Mike Tomlin's Gutsy Call a Rarity in Today's NFL

There’s a lesson in there somewhere that has to do with more than merely how the Steelers beat the Chargers without Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier and Martavis Bryant.

photos by pittsburgh steelers / karl roser


Mike Tomlin is fond of telling anyone willing to listen that he doesn’t live in his fears.

It’s a good sound bite and it’s even better rhetoric … until you have to stick your neck out.

Tomlin found himself in just such a position on Monday night in San Diego, but he never flinched.

Tomlin never even acknowledged having to resist such an urge.

“That comes with the territory,” he explained some 3,000 miles and about 12 hours later, detailing what had compelled him to go for the win with five seconds left against the Chargers when the safe play, the cover-your-backside decision would have been to kick a game-tying field goal and take your chances in overtime.

“I tell our guys all the time, everybody has a little something ugly about their job,” Tomlin continued. “The little guys have to get into some uncomfortable piles from time to time and mix it up with the big guys. The big guys like Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have to chase little people all day. And I have some decisions to make. Together we eat, or not. I think if we all embrace the difficulties of our positions, it gives us a better chance to be collectively successful.”

This from a guy who once opted for an onside kick with the lead as a better-case scenario than sending his overmatched defense back out onto the field against Green Bay.

Monday night Tomlin was at it again, bucking convention and reducing a critical battle to one winner-take-all snap.

His approach was as refreshing as the Steelers’ 24-20, come-from-behind victory was satisfying.

Great theatre is what it was, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s call and the Steelers’ attack-mode execution provided the happy ending.

It would have been inspiring even if Le’Veon Bell had gotten stuffed.

Bill Cowher probably wouldn’t have done what Tomlin did.

Chuck Noll most likely would have settled for three.

And you’d be hard pressed to find a current head coach willing to risk the fate of his team and open himself up to critique, criticism and ridicule by rolling the dice against the percentages.

NFL games just don’t end the way Steelers-Chargers did very often, mostly because most coaches start getting conservative whenever they get into whatever it is they consider to be certain field-goal range.

You could argue there’s no such thing for the Steelers this season.

But in this case the field goal would have been shorter than an old-school extra point.

Even the fourth kicker in five regular-season weeks could have handled that.

Instead, Tomlin went for the throat.

“I’m just trying to win football games,” he said. “I just don’t live in fear. I don’t worry about those things, I can’t. I can’t waste time worrying about that. I have to do what I feel is appropriate, and most of it is gut-oriented, not only in terms of the men that we work with but what has transpired in that stadium to get us to that point.”

There’s a lesson in there somewhere that has to do with more than merely how to beat the Chargers without Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier and Martavis Bryant.

Tomlin apparently learned it long ago, which might help account for the 84-48 regular-season record Tomlin had compiled and the Super Bowl Tomlin had won prior to throwing caution to the wind in San Diego.

“I’ve always kind of been that guy,” Tomlin said. “You have to have the courage of your convictions. You can miss a lot of life, man, just hesitating or not taking calculated risks associated with chasing greatness or living out your dreams. I’ve just always been one to try to do that. I’ve always been one to try to encourage those around me to do that.”

The afterglow, for Tomlin and the Steelers, will last until something goes badly this Sunday against Arizona.

But even then the approach won’t waiver.

Rhetoric fades but commitment endures, in the final five seconds and beyond.


Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section