The Steelers have a 11-3 record, a lock on the second seed in the AFC Playoffs, and one meaningless game to play against the Cleveland Browns before moving on to their first round bye.
- The conventional wisdom is simple: Rest your starters, play your backups, avoid injury.
Mike Tomlin intends to do the opposite. Tomlin is making the right move.
Protecting Against Injury vs. Nurturing Killer Instinct
Mike Tomlin is taking a calculated risk. Football is after all a contact sport. Careers, let alone seasons, can end in single play.
An injury to a James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, to name a few, could devastate the Steelers playoff hopes. And if such a tragedy were to occur, the vultures will descend on Tomlin with dispatch, condemning him for playing PrimeTime players in a decidedly non-primetime situation.
- So why take a risk?
Tomlin’s has talked a lot about the fact that this is a division rivalry. He’s talked about the desire to start the season 6-2 and finish it 6-2. Don’t buy into it.
That’s talk for the press and the fans.
In another context you can imagine Tomlin saying “you know, all of that is interesting for the fans, and it makes a good story, but the truth is we’re focused on winning simply because it’s a football game.”
- Tomlin’s real reason has little to do with division rivalries, and less to do with statistics.
Consider last year. The Steelers also finished against their division rival Baltimore Ravens. Like the Browns, the Ravens looked to become road kill. Tomlin rested his starters. And the Steelers got embarrassed.
It simply looked like the Raven’s wanted it more.
- This year Tomlin is having none of that.
Mike Tomlin knows that winning is as much about attitude as it is ability, and 2008 the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to maintain their killer instinct on his watch.
When asked if he thought he could build momentum going into the playoffs from the Browns game, Tomlin was unequivocal.
Absolutely. There will be 12 team in the playoff field and there can only be one (to win the Super Bowl). I guarantee you that one will be one that is on the rise heading into January football…. We have been a team on the rise up until last weekend. Hopefully we can put that behind us with a solid performance this week….
Exorcising the Demons
Mike Tomlin’s sophomore year as Steelers coach has stood in sharp contrast to his first. Tomlin has repeatedly declined to reflect on the 2008 campaign, but he confesses to knowing the team better than he did in 2007 and understanding which buttons to push.
The Steelers are coming off a 31-14 loss to the Titans. The loss cost them a shot at home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The Titans played a very solid game and executed extremely well, but the Steelers also did their part to self-destruct, coughing up the ball four times, allowing five sacks, and missing easy tackles.
The defeat left a bad taste in the mouths of the Steelers, just as it should have.
Staying on the Right Side of the Edge
Tomlin’s task is to ensure that this loss does not send the Steelers reeling. Throughout the 2008 season the Pittsburgh Steelers have so much as lived the edge, they’ve thrived on it. Most margins of victory and defeat have been slim. The outcome of many games has been in doubt up to the final snap.
- Against horrendous odds, the Steelers have risen to the occasion time and time again.
But the Tennessee game left the Steelers on the wrong side of the edge. Mike Tomlin intends to rectify by heading into the playoffs with a victory over defeating the Browns.
He is tempting fate when it comes to injuries, but Tomlin has tempted fate at other moments in the 2008 season. On almost each occasion the fates have shined down upon him with their favor.
And they have done so for one reason:
When Mike Tomlin plays, he plays to win.
As fate would have it, the Steelers won big against the Browns, but Ben Roethlisberger got hurt in the process. Click here for Steel Curtain Rising’s reaction.
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