Steelers' playoff hopes in others' hands

Updated: December 29, 2009, 5:18 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Sit Cedric Benson. Play Cedric Benson. Sit Tom Brady. Play Tom Brady.

How much the Bengals' Benson plays against the Jets and the Patriots' Brady plays against the Texans on Sunday might determine not only the winners of those games, but whether the Pittsburgh Steelers make the playoffs.

Regardless, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn't about to lobby another coach to play his best players, even if Pittsburgh's season may be riding on any such decision.

To Tomlin, the Steelers (8-7) put themselves in a position where they need a lot of assistance to make the AFC playoffs, so they shouldn't go begging for help.

"I could care less how the Bengals approach what it is they do," Tomlin said Tuesday.

To make the playoffs, the Steelers must defeat the Dolphins (7-8) in Miami on Sunday and hope multiple games fall in their favor. Among the scenarios are the AFC East champion Patriots (10-5) beating Houston (8-7) and the AFC North champion Bengals (10-5) beating the Jets (8-7).

However, the Patriots and Bengals may not play their regulars very long, if at all, because they are in the playoffs regardless of the outcome. Also, both teams will play the following weekend, one of them only six days after Sunday's regular season-ending game.

The Steelers' chances of returning to the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons were lessened when the Colts (14-1) rested their starters after taking a five-point lead Sunday, and the Jets came back to win 29-15. That put the Jets in position to make the playoffs if they win on Sunday, just as the Ravens (8-7) can if they win at Oakland.

Despite the Colts' much-debated decision that not risking injury to a key player was more important than going for a 16-0 season, Tomlin doesn't believe in telling another team what to do with its personnel.

"I really have no opinion," Tomlin said. "I trust that those coaches are going to do what they feel is best for their football teams. I'm going to do what's best for mine. Very rarely do I pass judgment on the decision-making of other coaches in regard to other teams, because I don't have a pulse on their group."

Tomlin understands the delicate balance between playing regulars enough to keep them sharp but not enough to get hurt. Last season, Ben Roethlisberger sustained a concussion after Tomlin chose to play him in a meaningless season-ending game against Cleveland.

Luckily for the Steelers, they didn't play their first playoff game until two weeks later. That gave the quarterback time to heal, and he went on to lead them to a Super Bowl title. But if the Steelers had played as soon as six days after Roethlisberger was hurt, he might not have been ready.

Tomlin also doesn't believe it's necessary to argue for maintaining the integrity of the game. He feels any competitive team wants to win no matter who is playing.

In 2004, the Steelers rested most of their regulars in a game the Bills needed to win to make the playoffs, yet Pittsburgh won 29-24 at Buffalo despite playing mostly backups. Not only did the Steelers keep their starters healthy, they found a future 1,000-yard rusher on their bench in Willie Parker, who had his first 100-yard game that day.

"I think we're all competitors and we play to win," Tomlin said. "Every time we come out of that tunnel, that's the intent. The ramifications, in regard to other teams, is irrelevant to me. It's more about the people that I come out of the tunnel with and our commitment to this organization, our fans, our community. So we come out to win."

If the Steelers wanted to avoid relying on outside teams for help -- teams that might not feel the same urgency to win this weekend as they do -- they could have prevented it by winning more games earlier in the season.

The Steelers defeated the Chargers (12-3), Vikings (11-4), Broncos (8-7) and Ravens (8-7) but lost to the Chiefs (3-12), Browns (4-11), Raiders (5-10) and Bears (6-9).

"This our bed. We're going to lay in it," Tomlin said. "We created this situation. What we are going to do is control what we can control, and that's our preparation of play for the game. We're not going to cry over spilled milk. If there's any level of disappointment in terms of how this thing unfolds, it's going to be on us."

In a player move, the Steelers signed first-year defensive back Trae Williams and put rookie defensive back Keenan Lewis (back) on the injured reserve list. Williams had been on the Seahawks' practice squad.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press