PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers safety Lee Flowers already knows that changes will occur when the team meets for training camp in six months.
Namely, a much greater emphasis on special teams, beginning on the first day of camp.
Flowers, in the strongest criticism this season by one Pittsburgh player of another, said Monday the Steelers aren't in the Super Bowl because some teammates didn't take special teams seriously enough.
Flowers said some younger players — he didn't name names — lack the desire to be good and probably should be cut. He also said the Steelers should begin using starters on special teams.
Two special teams breakdowns — a punt return touchdown and a blocked field goal return — allowed the New England Patriots to upset the heavily favored Steelers 24-17 Sunday in the AFC title game.
Flowers, admittedly still upset, said the Steelers would be in New Orleans if they had made a greater commitment to special teams.
"We're not taking it seriously enough to be a dominating team," Flowers said. "We dominated most teams on defense and offense, but to have the game before you go to the Super Bowl come down to two returns on special teams . . . is very disappointing."
Troy Brown scored untouched on a 55-yard punt return in the first quarter. Later, with New England up 14-3, Brown scooped up a blocked field-goal attempt and lateraled to Antwan Harris for a 49-yard touchdown return.
It was the second time in a month the Steelers have lined up for a field goal, only for the the opponent to score. A snap eluded holder Josh Miller on Dec. 30 in Cincinnati, resulting in a 56-yard touchdown return by the Bengals' Brian Simmons.
No wonder special teams coach Jay Hayes said Monday, "I didn't sleep last night."
Brown's punt return touchdown was the second against Pittsburgh in as many weeks. Until Jermaine Lewis' NFL playoff record 88-yarder last week for Baltimore, the Steelers went 55 years without allowing a punt return touchdown in the postseason.
"All you have to do was stop the guy," Flowers said. "Trust me, it's not that difficult. . . . We have people on special teams who don't have the desire and don't want to.
"At some point, players need to buckle down and stop being babies and blaming stuff on the coaches. They give us a plan and they're paying us all this money, it's our job to get it done."
Other Steeler special teams problems included Brown's league-high 14 missed field goals, plus another in the playoffs; three missed extra points and three punts that were blocked or altered.
"Special teams to me is desire," Flowers said. "You're getting paid three times more than the average 9-to-5 corporate guy just to get out there and tackle the guy with the ball. It's all desire and all heart.
"It didn't happen for some reason, and that's why we're sitting right here, instead of on Bourbon Street."
To solve the problem, Flowers suggested using more starters on special teams, saying, "Other teams around the league do it. We're willing to do anything to help this team get to the Super Bowl."