PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin makes no apologies for his coaching style, which proved aggressive on a failed onside kick attempt in the playoffs, and unabashed in his comments from November that the Steelers should win it all.
Tomlin set a tone of confidence in an interview with NBC’s Tony Dungy before a Nov. 26 game against the Green Bay Packers, saying the Steelers would experience “fireworks” against the New England Patriots in a Week 15 matchup and might see them again in the playoffs.
A 45-42 loss to Jacksonville in Sunday’s AFC divisional round foiled those plans. The Jaguars clearly felt disrespected by the Steelers seemingly looking past them on their way to New England. Now, Jacksonville gets the Patriots in the AFC title game in Gillette Stadium.
Asked about the perception that his comments set a precedent that it’s OK to look ahead to opponents, Tomlin launched a self-proclaimed “soapbox” about social media and the NFL microscope.
“The norms are changing. And we’ve got to change with it,” Tomlin said. “I’m less resistant to old norms and I’m not worried about those types of things because they are really irrelevant. The amount of attention we all get is tenfold what it was 10-15 years ago. To try to keep that Jell-O in the box is a waste of time, and really kind of fruitless. We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what’s said about us or misinterpretations of what we say. We simply go about our work and what’s important is what we say to one another. If it doesn’t come from one man to another, we don’t give it much thought or attention.
“We realize oftentimes it may create a storm around us, but that’s not us. We don’t care. We can’t care. We can’t control it anyway. It’s an impossibility in today’s sports climate. That’s my soapbox.”
The Steelers’ confidence, exuded from the head coach and permeating the locker room, helped the Steelers win 13 games and earn a No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture. The unexpected loss to Jacksonville magnifies the confidence, which came into question when Tomlin ordered an onside kick while down 42-35 with 2:18 left.
The Jaguars recovered to set up a 45-yard Josh Lambo field goal. Tomlin stood by the decision, saying he wasn’t confident his defense could stop Jacksonville off a kickoff.
Tomlin understands why the decision might be questioned.
“I know analytically they probably fall in the lower percentages and things of that nature,” Tomlin said. “If I err, I’m always going to err on the side of action in an effort to win. My guys know that about me. I think more importantly them knowing that about me, they expect that from me. I don’t fear failure. I’m going to do what’s required to pursue victory, even if it comes across as unconventional. I’m certainly not going to steer away from decision-making for fear of ridicule. Those guys put a lot on the line when we step into stadiums to play. I, in turn, am responsible for putting a lot on the line and embrace doing so. I understand when things don’t work out and the criticism that’s associated with it. I embrace that. But I go to work with men every day that lay a lot on the line when they step in stadiums as well. I’m just going to provide the same efforts that they provide me.”
Tomlin’s decision not to run a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 from Jacksonville’s 25-yard line drew the ire of Steelers fans. Ben Roethlisberger said Tuesday on his radio show that he’s eager to run a sneak but doesn’t have the ability to check that play unless the Steelers are in a huddle. Tomlin said he admires Roethlisberger’s willingness but that sometimes what an opposing defense shows at the line of scrimmage dictates the call.
“Whether or not we choose to call it in a specific moment is up for debate, but to suggest there’s a resistance to it in concept, I’m not willing to say that,” said Tomlin.
The Steelers had their best regular season since 2004. That success amplifies the playoff failure, and leaves end-of-season questions for the head coach.
“Very disappointing end to an outstanding season,” Tomlin said.