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At 35, Tomlin has the Steelers’ attention

Times Staff Writer

Mike Tomlin came to the Pittsburgh Steelers unproven as a head coach, untested as a leader and, at 34, younger than some players in the NFL.

After five weeks, the only thing that remains the same is that he’s younger than a handful of players. On the field, he has guided the Steelers to a 4-1 start and has made it obvious that he has what it takes to coach at the highest level.

Tomlin, now 35, second only to Lane Kiffin of the Oakland Raiders on the list of the NFL’s youngest head coaches, had perhaps the finest moment in his brief tenure Sunday when he coaxed a 21-0 victory over the Seattle Seahawks out of his injury-depleted team.

Safety Troy Polamalu and nose tackle Casey Hampton, the Steelers’ only Pro Bowl selections last season, were out with injuries, yet Pittsburgh still managed a shutout against a good offense.

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Steelers wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward were also out, but Pittsburgh still managed to control the game with its offense and had possession for 40 minutes 45 seconds.

“They showed their character today,” Tomlin said of the Steelers. “It is something that I knew we had. It was a total team effort. They remained unwavered in the face of adversity. They stuck together. They delivered. The things that we talked about since Day 1, they displayed today. As a coach, you feel good when you see that.”

Following in the footsteps of legendary coaches Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher -- the only Steelers coaches since 1969 -- was never going to be easy, but his team has made it easier with a 4-1 start. Much of that is attributable to a defense that has given up only 9.4 points a game.

Tomlin ascended the NFL ranks as a defensive coach, serving as Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator last season and as an assistant under Tony Dungy at Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers routinely had one of the top defenses in the league.

But those teams used 4-3 defenses that relied heavily on the Cover 2 scheme. Pittsburgh has run a 3-4 defense for 25 years, and Tomlin was humble enough to leave things as they were.

“I was not interested in fixing something that wasn’t broken,” Tomlin said. “I know that sounds cliche, but it’s common sense. You’d be surprised at the number of people that get into situations and they want to put their stamp on something or they want to show they’re in charge.”

Steelers President Art Rooney has compared Tomlin to Noll and Cowher -- both of whom were also hired while in their 30s. Tomlin, who met Noll for the first time Sunday during a pregame ceremony, says he prefers to avoid such comparisons.

“Don’t mention my name in the same sentence as coach Noll,” he said. “I was in awe of the man. We are all walking on the ground that he paved.”

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So far, he’s doing a good job of staying on track.

Ain’t too proud to beg

Little-used Washington Redskins running back Mike Sellers freely acknowledges that he has been pestering Coach Joe Gibbs for playing time.

“It’s kind of embarrassing -- because I’ve really, really been begging,” Sellers said. “Every time a coach passes by, ‘Can I run this play?’ ‘Can I run that play?’ ‘Can I do this?’ ”

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Sunday, that persistence paid off. Sellers had a one-yard touchdown run and an eight-yard touchdown reception in a 34-3 victory over the Detroit Lions.

“It worked,” Sellers said. “I got a chance to do something.”

Picking his spots

New York Giants rookie defensive back Aaron Ross was benched during the first half against the New York Jets for an undisclosed violation of team rules, but he made amends in the second half.

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He had two interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter that he returned 43 yards for a touchdown with slightly more than three minutes left to clinch a 34-25 victory.

“It was just a mistake on my behalf, and something I have to learn from,” Ross said. “It’s between the coach and me. Rest assured, it’ll never happen again. I think the reason I was drafted here was to make big plays, and I have to hold up my end of the bargain.”

Offensive offense

The San Francisco 49ers managed only one first down and 38 total yards, including zero net yards passing, in the first half of a 9-7 loss to Baltimore and finished with 163 total yards, 49 on the ground.

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They had 65 of those yards during a two-play sequence that Ravens defenders called a momentary letdown and have scored only 63 points in five games -- 10 in their last two combined.

“I don’t know exactly what the issues are on offense, but we have a lot of work to do,” Coach Mike Nolan said.

Monday preview

The high-powered Dallas Cowboys (4-0), leading the NFL in total offense (440.8 yards) and points a game (37.8) visit the injury-depleted Buffalo Bills.

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Dallas Coach Wade Phillips is making his first visit to Buffalo since he was fired as coach of the Bills in 2000. Buffalo (1-3) has three defensive starters on injured reserve and injured quarterback J.P. Losman will sit out for the second consecutive game. Trent Edwards will get the start.

Injury report

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart broke his collarbone against St. Louis and will be sidelined indefinitely. . . . Miami Dolphins quarterback Trent Green was taken to a hospital after sustaining a concussion against Houston and is doubtful for next week. . . . Kansas City quarterback Damon Huard left because of a bruised shoulder against Jacksonville and is questionable for next week. . . . Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Michael Pittman was carted off the field because of an ankle injury against Indianapolis, but the severity of it was not known. . . . Cleveland Browns running back Jamal Lewis injured his foot on the first play of a loss to New England and did not return. . . . Washington Redskins receiver Antwaan Randle El left because of a hamstring injury against Detroit and did not return. . . . Seattle Seahawks receiver Deion Branch sprained his foot in the second quarter against Pittsburgh and did not return. . . . Pittsburgh receiver Santonio Holmes was a late scratch because of a hamstring injury. . . . Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley left a loss to San Diego because of a head injury and cornerback Champ Bailey said he was concerned about missing time after straining a quadriceps.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Young bosses

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Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin ranks among the youngest head coaches in the NFL. Tomlin, 35, is the second-youngest head coach in the league this season. The five youngest head coaches in the NFL:

*--* Coach Team Age Birth date Lane Kiffin Oakland 32 May 9, 1975 Mike Tomlin Pittsburgh 35 March 15, 1972 Eric Mangini New York Jets 36 Jan. 19, 1971 Sean Payton New Orleans 43 Dec. 29, 1963 Mike McCarthy Green Bay 43 Nov .10, 1963 *--*


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