PITTSBURGH (AP) — The playoffs are practically off the table for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So, apparently, is planning ahead to 2014.
Coach Mike Tomlin stressed Tuesday his team is focused on beating AFC North leader Cincinnati on Sunday night, not treating the final three weeks of the season as an extended job interview.
The last time Tomlin checked, he is paid to win games not play out the string.
"I don't expect the mentality to change," Tomlin said. "I know mine won't, and I know the presentation of material or the approach to preparation, or even our intentions in terms of how we're going to go about victory are not going to change."
The Steelers (5-8) saw any real postseason hopes vanish when Antonio Brown's left foot stepped out of bounds at the Miami 12 on the final play of a 34-28 loss to the Dolphins.
All it really did, however, was put the finishing touches on a disappointing fall that began when Pittsburgh dropped its first four games.
After spending two months trying to climb out of that massive hole, Tomin acknowledged his team's winless September was "catastrophic."
"When you start 0-4, you understand the ramifications of that," Tomlin said.
The Steelers' bid to become the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after such a miserable opening four weeks is now all but gone.
That doesn't mean Tomlin is necessarily displeased with what he's seen. The team that couldn't run the ball and couldn't take it away three months ago has found a way to do a little bit of both recently.
Troy Polamalu picked up his fifth career touchdown with a 19-yard interception return for a score and rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is becoming the dynamic playmaker the Steelers envisioned when they took him in the second round of the draft.
"Obviously, we haven't been 9-0 since that (start) but I do think that we have answered some of those questions and have improved in some of those areas," Tomlin said.
Just not enough to get back to .500.
"It is a very small margin of error when you lose the first four games," safety Ryan Clark said. "For us, you can't split quarters of the season. If you lose four games, somewhere in there you need a four-game winning streak to even it out."
It hasn't happened.