13 years ago, Mike Tomlin defined the significance of December football in terms we could all understand.
“We will not go gently. We’re gonna unleash Hell here in December, because we have to. We won’t go in a shell. We’re gonna go in attack mode, because that’s what’s required.”
Lofty goals, but it takes a special team, and a few magic moments to unleash the gates of hell in the middle of Advent. Let’s see how Tomlin’s teams actually performed in December.
Hell on Earth: Decembers to Remember
This Super Bowl season defined unleashing hell in December. It started with Deshea’s pick six against Romo, and continued with a Big Ben 4th quarter comeback against the Ravens. Ben would slip a week later with 4 turnovers against the Titans, but finished the season with a shutout against the Browns.
The Super Bowl XLV season was just as hellish. Troy’s big sack saved the game in Baltimore. Then he had a pick-six a week later in a Bengals blowout. The team’s only slip was against Mark Sanchez and the Jets, before blowing out the Panthers and Browns.
This team was #1 in total defense, passing defense and points. It’s slightly poetic that a squad this hellish was brought down by Tebow. This team started December with a 28-point 2nd quarter against Cincinnati, then kept Cleveland out of the end zone a week later. The 49ers would beat them in Candlestick, but Pittsburgh clinched the #5 seed with wins against the Rams and Browns.
The playoff loss to Baltimore masks just how hellish this team was. They started December with a 25-point, 4th quarter performance in Cincinnati. Then Ben, Bell and Will Gay set franchise records in Atlanta. Next, the defense shut down Kansas City, and they closed it out with a sweep of the Bengals.
This team could have run with the Super Bowl squads. In December, they started by putting up 45 on the Colts, while collecting 3 turnovers. Then, they scored 33 on the Bengals, registering 3 more picks. They followed that up with a 34-point performance against the Broncos, while picking up 2 more turnovers. Pittsburgh would fall in Baltimore, but would collect 4 more turnovers against Cleveland.
Unleashing season arrived early this year with 7-game winning streak to close out the season starting on November 20. December saw the black and gold making easy work of the Giants and Bills. Then, Ben ushered fourth quarter comebacks against the Bengals and Ravens (The Immaculate Extension), and Landry Jones torpedoed the Browns. This team lost to the Pats in the AFC Championship game.
The doomed Blake Bortles season had the potential to be the most hellish of all. December started with fourth quarter comebacks against the Bengals and Ravens. Then Jesse Caught It, followed by whuppings against the Texans and Browns.
The way this team unleashed hell felt more like a Hallmark movie. Ben’s final stand with a team full of youngsters and Bad News Bears. This December included a fourth quarter comeback against the Ravens, and a second-half shutout of the Titans. Plus, they nearly came back from a 29-0 deficit against the Vikings, before closing out with storybook wins over the Browns and Ravens.
Hellish but Ultimately Leashed
This team dug themselves in a hole with the worst start since before Bradshaw. December had a grim start with AB’s game-winning touchdown against the Dolphins ruled out of bounds. But they bounced back against the Bengals with the best 1st quarter in franchise history. Then they stopped the Packers on the last play in Lambeau, and nearly shut out the Browns. Unfortunately, the team was kept out of the playoffs when the Chargers beat the Chiefs in overtime of week 17 to take the final seed.
Hot but not Hellish
Tomlin’s first December started off hellish with a signature win against the Bengals. But they ran into Brady & Moss the next week, followed by Fred Taylor a week later. On the Thursday before Christmas, Ben threw a perfect game against the Rams, clinching the division. That meant Charlie Batch would finish the season in week 17 with a losing effort against the Ravens.
It’s the year that Tomlin first unleashed the phrase. However, this season was only borderline hellish. It took a five-game losing streak for the Steelers to finally come out of the shell. It finished with 3 dramatic wins: the Mike Wallace walk-off against Green Bay, Ziggy Hood’s game-winning recovery against Baltimore, and a nail-biter against Tyler Thigpen’s Dolphins. But the Steelers would end up a win out of the post-season.
Hell Freezes Over: The Chilly Seasons
This team didn’t unleash hell, but it may have unleashed the angel of death. Six heart attack-inducing games came down to the final play. December 2012 started with fire when Charlie Batch led a fourth quarter comeback against the Ravens. But they fell to the Chargers a week later. Then Ben threw game-clinching interceptions against the Cowboys and Bengals. By the time they beat the Browns in week 17, they may have saved a .500 season, but there was no chance in hell for the playoffs.
One of the chilliest teams of the Tomlin era. Sure, they beat the Pats, but that’s about it. They lost to the Chargers on the last play. Boswell stumbled on the game-tier against the Raiders. JuJu fumbled the comeback against the Saints. And the Ravens clinched the division without the Steelers having a say.
What could have been the Steelers biggest storybook season, ended up being their frostiest. December started off hot, with Joe Haden coming up with game-clinching interceptions against the Browns and Cards. But neither Duck nor Mase could come up with fourth quarter comebacks against the Bills or Jets.
This team made it to the post-season, despite having the least hellish performance of the Tomlin era. A remarkable collapse to an otherwise unprecedented season that started 11-0.
Tomlin’s “unleash hell” record: 9 yrs out of 15. 2022 TBD
Kyle Chrise is the host of the BTSC podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout.” New episodes are released every Thursday. Listen to the latest episode in the player below: