December starts on Thursday, but the Steelers December begins with a Sunday 4:25 kickoff against the Giants. It’s a month that will make or break the Steelers, and coach Mike Tomlin understands how important it is to finish strong, “this is an exciting time of the year as we get into December. In our business, they say ‘they remember December’ as playoff races take form and guys fight and claw to be a team on the rise and to state a case for themselves for that single-elimination tournament.”
It all comes down to a five-game stretch for the Steelers and Ravens. But the Steelers aren’t looking ahead. They’re just focused on Sunday’s game with the Giants.
After a weekend off, the Steelers started their week of practice on Monday. Ramon Foster is insisting on the “one-game-at-a-time” mentality, and that the Steelers have to all be on the same page, “we just gotta stay focused. It can’t be any…on what we’re doing moving forward. It’s executing. Blocking. Tackling. Everybody has to be in tune with what we have going on.”
The Indianapolis Colts made it official this afternoon. Andrew Luck will not play against the Steelers because of a concussion. He didn’t report the symptoms until after Indy’s Sunday win over the Titans. Luck’s head hit the ground hard after a sack, but he stayed in the game. So the quarterback duty falls to Scott Tolzien, who hasn’t started an NFL game since 2013, and he only started two as a backup for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. But Tolzien says he plans to be ready, “that’s my job. Maybe it’s a little bit different, but you try to always prepare like a starter, no matter what, so that you are always ready to go and you don’t always have to be in panic mode if something happens.”
Inside 48 hours to the Steelers and Colts on Thanksgiving night, and it’s looking more and more unlikely that Andrew Luck will be able to play. Luck remains in the concussion protocol and did not practice on Tuesday. Luck was injured, likely on a 4th quarter sack when Titans nose tackle Austin Johnson landed on top of him. I asked Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier about having to prepare for 2 quarterbacks, “we understand that Andrew might not be in the game but…definitely we’re preparing for everybody. We’re definitely preparing for Luck and we’re preparing for Tolzien…the coaching staff put in plays I think the both of them run at certain situations in the game. I think we’re just ready for whoever comes out and plays.”
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has been placed in the concussion protocol, meaning little-known backup Scott Tolzien is preparing to start against the Steelers Thursday night. Luck played the entire game as the Colts beat the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. He showed no signs of any problems, looking fine as he shook hands after the game. Luck was sacked twice and hit a number of times. He may have suffered the concussion when Austin Johnson landed on top of him on a sack in the 4th quarter.
It’s been another challenging year for the Cleveland Browns, but one of their bright spots has been QB-turned-receiver, Jeannette’s Terrelle Pryor, who has 51 receptions for 627 yards and four touchdowns. Pryor needs no motivation as he prepares to play the team he grew up watching, although he doesn’t want to talk about the Steelers-Browns rivalry, “I don’t want to. I don’t know how this may, take it wrong, but we’re not in a situation to worry about rivalries. We gotta get a win. It doesn’t matter who it is. No matter who, we’re playing. We gotta get a win.”
It’s not easy to get into the Pro Football HOF (Just ask Jerome Bettis), but more Steelers are up for the honor. The HOF announced its list of 26 semi-finalists. Among the first-time nominations, receiver Hines Ward and Alan Faneca. Ward, of course, was the MVP of SB 40, and caught 1000 passes over the course of his 14-year career. Guard Alan Faneca is also a semi-finalist. Faneca was a finalist last year in his first year of eligibility. He was a 9-time Pro Bowler for the Steelers and Jets from 1998 to 2009. Faneca was also a member of the SB 40 champions. Two other semi-finalists of local interest. Jason Taylor, DE primarily with the Miami Dolphins is from Woodland Hills HS, and Aliquippa’s Ty Law is also a semi-finalist for the HOF.
The Steelers are struggling through a four-game losing streak–their longest slide since the start of the 2013 season, and at his Tuesday news conference, Mike Tomlin talked about accountability: “really more than anything, we’re not looking for anything other than a victory. We gotta continue to work hard. We gotta continue to focus on the things that are gonna put us in position to be successful. That’s many of the things that we’ve been talking about. Not only as a football team, but I’ve been talking about openly. To you guys, we shot ourselves in the foot some, with penalties and with blown assignments.”
It’s been a tough stretch for the Steelers, and it got worse on Tuesday. DE Cam Heyward, one of the team’s captains, posted the news on Instagram that he’d be out for the remainder of the season. Heyward posted, “it pains me to say that I will not get to continue playing this season.” Heyward is out with a torn pectoral muscle, and that injury will reportedly “likely require surgery.” A potentially crushing blow for the Steelers.
The Steelers are hoping they learned a lesson from last year’s game in Baltimore. That game was played on December 27th (the second-to-the-last game of the regular season). The Steelers were favored, but lost by 3, and at the time, their playoff hopes took a big hit. They don’t want it to happen again. Maurkice Pouncey talked about the importance of the game, “every game is important…but whenever you play AFC North football…you guys know how physical it gets and and how demanding that play is…I’m sure the game is going to be exciting and everybody will be tuned into it.”