Lest it be thought that those that actually wear the uniforms of the Pittsburgh Steelers have a monopoly on bone-headedness insofar as the fortunes of the Black & Gold, let’s review the three-year tenure of Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
As we all know, Coach T is now the beneficiary of a three-year contract extension, at an as yet undetermined price. I don’t think that anyone’s really surprised. Even with the option year of 2011, would the Steelers have allowed their young Head Coach to be in the position of a semi-lame duck this year, a situation that’s perhaps lamer than your traditional lame duck circumstance? And certainly, things would have never progressed, or regressed, to the point of Tomlin entering 2011 as a definitive lame duck. It’s not the Steeler Way.
Some may note that Tomlin’s predecessor, Bill Cowher, was permitted to enter the final year of his deal, and thus argue that the situations are identical. Not so fast! Cowher’s situation was never about ownership not wanting him to continue, but rather about not offering enough dough, specifically not more coin than The Walrus, Mike Holmgren, who Cowher defeated in Super Bowl XL, was making in the Pacific Northwest. So, for The Chin, it was off to Carolina, with Mrs. Cowher having a head start, and Cowher took up residency as a turncoat, operating the siren with an ear-to-ear grin for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, even as they faced his hometown Penguins.
I’ve not much issue with the Tomlin extension; it was inevitable. It’s an opportune time though to review his moments of bone-headedness, as there have been useful examples from every one of this three seasons.
*3rd & effin' 6:
I’ve written about this recently. Tomlin was a Bonehead twice over during the ’07 Wild Card matchup vs. Jacksonville at Heinz Field. In some circles, he’s guilty of three transgressions in one night. One could argue both sides of Tomlin “chasing points” approaching midway through the 4th quarter and seeking to narrow a 28-23 deficit to three points by going for two. But in a moment of bone-headedness for the ages, Tomlin persisted in going for the deuce even when backed up to the 12-yard line via penalty. His explanation post-game, “I play to win, Baby!” This Tomlinism, a preview of priceless quotes to come as the years progressed, was then contradicted by 3rd & effin' 6.
The Steelers had taken a 29-28 lead, had the ball 3rd & 6 on their own 26 yard-line, had a quarterback that while gimpy-ankled, had lit up the joint through the air in the second half, leading his team to three 4th quarter touchdowns, had a running game that couldn’t crack the 50-yard rushing mark on the night. After a stoppage of play, in which Tomlin had plenty of time to weigh in on the play-call with Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians, the Steelers elected to run their gimpy-ankled QB wide, where he gained but a yard. The Steelers punted, Jacksonville down a single point, drove and kicked a field goal, and the Steelers’ season was over.
Gaining a first down and then exhausting the remainder of the clock was vital, in a situation where a field goal beats you. Tomlin either endorsed the OC’s play-call, or he stood there, like a potted plant, and did nothing.
But, “I play to win, Baby!” Baloney!!
Tomlin learned from this moment of bone-headedness, so we’ll give him a pass on this, and his educability results in my not having major issues with the contract extension. Steelers trailing in Baltimore, 9-6, in the ’08 season’s biggest game, pick up a first down at the Baltimore 4-yard line with a full minute remaining, and with a timeout in their pocket, spike the ball to stop the clock. A second down pass fell incomplete, leaving third down in which to affect a game-winner, otherwise the game would likely head for overtime. The 3rd down pass to Santonio Holmes was initially ruled to have been caught inches short of the end zone, and it looked as though it was decision time for Mike Tomlin, go for the win on 4th down, or kick the game-tying field goal. Fortunately, Tomlin was spared needing to make a choice by an instant replay reversal, and the Steelers were winners.
In Super Bowl XLIII, faced with nearly the exact same situation, Tomlin wisely expended his final timeout with 49 seconds remaining and the ball on the six-yard line, keeping every bullet, in the form of remaining plays, in his arsenal. We know what happened next
The ’09 season, Tomlin’s only non-playoff year, was also Coach Tomlin’s peak in terms of bone-headedness. We offer three bonehead calls made by the head coach, in consecutive weeks:
Once again, was Mike Tomlin a potted plant, ceding control of his football team to his OC? On the cusp of field goal range in overtime, in Kansas City, Steelers give the ball to their slowest back and run him wide. Predictably, he loses yardage, the Steelers punt, and never see the ball again in a loss to the lowly Chefs.
*Put him on the freakin’ edge:
Going into Baltimore on Sunday Night, sans Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers place substitute quarterback Dennis Dixon, he being fleet afoot, on the edge twice all night. The result? Dixon throws for one score, and runs for another. Queried as to why he didn’t put Dixon in this favored position more often, particularly in overtime, CoachTomlin, not saying “I play to win, Baby!” this time, opines as to the possibility of injury, in which case the unprepared Tyler Palko would have entered the game. Mike!! It’s overtime!! You’re on the 50. It’s 3rd & 5. A first down and you’re just about in field goal range with a chance to bury your divisional rival. Put him on the freakin’ edge!!
Tomlin’s on a roll; for the 3rd week in a row, a coaching decision will cost his team the game. Leading the bedraggled Oakland Raiders by a score of 10-6 in an unexpectedly closely contested game, the Steelers are in field goal range at the Oakland 25 when a 3rd down sack knocks them back. After first letting the 3rd quarter expire, Tomlin sends Jeff Reed on to attempt a 53-yard field goal. Reed misses, and the floodgates are opened. Soon thereafter, the Raiders score their first of three fourth-quarter touchdowns, and the Steelers suffer another terrible loss. Tomlin, explaining his decision to attempt the field goal, cites Skippy’s “history” as his rationale for attempting the long kick. Hmmm…..what history is that, Coach? Would that be the kicker’s history of never having made a field goal from that distance in that venue? No worries, though. Pregame, Tomlin had promised to “unleash hell” for the remainder of the season.