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Steelers defend their effort, motivation in wake of Tomlin criticism

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 10:39 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throws as he is being pressured by the Vikings' Everson Griffen in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, at Wembley Stadium in London.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Vikings' Chad Greenway intercepts a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, at Wembley Stadium in London.

Mike Tomlin often minces words when trying to explain why the Steelers can't fix what ails them. At times, he ignores criticism by insisting a reversal of fortune is imminent.

However, in the aftermath of a 34-27 setback to Minnesota on Sunday in London, the Steelers' bewildered coach was visibly frustrated and flustered. With his patience seemingly wearing thin, Tomlin drew a line, threatening to get rid of players lacking effort and motivation.

On Tuesday, many of his players agreed the Steelers need to change something before traveling to East Rutherford, N.J., to play the New York Jets on Oct. 13.

But safety Ryan Clark took exception to perceived criticism that the Steelers (0-4) were outhustled by the Vikings.

“Different things have been talked about today in meetings that really haven't sat well with me,” Clark said. “The film shows one thing, but I know when a guy gets blocked he's not trying to get blocked. Or when a guy misses a tackle, he's attempting to make that tackle.

“The effort is there. We just aren't executing. When you're winning, a mistake or two is glossed over. When you're losing, everything is pointed out.”

Without a marked turnaround, the Steelers are faced with the prospect of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year. The last time the Steelers lost five straight was 2003 — their last losing season.

“I had a coach who once told me not to confuse effort with results,” receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “This is a level where you expect effort. Our business is to produce wins, and those are results we need to keep our jobs. Right now we've got to get on the board. It has to happen right away.”

The Steelers have been plagued by turnovers, missed tackles and missed opportunities. But it's rare that Tomlin questioned his team's effort.

“You better be motivated, and that's basically what (Tomlin) told us,” cornerback William Gay said. “He's going to evaluate everyone's work ethic in the way they approach the game. You better look at it as a threat because it's real serious around here.

“As a head coach, he has to put his foot down. And that's what he did. Our response is to get a win next time we step onto the field. It's the ultimate change from what we're doing now.”

Receiver Emmanuel Sanders said it isn't about effort; it's all about the losing.

“The moment (Tomlin) sees players not doing things the Steelers' way to turn things around, he is going to start cleaning house,” Sanders said. “If you've got to tell your players that, then it's what you have to do.

“It's nothing different about the locker room. We just can't catch a break. We could easily be 4-0, but we're not making the big plays that dictate the outcome of a game.”

Even though Clark was quick to defend his teammates' effort and motivation, he insisted the coaching staff can't be blamed, either.

“Obviously what we've done as a team isn't working,” Clark said. “Our coaches are making sure we don't have any excuses as players. Our coaches are doing everything they can to get us a win.”

Still, Tomlin insisted the difference between winning and losing is a “continued improvement in detail.” If not, changes, he said, will be made.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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