Initial Comments ...
"Unfortunately, it's evident we're not finishing the second half of the football game. Play the first half and move the football, and do a good job on offense, limit the opportunities defensively, and hold them to field goals — and then to not get it done in the second half. We scored 20 points in the first half and none in the second. That's unfortunately the story of a lot of our season — we come up short, and our inability to score points in the second half. Defensively, we allowed plays in the second half we shouldn't allow as well. As a football team, we did not finish the game the right way."
There were four consecutive defensive penalties on that last scoring drive. Do you feel like that's where the game got away from you?
"Well, we were able to hold that drive to a field goal as I remember correctly, correct?"
That was the touchdown ...
"That was different than I was thinking. Again, I don't know."
The four consecutive penalties — do you think that ...
"We don't want four consecutive penalties any time."
Are you able to put your finger on what went wrong in the second half?
"I can't sit here and tell you today. They kicked the field goal on their first possession, and then we were able to drive the ball for a bit, get one first down, and then we end up punting. Then I think the next time we had the interception. But I can't recall right now."
You've said players win and coaches lose. How much responsibility do you feel with this one?
"I'm always responsible whenever we don't win. It's always my job."
How hard is that for you?
"Well it is hard, because I feel like I've not found the right buttons to push to get us to where we need to be. I always take credit for that. I'm never going to blame somebody else. It's my job to figure out why we don't get it to where it needs to be. We've been short."
That's four losses in a row to the Steelers now. Is there any one thing you think keeps coming up short against them?
"I don't know. We were short today in the second half, that's for sure."
Do you think the emotions got the best of some of these players which led to mental breakdowns with all those penalties?
"If I remember correctly, two penalties were on Dre (Kirkpatrick) for defensive holding, and I don't know what the other two were. But that's not an emotional penalty."
What was your opinion on the penalty Pat Sims got when he threw the runner down?
"I didn't think it was a penalty. Obviously (Head Linesman) Phil McKinnely thought it was. I think that's within the play and the emotions got to him."
The emotions got to the ref?
"Yeah, the guy's running and struggling and we're just trying to knock the pile back. But that's neither here nor there."
What's your level of disappointment for not making the postseason?
"It's disappointing. You can't go on until you make the postseason. That's the goal of every team in the league. That's where it is right now."
What adjustments did the Steelers make in the second half that seemed to shut down the offense?
"They stopped the run in the second half. We had some big gains in the run game early in the first half and kept drives alive when we were in third-and-long situations, and we weren't able to convert (those in the second half)."
How disappointing is it that you won't be playing in the postseason this year?
"It is disappointing. This team had potential to do some really good things, and we didn't get it done. So it is disappointing."
Coach Marvin Lewis said he had trouble communicating his message to the players — do you feel the same way?
"I wouldn't say that. At the end of the day, we just have to execute better. If we do that, it could have been a different game."
All year, you guys have been in positions to win these games that you've won for the last five years. But this season, like today, you weren't able to come out with the win ...
"Yeah. This year's been different. We haven't been able to get over that hump and win these types of games. As you said, we'd done that last five years. It can be frustrating at times, but we've got to look at what we're doing and see the areas where we've got to get better. It's unfortunate where we are in the season now. We can't change things, but we've got to be the best that we can be."
Have you been able to put your finger on anything in particular that needs to improve, or does everyone have their arms up going "I'm not sure what's happening?"
"For us, we just couldn't get that one first down that kept the drive alive, kept it going and gave us that momentum (we needed). We got stopped, and so, I felt like if we could have done that, we could have changed some things."
Do you feel your approach has to change to connect with these guys or do something different on the practice field? Is there something you feel you can personally take upon yourself to help the team improve?
"Absolutely. I'm going to look at what I'm doing and what I can do to make the offense as a whole better. I'm going to do whatever it takes to make this offense the best it can be."
What made Brandon LaFell such a strong target for you in the first half?
"He did a great job getting open. He made some tough catches, and I felt like he was winning, so we kept giving him the ball. He played well today."
What happened on the interception you threw?
"It was a little miscommunication on that one. I have to make sure everybody is on the same page with it. But if I throw a better ball, that ball is complete for a big gain, so I should have thrown a better ball."
Was there a receiver open over-the-top on that play?
"Yes, there was."
You guys were up 20-6 at one point; did you feel you had the game under control at that point?
"Yeah. It felt like we just had to keep moving the ball and doing the things we did in the first half, and we just weren't able to get that done."
Is there any common denominator you can think of when you look at second half and fourth quarter scoring issues versus the offense's work in the first half?
"I wouldn't say there's a common theme. A couple weeks ago, we had a couple fumbles that hurt us. At the end of the day, we've just got to execute."
There was a clear difference in the second half. Did the Steelers in the second half dare you to throw it deep?
"They did a good job of getting off blocks in the run game. I felt like they played better than us. That's just what it came down to. We got in too many third-and-long situations, and we just weren't able to convert those."
Was there anything they took away in the second half?
"We didn't have the big runs we had in the first half, so it made it harder on us."
It looked like they started stacking the box in the second half, as opposed to not doing so in the first half ...
"Yeah, I felt like if they had to bring another guy in the box — we've just got to execute."
Usually you could take advantage of that in the passing game ...
"If a team's going play seven in the box, you've got to be able to beat them throwing it."
This is one of those games where you probably would have liked to have had A.J. Green available ...
"You could say, 'What if' on any of these."
What is like to know you're not going to be in the playoffs?
"It's different. Unfortunately, the way the season is and has played out, we didn't play well enough to deserve that this year."
It seemed like in the second half the Steelers just put eight people up on the line ...
"Yeah, they just kind of tried to bear us a little there and adjusted well."
Is that the price of not having A.J. Green?
"I think it's something that hurts you, but we could still execute well enough to do something in the second half. It's one of those things where all you need to do is put some kind of drive together and get some points to keep the momentum there."
Did they change it up on you or in the second half just crowd the line?
"Yeah, they crowded it a little bit, but we've got to find a way to get some yards. Whatever it is — dial up something to get them — and we just didn't."
It has been kind of a frustrating element of the season for you guys to be in position to win games, and for whatever reason, you haven't been able to finish ...
"The fourth quarter's been tough for us. We just haven't seemed to have been able to find the finishing touches. Nobody's keeping us out of the games, or in games or down to the wire. We just haven't found what it takes there at the end."
A yard down by their goal line is going to be tough sledding ...
"They made some plays down there and we eventually got in. We've got to score on the opportunities we get in the red zone. We did well on goal line and ended up scoring on both opportunities, but we've got to score in the red zone."
On your touchdown, was that yellow towel just laying there or did someone throw it down toward you?
"I don't know. It was just laying there."
Was it instinct or spur of the moment type thing?
"Spur of the moment."
What wasn't clicking in the second half?
"I don't know. I've got to go back and look at it. They made their adjustments and we didn't do well adjusting to what they were doing. Whatever it was, we've got to fix that. We didn't do a good job adjusting to what they were doing."
You've been in games this season, but the second half hasn't been able to get you over the top ...
"That's been our Achilles heel all season — not finishing in the fourth quarter. We've done a good job starting opening drives and things of that nature, but we haven't finished. We've got to find a way to finish games. Marvin (Lewis) does a good job of getting us to start the game, but we've got do a better job as players finishing games."
How did things go for you today at the right tackle position?
"I think they went well. It's easy to see we had higher energy in the first half. There are things to work on and get better at. We've got to just keep moving forward."
It was a tale of two halves. Did they make any major adjustments in the second half?
"It just comes down to we've got to play a full game."
Was the biggest difference third down?
"We're going to have to go back and look at the film, see what our coaches say, and go from there."
Are you surprised they called the penalty on you?
"They called it. Can't do anything about it."
Have you ever seen a drive like that with four penalties?
"We made some mistakes. It is what it is. We can't change what happened."
Did you hear a whistle or were you just trying to finish the play?
"I heard the whistle while I was falling down, but at the same time you're trying to stop your momentum while you're falling. It doesn't matter. They called it."
You stepped up in place of A.J. Green and had a big day. What were you seeing out there?
"Personally it was productive, but we didn't get the win. Since A.J. went out, I've put it on myself to lead all the guys because I feel I'm the next guy in line. Today was a big game and we needed to win."
The offense was working well in the first half. Did Pittsburgh make any adjustments?
"That's a good football team. They play great football together, and that's what they did. They came in after halftime and made some adjustments and they stopped us. Every time we needed to get a first down, we couldn't pick it up. Those guys made a lot of plays and got the interception, which gave them a good boost of energy — gave them momentum — and they went down there and scored."
Another game that slipped away ...
"We've got to finish that. The whole season in the fourth quarter, we haven't been able to do what we used to do — finishing people out. We usually step on the field and finish it out, you know, but it hasn't been the same. Coach Lewis hit it on the head when he said that after the game. We're not finishing like we used to and we need to get back to that and finish strong these last two games, and finish on a positive note."
Not making the playoffs has to hurt ...
"It sucks, man. We're so used to the past five years of going to the playoffs every year. It's been kind of the culture here. It's the first time we haven't in a long time, and it hurts. It really hurts me — I don't know how many years and I'm going to be gone. I want to get a ring so bad before I'm done. We fell short this year."
How tough is it knowing this team isn't going to the playoffs?
"It's tough. It's very disappointing, as you can see all the faces in the locker room. There are a lot of proud men in here and a lot of guys that put a lot of work into this. To come up short, especially to your rival and a division opponent, is very disappointing today. It stinks."
It seemed the Steelers became much more aggressive in the second half defensively ...
"We knew what they were going to do. They play their game, so we knew that coming in. We knew it was going to be tough up front, and it showed true today."
What is this team still playing for right now?
"We're playing for each other. Everybody knows how hard we work in this locker room. We see it every day out on the practice field. We'd be selling ourselves short if we didn't compete to win every game. We deserve that for each other. We're playing for each other."
You seemed upset with some calls out there. What was so frustrating when it comes to the referees?
"They let them do whatever they wanted to do, and we couldn't defend ourselves. They let them tug, they let them pull and they let them pull through the routes. They didn't let us do the same. They didn't let us hand-check back, so at the end of the day that's where my frustration comes from."
Was that a big story in the game?
"I look at the end-zone play where they took a shot at No. 83. The guy literally comes off the ball and grabs me by the shoulder pads and tries to sling me out. They were doing it all night."
How frustrating is it knowing you're eliminated from the playoffs?
"I'm pissed. At the end of the day, I hate losing. I hate going out like this. I feel like we're better than that team."
Marvin Lewis said the team fell short once again this year. Who does that fall on?
"Not on the coaches. It's always on the players. They do a great job of weekly preparation and the best situations. I tip my hat off to Marvin. I feel like he did a great job giving us a great game plan this week, and it's our job to execute. I put myself in front. I got calls on me, and I fell short. At the end of the day, there's no excuses. I'm going to take it like a man. At the end of the day, something has to be done."
Were you surprised all three times to look up and see a flag?
"After the game, it kind of got the best of me."
The foul on Pat Sims — had the whistle been blown?
"He hit me. At the end of the day, you're going to see the play. He may have came in late, but he hit me. He didn't hit them. He literally about knocked me out."
How do you keep your cool during a game like that?
"You think about all the work you've put in, all the coaching, and all of the adversity that you've gone through. At the end of the day, that's being a pro. I'm a little frustrated right now, but I've never really let my frustration show on the field because that's a sign of weakness. I put in too much for this team to show them that. At the end of the day, I was trying to stay strong, but it did bother me a little bit today."
What are you now playing for with the team officially eliminated from the playoffs?
"I'm still going to work, still come in every day and come in early and make sure guys (have) smiles on their faces. At the end of the day, we've got to finish strong. It's a mindset now. We're not in the playoffs, so we're not about to play for the Super Bowl or anything like that. Now we need to turn around and play to respect ourselves and our head coach."
What happened with the offense in the second half?
"I don't know. We didn't make enough plays. Everybody kind of had a hand in it, and we couldn't put a drive together."
The team has struggled to put a complete game together. Does this feel like the same old story?
"Yeah, we felt good early on in the game. We were playing well, and there's no reason to go out there and finish the game. I don't have the answers, but we have to find a way to finish these close games."
You've made the playoffs in every year with this franchise. How frustrating is it being out this year?
"It sucks. You put in all that work in the offseason, and you go through the grind of camp and the year and you come up short. It's tough, but Coach Lewis reminds us every year when the season is over that we don't get to start in the playoffs again and that you have to earn your way back. We just couldn't get it done this year."
Is it different when you play the Steelers?
"Yeah, it's one of the more physical games every year. We play these guys twice a year, and that's what AFC North football is. We're used to it. It's always a slugfest."
It looked like you came pretty close to a great touchdown catch ...
"Yeah, I just need to make that catch. The ball hit my hands, and you have to find a way to come down with it. I just couldn't on that play."
What changed in the second half defensively?
"I don't know. I'll have to look at the film to see. We didn't score any points in the second half. We played pretty good and held them to three points until that last touchdown got away. I have to go back and look at the film to check it out."
How frustrating were the flags in the second half?
"It was very frustrating. For the most part, we still had great opportunities to win the game. I wouldn't say they were discipline flags. Guys were playing hard. The one with Pat (Sims), I didn't hear the whistle, so I know he didn't hear the whistle when guys are still running. It'd be different if Le'Veon (Bell) stopped on the play. It is what it is."
Marvin said he felt responsibility for the losses this season. How do you guys take that?
"It's no way Coach Lewis' fault. Coach Lewis prepares us every week, and he does a great job leading the group. For some reason, we've had injuries here and there on both sides of the ball. You've got a lot of new coaches in here on the offensive side. Coach Lewis shouldn't take the blame. A lot of people are giving Coach Lewis hell, but it's not his fault. We lost two of our great receivers last year. He did by any means necessary to get us back to where we are. A.J.'s been out, so that takes away from the offense. But for the most part, it's definitely not his fault."
You're a competitive person. How frustrating is it knowing you won't be in the playoffs?
"Since I've been here, this is the second time I haven't been to the playoffs. All you can do is take the good with the bad and don't forget how you got here. Keep working and stay positive and be a great teammate."
A lot of your teammates have stated they're playing for pride from here on out ...
"I play for pride every week. There's not a week I don't go out and play for the name on my jersey and the logo that's on the front. I've got a lot of family that watch me every week and can't wait to talk shit, so it's different for me. I come from a background where we put everything on the table, we fuss and cuss at each other, and 20 or 30 minutes later we're best friends. Speaking for me, I'm always playing for pride and playing for the Bengals and playing for the name on my back, because at the end of the day you only get judged by your life. I take it pretty serious when I go out and put that jersey on."
Sitting on the sideline watching the offense in the second half, what were you thinking about?
"You don't think about that. I was hoping we get a three-and-out so I can get a punt return. I hadn't had a good one this year, so it would've been a good time to get one. You never think about the negative stuff on the sideline if you're a true professional. After the game you might think about certain things, but during the game you only think about how you can win the game."
Marvin seemed to think his message never really resonated with the team this locker room this year ...
"Not true. Next question."
Marvin said he always uses the line, "Players win, coaches lose." He said he takes responsibility ...
"Not true. Not true."
How much responsibility do you take as a player?
"As a player, it's all on us. Coaches coach and players play. Marvin can't go out and guard Antonio Brown. He can't tackle Le'Veon Bell. He can put us in great position to make plays, and there wasn't one point today were we not in great position. So you can't put that on Marvin."
STEELERS POSTGAME QUOTES
PITTSBURGH AT CINCINNATI
Initial comments ...
"Gritty performance by our guys. It was a necessary win in a hostile environment versus a group that wanted it. We respect all of those things. Can't say enough about those efforts of the men in there.
"The adversity that we overcame was mostly created by us. We would be less than sincere if we didn't acknowledge that. We had a sack in the first series of the game. Then came a penalty, and they got three points out of that one. We had an interception in the next series and it was negated by a DPI. They got a touchdown on that one. We had a touchdown in the first half that was taken away because of a penalty on offense. So in the first half, we really worked against ourselves on those three specific plays that transferred directly into points.
"At half time we were able to gather ourselves and minimize any negativity we were creating and we went on to put together a win. Boswell did a heck of a job making sure all of our possessions were productive ones. Can't say enough about his effort. He kicked six field goals and that's big business. Some injuries, Tuitt went down with a knee problem. Don't know the extent of that. We will evaluate him. Ladarius Green is in protocol. Ricardo Matthews had an ankle. I don't know if he was able to return or not, but it was something he had to deal with for the better part of the game. We will assess those injuries and prepare for our next challenge, which we understand what it is. It's AFC North football. Such is life at this time of year. I like what the guys are willing to do. They stay singularly focused. They fight. And that's required this time of year.
How much can you tie in the penalties with the emotions of the game?
"I don't care about emotions. We got a job to do. We are professionals. We got to stay clean. We didn't play clean in the first half, so we had something to overcome, but most of that was created by us."
It seems like they run well against your nickel in the first half and not in the second half. What changed?
"We tackled better."
Did you notice any differences in the second half with your defense?
"Like I said, we stopped them the first two possessions of the game. But we didn't because we got penalized. I don't see much of a change between the first half and the second half. In fact, we stopped kicking our own butt. One of those scores they returned a kickoff, went all the way down to the 20-something yard line and they kick a field goal. When we weren't kicking our own butt, things were going well for us."
What did you think of Boswell today?
"Six-for-six. He needs no endorsement from me. Shoot, I just gave him the game ball."
When you're kicking your own butt, what type of response do you get from your players?
"It's just necessary, especially this time of the year. We have played that team five times in the past twelve months. It's not a lot of secrets. It's just technical expertise and a lot of butt kicking. And smiling in the face of adversity. It's on both sides. That's what determines on how these games unfold. There are no secrets when there is great familiarity. Whether its schematics or physical matchups. I tip my cap to those guys. They are real tough guys. Tough competitor and opponents. Thankfully we were able to do enough to secure victory."
Were you satisfied with the result, despite the penalties and imperfect play?
"A lot of satisfaction. It's an AFC North road win against a good football team. It was a tale of two halves — or, it felt that way. We couldn't do everything we wanted to on offense early. It's a good defense. There was never any panic. We kept grinding and continuing to make plays."
Did you thank Marcus Gilbert for that false start?
"I'm not going to divulge any information on that play. It was well designed."
You kept the team focused and away from any extracurricular activities ...
"It's what a leader is supposed to do. I've been playing this game and playing against these guys for a long time. I told them that before the game. I've played this team well over 25 times. I told them that there was going to be a lot of emotion. It's a rollercoaster of highs and lows. You know there's going to be some chippiness — it's AFC North football. I just wanted to keep everyone calm and under control, and I thought as a team we did a good job at that today."
On the touchdown pass to Eli Rogers ...
"They did a good job of taking away the outsides with two wide safeties. It took away Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates, and Cobi Hamilton. We just wanted to take advantage of the middle of the field. Ladarius (Green) and Eli worked down the middle and got open on nickel guys and linebackers. When that play was called, I saw the safety get wide, and Eli did a great job with a head fake on the top of the route. I put it on his body, and he did the rest."
Did the first third-down conversion of the second half give you confidence?
"It was huge. With the first series of the second half, if we go three and out and punt, you never know what's going to happen. We had that play called. We knew they were doing a cover-two. We put Le'Veon out there, who ran an out-breaking route. I pumped a bit, and their corner thought they were going to Le'Veon and Ladarius was a decoy. He did everything he was supposed to do on that play. He made the catch on the sideline — probably one of the biggest plays of the game."
Four straight road wins must give you confidence ...
"It's huge. Being able to go on the road is important for a playoff-caliber type team. Any team that wants to go far in the playoffs has to be ready to go on the road. To be able to go into a hostile environment, play against a good football team and win, is great for us."
Are you thinking about Baltimore yet?
"Nope. I'm enjoying this. I'm going to enjoy my Christmas morning with my family, and then I'll think about Baltimore really heavy."
Will you vote for Chris Boswell for the Special Teams Player of the Week award?
"Why not? Look what he did. Those weren't just chip shots. Those were some bombs he hit into the wind. He also had a tackle. He deserves the game ball, and he got it."
The offside play with Sims — was that by design?
"I can't tell you about that play, but it was executed the way it was supposed to be."
The running game seemed to be underused in the first half ...
"I think it was just the way the game was going. We had three, maybe four possessions in the first half. It's just not a lot. We did get into some no-huddle (offense), but it's the way the game goes. We've said that we'll win the game however we have to win it. Last week was run-heavy. This week, we threw the ball and ran it when we needed to. I don't keep track during the game what our run-to-pass ratio is. As long as we're converting third downs, moving the ball, and winning the football game, that's what matters."
What made you decide on suits for a Christmas gift for your linemen this year?
"I try and mix it up every year. I gave them the option to get whatever they wanted from my suit guy — shoes, pants, shirts, jackets, whatever they wanted. I gave them the free reign option. That's a lot of fabric. (Laughs.)"
Did you expect the outcome in the second half?
"This is the type of game you have when you deal with an AFC North opponent. They know us, and we know them. They happened to make a lot of good plays on defense. They have a lot of Pro Bowl players there. They're going to make plays. It was a good win today against a good defense."
Mike Tomlin said you were kicking your own butts, but you overcame it. What does that say about your group?
"We were. We can't afford to do that. A really good team will take advantage of that. We were just good enough in the second half to overcome it. The self-inflicted negative plays need to be cleaned up over the next two games."
"We're just on to the next right game now and getting ready for Baltimore."
Did you feel your confidence growing after halftime?
"Of course, we knew we had to play big in the second half. We let them start quick, so we knew we had to respond and grind it out."
Did you hurt your shoulder?
Was it a matter of just sticking to the game-plan?
"Yes. Give them credit. We just kept sticking with it and the defense gave us some chances. You've got to put points on the board."
Were they doing something different defensively than what the Buffalo Bills did when you would run with the fullback?
"I'm not sure. They knew what we were going to do. It was tough sledding, but we were able to get the job done."
It was pretty cold out there ...
"I always heard that if you keep your head, toes and hands warm, you'll be fine."
How did you stop their offense so well in the second half?
"We understood that we weren't doing a good job holding our rush lanes. He was escaping the pocket and seeing plays. We came out and guys understood that we need to keep him in the pocket and forcing throws into coverage."
What about their run game? You did a much better job in the second half ...
"A lot of guys just made plays. I don't think anyone did anything special. We just did exactly what we had to do."
You weren't shooting the gaps more?
"No, I don't think we were shooting the gaps more. I think the first half we were shooting the gaps a lot. In the second half we just did a better job filling out assigned gaps."
What was the difference between halves?
"The Bengals jump out quick. We expected them to jump out quick. We knew we'd have to chip it out and grind for the entire game."
Did it feel like you missed opportunities?
"Yeah, there are definitely things we missed. We had some adverse calls in the red-zone. We have to learn from that. At the end of the day we won."
What was the feedback you got on the chop-block penalty?
"He said the player was engaged. When I first chopped him, he was free. Ramon (Foster) came over late and put a hand on him. I didn't think it should've been flagged, but they called it and we overcame it."