleveland. “It might be my last game; every year there are changes but, me being my age, (it's) probably my last one, and (I want to) go out with a bang.”

• Left tackle Max Starks, the only offensive lineman to play every snap this season, also doesn't know if he'll be back next season, at age 31. He is unsigned past this season.

• With Ike Taylor (ankle) still out and Keenan Lewis hampered by a hip injury, Cortez Allen drew the primary responsibility for covering ace Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who made 10 catches — compared to one in the first matchup in Cincinnati. Tomlin called it a “health issue.”

• Tomlin won't make any lineup alterations Sunday strictly to take a look at any players who didn't play much this season. He said the overall team health won't permit that, Also, nearly every player has gotten on-field time because of myriad injuries.

• Safety Troy Polamalu, playing with his characteristic recklessness for the first time since he injured his calf in the season opener, said he's not ready to begin a “retrospective” of the season. “There are just some things, obviously, that we're lacking,” he said.

— Alan Robinson

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