The Steelers win Sunday against Buffalo was significant in Mike Tomlin’s head coaching career for at least three reasons.
It was his 100th win, leaving him with an astonishing 100-57 record in his 10th NFL season.
It was the team’s fourth win in a row and ran its record to 8-5, assuring that Tomlin will go a 10th consecutive season without a losing record.
And it should have gone a long way toward silencing Tomlin’s critics who say he and Kevin Colbert are lousy talent evaluators.
That’s a pretty good day at the office.
Let’s start with Tomlin’s average of 10 wins a season. He became just the eighth coach in NFL history to hit 100 by his 10th season. For comparison’s sake, Chuck Noll needed 158 games to get to 100. Bill Cowher needed 163.
“That’s a milestone that needed to be recognized,” Ben Roethlisberger said after giving Tomlin the game ball in Buffalo as his teammates roared their approval.
No losing seasons for Tomlin might be even more impressive. For comparison again, Jeff Fisher, who was fired Monday by the Los Angeles Rams, has had six losing seasons in a row since his final year with Tennessee. Tomlin’s run doesn’t just show remarkable consistency. It means he hasn’t lost a team despite any adversity it has faced. This season, the Steelers’ four-game winning streak came after a four-game losing slide. A lot of other teams would have quit on their coach. Tomlin didn’t allow that to happen. Don’t expect him to pat himself on the back, though.
“I’ve had only one good season,” Tomlin has said of the 2008 Super Bowl season. “We’ve fallen short of our goal every other year.”
He has plenty of bashers: I’d like to point out here that Tomlin is his worst critic, but I know that isn’t true.
The man has plenty of bashers.
The No. 1 thing Tomlin critics throw at him is his 6-5 postseason record, which includes just one playoff win in the past five seasons. Inexcusable, they say. Tomlin should have done much better with a franchise quarterback. It’s funny, Don Shula used to hear the same thing on his way to 328 regular-season wins, most in NFL history. He went to just one Super Bowl with the great Dan Marino and didn’t win it. That tells me it’s really hard to win postseason games.
That isn’t to excuse the Steelers’ loss to Denver after the 2011 season. That was brutal. They allowed one of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history to beat them. Tomlin still probably can’t believe Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns against his defense. That game always will be one of his lowest moments, if not the lowest.
But Tomlin’s recent postseason record isn’t as bad as it seems. The Steelers probably would have beaten Denver last season if Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams hadn’t been injured. They probably would have beaten Baltimore the year before if Bell hadn’t been injured. We’ll never know for sure, of course.
Draft critics: The No. 2 complaint about Tomlin and, for that matter, general manager Colbert is their drafts. If they had a nickel for every critic who called them lousy talent evaluators — especially with defensive players — they would be a lot richer men.
Think about how bad it was around here after the Steelers lost Nov. 13 at home to the Dallas Cowboys. The defense couldn’t protect a 30-29 lead in the final 42 seconds. The 35-30 loss was the team’s fourth in a row and left it with a 4-5 record. Maybe you asked the same question I did: Why in the name of Jarvis Jones can’t Tomlin/Colbert build a defense?
Since then, the Steelers defense has given up 20 points (7 coming on a 7-yard drive), 14 points (7 coming on a 17-yard drive), 7 points and 9 points. In the four games, it allowed an average of 61 rushing yards. It had 18 sacks, six interceptions and one fumble recovery. Sure, part of the reason was the competition. The Steelers beat the pitiful Browns, the Luckless Colts, a New York Football Giants team that couldn’t run the ball and a Bills team that couldn’t pass it. But a bigger reason has been the maturation of the Steelers’ young players. Players drafted this spring by Tomlin/Colbert. Javon Hargrave was coming on strong before a concussion against the Giants. Sean Davis had 1½ sacks, seven tackles and three quarterback hurries against the Bills. Artie Burns had his third interception.
Go back to the 2015 draft. Bud Dupree played healthy really for the first time this season in Buffalo and had two sacks and two hurries. Go back to the 2014 draft. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt are keepers and nice building blocks along with injured Cam Heyward (Class of 2011)? Go back to the 2013 draft. You’re right, Jones is a No. 1 bust, but that Bell kid certainly is starting to look like a pretty good get in the second round.
I’ve learned my lesson. As much as we want results right now, today, this minute, it doesn’t always happen that way. You have to give players a little time to develop.