Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Steelers’ Mike Tomlin anticipating AFC title game matchup vs. Patriots
1. In a season where the Steelers have dealt with distractions, two of the biggest were delivered before the Sunday Night Football game against Green Bay.
The worst part was who delivered them.
One was Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
When asked “how good” can the Steelers be in an interview with Tony Dungy on NBC’s Football Night in America, this was Tomlin’s response: “Oh, we can win it all. We should win it all. I sense that about the group. In terms of talent, in terms of having enough competition, depth, I think we check all those boxes. But checking the boxes doesn’t run the race.”
But Tomlin didn’t stop at the finish line. He kept going, looking forward to the Dec. 17 game against the New England Patriots.
“Man, I’m going to embrace the elephant in the room, it’s going to be fireworks,” Tomlin said. “It’s probably going to be part one, and that’s going to be a big game. But, probably, if we’re both doing what we’re supposed to do, the second is really going to be big. And what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, and determine the location in the second one.”
So, not only did Tomlin look past prime-time games against Green Bay and AFC North rivals Cincinnati and Baltimore, but he predicted a playoff rematch against the Patriots and intimated the Steelers were worthy of a seventh Super Bowl championship.
Not to put any pressure on his team.
2. The other distraction came courtesy of franchise cornerstone Joe Greene, who suggested Steelers players cut out the B.S., to put it politely.
The Steelers entered Sunday night’s game with an AFC-best 8-2 record and coming off one of their most impressive wins, a 40-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans.
But let’s talk about temper tantrums and tweets.
To be fair, Greene was asked by a reporter in an interview following the Hall of Honor ceremony what it would take for the Steelers to get past the Patriots.
But the message in his answer — “It’s about the team. It’s not about individuals” — was lost by his headline-worthy response to “cut out” the B.S. and “be serious.”
That could be perceived as a shot at Antonio Brown for his sideline temper tantrum against Baltimore, at Ben Roethlisberger for saying maybe he didn’t have it anymore, at Le’Veon Bell for saying he wanted the ball more, at Martavis Bryant for his tweets taking a shot at teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster and talking about a trade or even at Marcus Gilbert for drawing a four-game PED suspension.
This much is clear: Greene’s comments only added to the Steelers’ growing list of distractions.
3. Roethlisberger shines in prime time, where he was 19-3 at Heinz Field and had won seven in a row entering the Green Bay game.
And this game was no exception.
His passing was precise on the opening drive, as he connected with six receivers and the Steelers went 59 yards on 12 plays. A seventh target, Justin Hunter, dropped a pass in the end zone.
What’s more, Roethlisberger completed a pair of third-down passes: a 2-yarder to Bell on third-and-1 at the 20 and a 10-yarder to tight end Jesse James on third-and-6 at the 14 and another on third-and-goal at the 2 that saw Bryant get tripped up.
On fourth-and-goal, Big Ben flipped a shovel pass to tight end Xavier Grimble for a touchdown.
So much for the third-down and red-zone worries.
4. What the Steelers should be concerned about is their secondary.
They have allowed six long touchdown pass plays in the past three games: 60 and 61 at the Colts, 75 against the Titans and 39, 54 and 55 yards against the Packers.
Blame some of it on the loss of cornerback Joe Haden to a fractured fibula, but the ease with which opponents have scored is a bad sign — especially when your head coach is talking about a game in a few weeks against the Patriots and you just made Brett Hundley look like Tom Brady.
5. Wouldn’t you know it, but the star playmakers for the Steelers were the guys that Greene likely was telling to “be serious” and cut out the B.S.: Brown and Bryant.
With the Steelers trailing, 14-6, Brown caught a third-and-5 pass and burst through the Green Bay defense for a 39-yard gain. Two plays later, Roethlisberger found Bryant on a 17-yard fade in the left corner of the end zone and Brown on the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14 in the second quarter.
Late in the third, Brown made a spectacular catch over Davon House on the right sideline for an 11-yard gain to the 3 and then caught a 1-yard touchdown to tie it at 21-21.
Brown also gave the Steelers a 28-21 lead on a 33-yard touchdown catch with 8:42 remaining.
With 15 seconds left, Brown made an unbelievable 23-yard catch, hauling in a picture-perfect pass on the Steelers sideline and somehow top-tapping before going out of bounds. Even the referees couldn’t believe what they saw, as they hesitated and conferred before signaling it a catch at the Green Bay 47. Reviews confirmed the catch.
No wonder Roethlisberger went right back to Brown for a 14-yarder to the 33.
Two plays later, Chris Boswell converted a 53-yard field goal for the win.
You can’t be serious with that B.S.