It’s been about 13 hours since the Steeler victory in San Diego on Monday Night Football as I write this post. And I’m still trying to figure out how that came together.
It was 60 minutes of at times exciting, at times boring, football balanced between exhilarating highs of solid execution, and nauseating lows of ineptitude.
In other words, it was a microcosm of what we have come to know about Mike Tomlin coached football teams.
Those Steeler fans who say Tomlin has underachieved because “he only won with Cowher’s players” (which isn’t true) or that he should be fired are usually looking to start social media flame wars or are just spouting off on a barstool. Those who insist he is an elite coach either willfully ignore his warts, or are often times simply comparing him to other coaches that are worse.
If you never saw a Mike Tomlin coached Steeler team these past eight years, but you saw the last two weeks, don’t worry…you now get the general picture.
You saw a team go on the road in prime time and gut out a win with a back up QB against a potential conference playoff contender with a Pro Bowl level QB. This, just a week after blowing a game to a lousy division rival in brutal fashion.
Basically just like Tomlin’s guys did in Baltimore in 2012 with Charlie Batch after they stunk up all of Cleveland with eight turnovers the week before.
We witnessed a defense execute well for the better part of 45 minutes (and even score a TD), and an offense get it together when the game mattered most. We also witnessed four special teams penalties in the first 20 minutes, nothing but a field goal and punts for three quarters, and a continuing failure to cover the tight end or RBs out of the backfield.
You saw a coach gamble and go with his gut to win the game with a TD on the final play to avoid overtime. This after he hemmed and hawed between punting, going for it, or kicking twice in overtime eleven days earlier.
You saw a coach live or die by putting the ball directly in the hands of his all pro running back with the chips on the table, while losing. But tied in OT the week before, he failed to hand it to him on either third or fourth down on two separate sequences.
You saw a coach, his backup QB, his injured starter, and his offensive coordinator come together to whip up a deep shot to Markus Wheaton for one fourth quarter touchdown. Then they firmly stuck to a dusted off Wildcat formation on the game winning play despite San Diego’s attempt to scare them out of it with a timeout.
But you also saw a coach and his entire sideline utterly oblivious to the fact that :18 seconds had accidently rolled off the clock as the possession started. No one knew until Tomlin was asked about it post game. Furthermore Tomlin defiantly blew off questions about it during his Tuesday press conference, insisting it was no big deal because…well, you know, we won, so….whatever.
I guess the question could be asked, if there were :18 seconds more would Tomlin have mismanaged them anyway, given his propensity to do so?
During that presser, Tomlin spun a yarn about “not living in your fears” and “doing things in your job that are uncomfortable” and “never being afraid to be second guessed.” That sounds good.
But is any of it true? Did he really go for the TD because of football coaching guts and conviction? Or was he scared of missing yet another field goal from kicker-number-four of the season? Was handing the ball to Bell to avoid overtime a show of ultimate faith as he wants us to believe? Or was he concerned about putting his defense back on the field in OT after Philip Rivers had “cracked the safe in the second half” (to use his own words).
And if Tomlin’s last five years have taught us anything, balancing out last week’s confounding “how the hell did this just happen loss” and this week’s “rabbit out of your hat” win will probably be replicated two or three more times before this regular season is over. At least we’ll be used to it. But that doesn’t make it any easier to wrap our brains around than if we were watching it unfold for the first time.