Tomlin might have lost his team's best effort, its best focus before kickoff. He has some mending to do in his locker room. He is a superior communicator who had better have a little chat across the board with his players.
This is not a united, cohesive Steelers bunch right now.
Tomlin let a situation -- quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's prior concussion issues that kept him out of this game and forced second-year quarterback Dennis Dixon to make his first pro start -- linger and fester to his team's detriment. The players said they learned Saturday afternoon that Roethlisberger would not play.
"We're going into one of the biggest games of our lives and we find out that Ben isn't going to play only because Dennis is taking the most reps,'' receiver Hines Ward said after his team's loss, which left both the Steelers and the Ravens 6-5. "Some of the comments I made during an [NBC] TV interview I did on Saturday had to do with the frustration of just finding that out.
"When I said the locker room was 50-50 on whether Ben should be playing, I didn't mean it as a disrespect to Ben. That's just the way it was.''
Tomlin said he learned on Saturday morning from Steelers team doctors that Roethlisberger should not play. Tomlin then focused on getting Dixon ready, not on getting his team an explanation.
"I'm not worried about a problem in the locker room,'' Tomlin said. "Of course, in that instance maybe Hines was misinformed.''
I think Tomlin should be very much worried about a problem in the locker room. And that his players were not so much "misinformed" as they were uninformed.
Roethlisberger might want to speak up to his teammates and let them know exactly what is going on, and why he did not play, and what the doctors said -- and how and why he felt it best to follow all to the letter. Because Roethlisberger was listed as the emergency quarterback.
Tomlin said in such a case, Roethlisberger would have only handed the ball off.
Can the guy play or can't he? Can we get a real clue, the players wondered?
These are, after all, the defending Super Bowl champions and a team that's won two championships in the past five years. These players have earned a measure of respect from their coaches that should always be in play. They are too smart, too hungry, too invested to leave them in the dark. There can be no mind games with this character-driven bunch.
I think Tomlin knew he blew it.
This is what he said as he continued to explain the situation: "I didn't give him [Ward] the detailed explanation that went down into the decision making in terms of what Dr. [Joseph] Maroon suggested. In response to that, I will give him that information. I will give our football team that information. At the time that the information came down, I was more concerned about getting Dennis ready to play, and I proceeded with the assumption that our men understood what kind of competitive setting it is. If they don't, I'll tell them.''
The explanation will come too late to prevent this loss.
But here is what is left for the Steelers: Home against Oakland, at Cleveland, home against Green Bay and Baltimore and a regular-season finale at Miami.
At 6-5, in the jumbled AFC playoff picture, the Steelers have become what their record says -- just a tad better than average. They lost last week at Kansas City in overtime to a team that was mauled in San Diego 43-14 on Sunday. Pittsburgh has lost three in a row, to Cincinnati, Kansas City and Baltimore.
And a there is a contingent in that Pittsburgh locker room that believes that Roethlisberger should have played in this game, or that the decision to not play him should have been made earlier so that Dixon could have been better prepared. There is a faction in there that feels they were left twisting with this issue and were shocked that they had to sort of figure it out 24 hours prior to kickoff.
You know, coaches coach and players play -- that's the way the NFL goes. But the teams that win championships build cohesion and trust between players and coaches. They embrace a vibrant communication that endures.
Pittsburgh -- and especially Tomlin -- had better reinforce that.
It has been one of his strengths since he became the Steelers head coach three seasons ago.
Pittsburgh trailed for much of the game. It took its first and only lead at 17-14 with 6:24 left on Dixon's 24-yard scoring run. Dixon did a nice job for four quarters and the Steelers protected him with 38 rushing attempts compared to 26 passes.
It was Dixon's pick in overtime, however, that set up Baltimore's winning field goal.
The interception was made by Ravens rookie linebacker/defensive end Paul Kruger, who ran the ball 26 yards to the Pittsburgh 28. Running back Ray Rice (88 yards rushing, 67 yards receiving) did the rest, moving Baltimore to the Pittsburgh 11. Billy Cundiff's 29-yard field goal wrapped up Baltimore's victory.
Pittsburgh has lost in the same manner in back-to-back weeks -- Kansas City used an overtime field goal in Week 11 to upset the Steelers.
On top of that, they have a communication problem.
And that can translate into an attitude problem. A unity problem. A performance problem.
"We will not go gently,'' Tomlin reminded us.
A team with fiery personalities like the Steelers seldom do. And because of that makeup, they also deserve clarity.
Tomlin said he expects Roethlisberger back for next Sunday. He added, "We will proceed appropriately.'' Whatever that track, it must include clarity with his team.
They deserve it. They will demand it.