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Insider Only Steigerwald: That Mike Tomlin is a wild man


Mike Tomlin is a wild man.

At least by traditional NFL standards he is. He went for two twice in the Steelers 43-18 win over the 49ers on Sunday and made them both.

He’s now 13 for 16 in two point conversions and he says he’s going to make the two-pointer a regular part of the program because he has Ben Roethlisberger.

Of course, the two-pointer has become a much more attractive option to NFL coaches since the extra point has been moved back to the 15 yard line and become a 33-yard kick.

It shouldn’t be, of course, since the conversion from 33 yards through the first two weeks of the season is 95%.

The big question now is will Tomlin do what Bill Cowher told me he would do over 20 years ago but never did?

Back in the Summer of 1994, Cowher was getting ready to start his third season as Steelers head coach. The NFL had finally decided to get wild and crazy and introduce the two point option for the 1994 season.

I was doing the KDKA-TV 6:00 sports live from a charity golf tournament that included several Steelers including Cowher. After a few innocuous questions about the coming season, I laid this one on him:

“Okay, you’ve just scored a last second touchdown to get within one point of the Browns. Now you have the option of kicking the extra point and going to overtime or going for two points and the win. Do you kick or go for two?”

Cowher’s answer -with the jutting jaw : “Go for two.”

It never happened.

And in the 21 years since the option was added, I can only think of one time when a coach went for the win and he lost. I can’t remember who it was and I can’t confirm that it was only done once, but it’s obvious to everybody that it’s virtually NEVER considered.

Why not?

How many hundreds of teams have kicked to tie it and then lost in overtime?

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi had a chance to go for the win in Iowa Saturday night and went for the tie and a chance to win it in overtime. But he didn’t see overtime because Iowa kicked a last second 57-yard field goal to win.

Pitt had never led in the game. His offense had just completed a 4th and 15 pass for a first down to stay alive with just over a minute to go.

Why not go for the win after scoring a dramatic touchdown that had silenced a huge crowd?

What had Narduzzi seen in the 59 minutes of that game to make him believe that Pitt would have a better chance of winning in overtime than of scoring from the three yard line?

Pitt was an underdog playing on the road with everything to gain and nothing to lose and the coach chickened out.

As it turned out, the two points wouldn’t have been enough to overcome the 57-yard field goal, but the new head coach’s decision to go for it would have made a great impression on the team.

And maybe Iowa’s kicker would have been a little more likely to shank a kick he couldn’t afford to miss.

It was an opportunity missed.

Which brings us back to that wild and crazy Mike Tomlin.

His success rate on two point conversions is only about eight percent less than the league average on 33-yard extra points.

Does his new love for the two point conversion mean that, at some point this season, he will pass on the kick and go for two when down one point with no time on the clock?

I hope so, but I wouldn’t bet a dime on it.

That’s just not how NFL coaches roll.

They refused to do it for all those years before the rule was changed to allow both teams a chance with the ball if the team with the first possession kicked a field goal. They’re even less likely to do it now.

If it’s me and I can end it and win it with two points, I’m going for it every time. Especially if I’m a college coach. With the college system, if you go to overtime, sooner or later, you’re going to have to make a play to win it.

Why put it off?

If I were an NFL coach, I’d be spending a huge amount of time working on plays from the two yard line.

For me, if there’s a chance to win, it’s go for two or go home.
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About The Author

John Steigerwald

TIOPS Columnist

John Steigerwald, a life long Pittsburgher, has been covering PITTSBURGH sports since 1977 as a TV anchor/reporter, columnist radio reporter/commentator and talk show host. He is also the author of one of the best selling local books in Pittburgh history, "Just Watch The Game."

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