It’s amazing how quickly the tide can change. Going into 2019, some felt that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin deserved to be on the hot seat as a result of an incredibly disappointing 2018 that followed an equally demoralizing playoff exit the year prior.
Yes, Tomlin had never had a losing season, but his lack of recent playoff success (coupled with the locker room disaster that was the 2018 campaign) had some calling for his job. The fact that the Steelers were then blasted 33-3 by the New England Patriots in Week 1 this season did not exactly help his case, nor did Pittsburgh’s 0-3 start.
But here we are, 14 weeks into the season, and the Steelers are 8-5 and in prime position to notch a playoff spot in the AFC. How did Pittsburgh do this?
Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2. His replacement, Mason Rudolph, was eventually benched in favor of undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges. James Conner has been riddled with injuries all season. JuJu Smith-Schuster has missed the last three weeks. Donte Moncrief was a massive bust and was cut early on.
Yet, somehow, the Steelers control their own destiny with three games left to play, and while the road isn’t easy (they play the Buffalo Bills and Baltimore Ravens sandwiched around a Week 16 meeting with the New York Jets), the fact that Pittsburgh is even here speaks volumes of the job that Tomlin has done.
Maybe, just maybe, Tomlin wasn’t the problem last season, and perhaps Antonio Brown really was too much to handle? As a matter of fact, Brown’s recent implosion indicates that, if anything, Tomlin did an incredible job of keeping Brown in check and keeping any problems under wraps since Brown came on the scene in 2010.
Hot seat? Please. How about Coach of the Year? Let’s face it: when the Steelers lost their first three games to start 2019, you almost certainly had them left for dead. Heck, you probably had the Cincinnati Bengals finishing ahead of them in the AFC North. Instead, Pittsburgh is the second-best team in the division, better than even the media darling Cleveland Browns, who came into the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the division.
Even in their losses, the Steelers have been competitive (well, aside from the Patriots game). They lost to the Seattle Seahawks by two. They were defeated by the San Francisco 49ers 24-20. The Ravens had to eke out an overtime win against them in their first meeting. Those are three of the best teams in the NFL, and Pittsburgh was able to hang with them.
Now, to be fair, it’s not like the Steelers have been routing clubs in their victories, but they have been doing enough to get the job done, as they have been terrific in controlling the football (they rank second in turnover differential) and have been gritty defensively.
Pittsburgh’s ability to win these close games with such a short-handed roster is a testament to how great Tomlin has been this year, and it’s indicative of how great of a coach he has been overall since taking the reins in 2007.
Tomlin should receive very, very serious consideration for Coach of the Year.