Steelers' standard under Mike Tomlin has been lowered

PAUL ZEISE
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, right, talks with referee Shawn Smith, left, during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Travis Heying)

Mike Tomlin deserves credit for keeping the team together down the stretch and finding a way to win the final two games in order to clinch the final playoff spot in the AFC.

He deserves credit, but spare me the "He should be coach of the year for the job he did." And spare me the idea that somehow we must ignore the Steelers postseason failures the past 11 seasons when we evaluate his overall resume.

Tomlin began his career 5-1 in playoff games. But after the Steelers playoff debacle Sunday, a 42-21 demolition at the hands of the Chiefs, he is now 8-9 in playoff games. He is 3-8 in his last 11 playoff games. And for the first time since 1967-1971, the Steelers have not won a playoff game in five consecutive seasons..

I don't think Tomlin should be fired, but I have to ask what exactly the Steelers' standard is these days and why I am I supposed to wax poetic about the fact he "never had a losing season?"

I mean the standard is the standard, or so we've been told, but that standard has been lowered considerably in the past decade or so despite the presence of a Hall of Fame coach and Hall of Fame quarterback.

Big Ben shares in the blame: And that brings me to my next point. I keep reading the Steelers are headed for the dark ages without Ben Roethlisberger, but what exactly has it been around here for the past decade with him?

Yes, he has been magical at times. But the bottom line is he, too, shares in the Steelers playoff ineptitude of late. And he, too, has been below the line in the games that count the most.

I've said it many times — the Steelers would be well on the road back to being a contender if they hadn't wasted the last three years acquiescing to an aging overpriced quarterback whose skill set was clearly diminishing.

It used to be the standard was about contending in the AFC, winning playoff games, making runs at a Super Bowl and being a team the rest of the conference fears. That's what the Steelers used to be, but the only people who still think they either work for the team or are among their most loyal fans.

Did you watch the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes on Sunday? They slept walked through the first quarter, the Steelers got a defensive touchdown and woke them up and they scored 42 points — including 35 in a row — in the last three quarters. It was never a game once they decided to get engaged.

Two different careers for Tomlin: Tomlin is supposed to be given a lifetime contract and a pass because he won a Super Bowl almost a decade and a half ago, but his career has been really two different ones. He was a superstar coach from 2007-2010 as he was 5-2 in the playoffs and won a Super Bowl and got to another.

From 2011 until now, though, he has won three playoff games and his team has been horribly prepared. They have given up 171 points in their last four playoff games and all while running Tomlin's defense.

But now we are apparently supposed to get excited because the team slops together enough wins and has the right set of circumstances to sneak into the playoffs and then get blasted. The Steelers don't lose playoff games any more, they get blasted in them.

Ignoring certain realities: Some have suggested Tomlin, who hasn't won a playoff game since the 2016 season, has done perhaps his best coaching job this season. I keep hearing how incredible it is that he "got this team with all these flaws to the playoffs" but that ignores certain realities.

Yes, it was a miracle that everything happened the Steelers needed to happen on the final Sunday to get the Steelers into the playoffs. But would this season be any different if the Colts beat the Jaguars or the Raiders missed that last second field goal and the Steelers got left out?

And nevermind the fact that they wouldn't have needed all those things to happen had they shown up ready to play against a bad Minnesota team that they found themselves trailing by four touchdowns.

Tomlin made bad staff and personnel decisions: Tomlin also needs to wear the fact that he hired an offensive coordinator who was in over his head. He also hired an offensive line coach who quit and went back to college because he was, well, in over his head.

He also entrusted the center spot to a rookie with four college games of experience at the position, was content to leave the tackle position to Chuks Okorafor, Dan Moore and Zach Banner — three players with no experience and none proving they are good enough — and he had a large hand, obviously, in the Steelers decision to move up a few years back to draft Devin Bush.

You can't praise Tomlin for the Steelers season without adding the full context that many of the deficiencies of the team are a direct result of decisions he made, either in personnel or staff decisions.

You can't act like the Steelers have no hope for the next decade without Roethlisberger without acknowledging that they had very little hope — one AFC title game appearance since 2010 — with him over the last decade as well.

Rout will hopefully be a wake-up call: The Steelers got destroyed on Sunday and that is hopefully the wake-up call this organization needs. This team, this franchise and this coaching staff need to reevaluate who they actually are and stop deluding themselves into believing who they think they are.

The standard may still be the standard, but settling for celebrating teams that get hammered in the playoffs is a far lower standard than I thought the Steelers prided themselves in actually having.