Mike Tomlin has 146 regular season wins. Can you think of many that were more impressive — and more unlikely —- than beating the allegedly Super Bowl-bound Bills in Buffalo?
Go ahead. Give it a shot. You won’t be occupied for long.
Tomlin’s had some huge victories over the Ravens, obviously, and that short-handed win against the Browns two years ago was something to behold. Duck Hodges played quarterback that day. The Steelers were missing all kinds of players, including JuJu Smith-Schuster. Let the record show that Tevin Jones was their second-leading receiver.
The Bills are a wildly popular Super Bowl pick. Or at least they were. Most people are picking the Steelers to finish third in their own division (or at least they were).
Tomlin’s club entered with five rookie starters, the first time that happened for a season opener since 1981, according to Chris Hoke on the KDKA postgame show. Two of those rookies were charged with protecting 39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Tomlin also had a new line coach, a new offensive coordinator, a key injury on defense (Stephon Tuitt) and a 10-point halftime deficit.
The contributors were many, from $112 million man T.J. Watt, to Chase Claypool, to Diontae Johnson (what a catch!), to second-half Roethlisberger, to Monster Melvin Ingram, to Minkah Fitzpatrick, to all men named Cam (Heyward, Sutton), to Miles Killebrew and Ulysees Gilbert III, who combined on a blocked punt that made the difference in the end.
But make no mistake: This was the head coach’s win.
- That’s his defense. Tomlin has commandeered the group over the past few years. He runs the defense. That means he deserves the bulk of the blame when it goes bad and the bulk of the credit when it goes good — or in this case, great. He had a brilliant plan to stifle Josh Allen. The Steelers
- embarrassed Buffalo’s offensive line and beat Allen to a pulp on their way to outscoring the Bills 23-6 in the second half.
“We just played Steeler D,” Tomlin said. “I’ve got an expectation that our defensive unit is going to be in every football game like that. I’m just being blatantly honest with you.”
- The Steelers did not panic. They seemed to feed off Tomlin’s ultra-confident, relaxed
- demeanor. He mentioned the Bills’ “stability”
- several times in his news conference Tuesday. The Steelers have some of that, too. Namely, the head coach. The Steelers did not fold after allowing a big game-opening kickoff return. They did not wilt
- despite gaining just 54 yards in the first half,
- including minus-2 in the second quarter.
Tomlin gave his new offensive coordinator (Matt Canada) and quarterback the freedom to stay aggressive. Even with a late lead, Roethlisberger kept taking shots down the field. If the Steelers had turtled and kept running, they might have lost. They kept attacking. Claypool drew a huge interference call on the final field goal drive — because Roethlisberger threw deep on third-and-7.
Now, suddenly, anything seems possible for this team. One afternoon. One great coaching job. You best believe the Steelers opened some eyes.
Other observations from the 23-16 win:
- For all the Steelers’ issues along the offensive line — and there are many — Buffalo’s line isn’t exactly the Seven Blocks of Granite. When tackles Dion Dawkins and Daryl Williams weren’t holding, they were attempting to hold. One blatant
- example occurred on Allen’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis. Williams reached out and grabbed Watt by the shoulder pad as Watt sped past him. That split second was the difference, as Watt crashed into Allen just after he released the ball.
Honestly, I’m not sure I remember a game with more blatant uncalled holding penalties. You can bet that line will be a huge talking point in Buffalo this week.
- Allen’s going to take enough hits without being turned into a running back. If I’m Sean
- McDermott, I’m telling my coordinator, Brian Daboll, to cool it with the designed quarterback runs up the middle. I don’t care if Allen weighs 240 pounds. He absorbed some massive shots. Those kinds of plays don’t really lend themselves to the quarterback sliding. The Bills are playing with fire.
- Having said that, I’m running Allen all day if the choice on fourth-and-1 is a quarterback sneak or a 10-yard backward pass. What was that?
I’ll tell you what that was: one of the most ridiculous fourth-and-1 plays in NFL history. If Cam Sutton hadn’t made the play, four other Steelers were in position to do so
- Quote of the day: Who else but Tomlin: “We’re not in this for style points. We’re in it to win it.”