DETROIT — Steve Mariucci remained the Lions' coach Friday, despite reports his firing could be imminent after Thursday's 27-7 loss to Atlanta.
The team denied it had even discussed firing him.
Lions president Matt Millen was unavailable for interviews and did not respond to phone messages. A team official said the Lions decided to take a business-as-usual approach to the situation because they didn't want to dignify what they thought were unsubstantiated rumors.
Mariucci said he met Friday with Millen, but the meeting was routine.
"We talked about the game like we always talk about the game," Mariucci told a small group of reporters. "That's what we did. I don't know what you guys were hoping for."
Asked if he expected to remain the coach, Mariucci said: "How do you want me to answer that? Of course, I hope to be, I anticipate being, I want to be, I plan on it, all those sort of things. I'm spending my day evaluating the game, looking at our players, trying to decide what we do going from here to make it better. That consumes my every thought."
Looking emotionally drained after Thursday's game, Mariucci accepted responsibility for the state of the team, all but officially out of the playoff race at 4-7. Team executives declined to comment on Mariucci, and players openly wondered what would happen.
Reports said the Lions were considering firing Mariucci, who is in the third year of a five-year, $25-million contract.
"Those are unfounded," Bill Keenist, the Lions' senior vice president of communications, said Friday. "What occurred yesterday was normal interaction and discussions. Today was a typical day after a game."
STEELERS' SMITH RETURNS: The return of Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Marvel Smith against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts on Monday night could end up being even more important than the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Smith, who missed last Sunday's game with a sprained ankle, returns to face the Colts' Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, who led the NFL last season with 16 sacks.
The Steelers are 3-8 over the past three seasons in games in which Smith doesn't play. He left another game after one series, and the Steelers lost that one, too. Last season, Smith stayed healthy and the Steelers finished 15-1.
PACE EXPECTS TO PLAY: Orlando Pace missed practice for the second straight day Friday with a hamstring injury, but the six-time Pro Bowl player was optimistic he wouldn't miss any playing time for the St. Louis Rams.
"I feel good," Pace said. "We'll see what happens. Once the soreness goes down, hopefully I'll be ready to go."
Pace hurt his left hamstring on Wednesday; he said a teammate stepped on his foot.
Rookie Alex Barron has been at Pace's spot the past two days, and Rex Tucker has been at Barron's right tackle spot.
BELICHICK BACK AT PRACTICE: Bill Belichick missed two days of practice to attend his father's funeral, but the New England Patriots coach said his absence didn't seem to affect the team.
Belichick, who returned to the practice field Friday, watched videotapes of Tuesday's and Wednesday's sessions and said it appeared to be a "normal week of practice."
"Anytime you start to work on a new team and put stuff in and run it against different looks," he said, "some things look OK and other things need to be polished up a little bit."
His father, Steve, died at his Maryland home Saturday night of heart failure at the age of 86. Belichick waited until after Sunday's 24-17 home victory over the New Orleans Saints to inform the team of his father's death.
CHIEFS ACTIVATE BARBER: The Kansas City Chiefs activated Shawn Barber from the physically-unable-to-perform list on Friday. Barber, a 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound linebacker, suffered a knee injury against Tampa Bay in November 2004. Before the injury, he had started 24 consecutive games for the Chiefs.