Credit Mike Tomlin with thinking outside the box.
The Pittsburgh Steelers coach, with a playoff berth and bye already tucked away, is resting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive end Cam Heyward, among others, on Sunday in the regular-season finale against the winless Cleveland Browns. And wide receiver Antonio Brown already is out with a calf injury.
It’s a bold strategy, all right, and it may be one that pretty much hands over the AFC’s top seed in the playoffs to the New England Patriots, who were playing mind games with the New York Jets by putting thermometers all over Gillette Stadium to remind them just how cold it is. It’s also not a move that’s going to be wildly popular with the NFL, but Tomlin is trying to get a nice, three-week break for his stars before the divisional round of the playoffs.
Tomlin no doubt remembers the 2008 season, when he played his starters with the No. 2 seed secured and no opportunity to improve their playoff position in the regular-season finale against the Browns, as TribLive.com notes. Roethlisberger suffered a concussion in that game but returned for the divisional round and led the team to the Super Bowl. In 2007, Tomlin rested Roethlisberger and several starters — and the team lost to the Ravens in the finale and to the Jaguars in the wild-card game. In 2010, the other time the Steelers had a bye under Tomlin, the team needed a win over the Browns to get the No. 2 seed, so starters played and the team went to the Super Bowl.
Roethlisberger acknowledged last week the downside of not playing.
“That’s the other side of the sword, if you will,” he said, “but I’ve been doing this a long time. If that is the case, I’ll prepare myself and make sure I am ready to go mentally and physically.”
There’s a personal sacrifice for Bell, who won’t be battling the Rams’ Todd Gurley for the first rushing title for a Steelers player since 1946. Gurley, who is likely to sit in the Rams game, too, leads by 14 yards.
“I know I’ll be able to get back into football mode,” Bell said. “With taking one or two weeks off, you’re just taking off games. I’ll still be practicing, doing everything else and working out. It will be just taking the hits off my body. I’ll be ready.”
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