Steelers QB Jones to teammates: 'Don't panic'
Trying to assure his teammates that all is not lost Sunday against the 5-1 New England Patriots, Steelers soon-to-be-starting quarterback Landry Jones stood up in a team meeting Wednesday morning and gave a two-word pep talk:
“It eased the guys a little bit and put a laugh in a couple guys' faces,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “I think we needed that.”
The Steelers entered the week reeling from a 30-15 loss to the previously one-win Miami Dolphins. And with all of the injuries the Steelers have suffered this season, none is bigger than franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's meniscus tear against the Dolphins, which will thrust the little-used Jones into the lineup against the Patriots and maybe beyond.
Steelers president Art Rooney II told NFL Network on Wednesday that “two to six” weeks is a “fair range” for Roethlisberger's return from surgery.
Against the Patriots, the Steelers also will be without defensive lineman Cam Heyward and possibly another starter, tackle Marcus Gilbert, who hasn't practiced since injuring his ankle three weeks ago.
Then there's the matter of Tom Brady leading the Patriots to decisive back-to-back wins since returning from his four-game Deflategate suspension.
With all of this working against the Steelers, Jones decided to bring a little levity to the meeting room before the team began its work week.
“That's him,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “You never know when he's going to embrace it and throw out those kind of words.
“It's always good to hear from him.”
Known for his laid-back personality, Jones said he has to continue to use his strengths as a “quick decision maker” and not try to duplicate Roethlisberger's style on and off the field.
“I don't think you can change because you can't change who you are,” he said. “If you're going to be a leader, be a leader and be who you are.
“People are going to see right through you if you try to be someone else.”
The start will be the third of Jones' four-year career, including two last season when he made seven regular-season appearances and one forgettable stretch in the wild-card playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals when he went 2 for 5 with an interception.
He has played only one complete NFL game in his career.
“Everybody understands. We can't panic,” running back Le'Veon Bell said. “We understand when Ben goes down, he's the backup quarterback and you don't want to put too much on him. Obviously, we can't scale it back too much because we know he understands the whole offense.
“As a team, we have to help him. We gotta get him comfortable and confident, and he should be good.”
Coach Mike Tomlin said Jones would get all of the first-team snaps in practice this week, and Bell said Jones looked “real good” in that capacity Wednesday.
“Once the confidence comes and he gets comfortable, he's going to be fine,” Bell said. “It's his fourth year, and he's a lot more comfortable than he was last year around the guys. Commanding things in the huddle, he gets more of that respect. That's the biggest thing you want from your quarterback.”
Jones said he understands what is at stake in the game.
“This is a huge game for my career and the direction I want to go,” Jones said. “I'm excited for the opportunity.”
Jones figures he has nothing to lose and said that's the approach he plans to take while also maintaining a need to be “cautiously aggressive.”
“Anytime you're a backup, you can try to be too perfect, too careful,” Jones said. “One time Coach (Mike) Tomlin said something along the lines of ‘Gunfighters are going to get shot.' For me, I'd rather go out there and cut it loose and play like that than trying to be too careful.”
Pouncey said the Steelers will rally around Jones until Roethlisberger returns.
“At the end of the day, Landry is our starting quarterback,” he said. “This isn't his first rodeo. He knows how to approach games. We won games with him last year. He plays behind a great quarterback. He's learned a lot from him, and hopefully he can take it to the field.”