Mike Tomlin’s Trust Fuels Steelers Monday Night Football Win Over Chargers

The Pittsburgh Steelers Monday Night Football Win Over Chargers featured the very best the NFL has to offer:

  • Hard hits,
  • Crisp tackles,
  • Backs and receivers fighting for every extra inch on every carry,
  • Defenders defying with equal intransigence
  • Deep passes to please the fantasy crowd, and three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dusty rushing for the purists’ pleasure.

Ultimately the Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed 24-20 in this Monday Night Football test of wills and they did so because during the game’s two critical junctures Mike Tomlin held fast to an timeless quality that has nothing to do with football: Trust.

Three Quarters in the Trenches

The San Diego Chargers entered Monday Night at 2-2, having won their last matchup in overtime, thanks to a penalty that allowed them to re-kick a field goal. The Pittsburgh Steelers arrived in San Diego having lost in overtime after having missed two kicks as the clock wound down in regulation.

  • Both teams face 5-0 division leaders but there was only one 3-2 ticket out of San Diego and both teams arrived poised to fight tooth and nail for it

The Chargers drew first blood, and they did it quickly and seemingly effortlessly. Perhaps Pittsburgh would go gently into the night after all? Fortunately, the Steelers defense was not prepared to accept mediocrity.

After averaging 16.8 yards per carry on San Diego’s opening drive, the Steelers held the Chargers to an average of 5.0 yards during the rest of the game.

And this effort came on a hot humid night when the defense played almost a game’s worth of snaps in the second half alone. The modern NFL is geared to produce high scoring games featuring prolific passing and, truth be told, those fireworks help make the game what it is. But first three quarters of the Steelers Chargers matchup featured none of that, and instead gave fans a classic chess matchup.

  • The game cannot sustain itself on such defensive stand offs, but they are enjoyable to see every so often.

Credit the Keith Butler and the entire Steelers defense for authoring yet another performance worthy of epic proportions. The Steelers first 10 offensive processions finished like this: punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal, punt, interception on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, punt, punt, punt.

  • Whether you’re talking Pop Warner or Monday Night Football, that’s a recipe for losing football.

But when the third quarter ended, the Steelers weren’t simply in the game, they were leading, thanks to Antwon Blake’s 70 yard pick six.

Tipping the Hat to Philip Rivers

It would be remiss not to acknowledge both the skill and the spirit displayed by Philip Rivers and the San Diego offense. Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree sacked him. Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Blake and Jones laid out Chargers defenders behind the line of scrimmage. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt dominated the line of scrimmage so thoroughly that the San Diego

Chargers had nowhere to run.

But Philip Rivers never flinched, even if he was playing behind an offense line held together with spit, duct tape and bubble gum.

Instead, he marshaled his team, and looking every bit like a field general as he moved them down the field in the 4th quarter, scoring twice, doubtlessly leaving the field each time feeling like he’d left the Steelers on the ropes, given how badly Michael Vick was struggling.

In fact, Mike Vick looked every bit as tentativein his second start and as he had in his first.

  • He still couldn’t connect with Antonio Brown
  • Vick threw three should have been interceptions
  • He was taking sacks and/or under duress

In fact, Vick had only completed 8 passes for 63 yards. Things looked hopeless. The Dr. de Acero thought he had a prescription:

For those not fluent in Spanish, my friend Gustavo said “We’re screwed. Since this is a lost cause, we should give Landry Jones an opportunity.” On ESPN former Super Bowl winning head coach John Gruden voiced similar thoughts.

Fortunately, such ideas never cross Mike Tomlin’s mind.

With Tomlin Its A Matter of Trust

On Monday morning Ivan Cole of Going Deep on the Steelers rhetorically asked if too much coaching could get in the way of good football. At its core, Cole’s question is an age-old variant of the “Nurture vs. Nature” balancing act that every teacher, coach and parent struggles to perfect.

  • During the 4th quarter of the Steelers Monday Night win over the Chargers, Mike Tomlin proved he’s got pretty good balance on that question.

Tomlin is a big believer in investing in having a veteran backup quarterback. There’s no substitute for experience and there’s no substitute for in born talent. When you can put the two together, great things can happen.

For 3 quarters, Mike Vick played like a washed veteran, who was struggling in an unfamiliar system. On paper, Landry Jones familiar with the system figured to give the Steelers an edge.

But you win football games on the field, not on the coach’s chalkboard. Mike Tomlin understands that, which is why he never thought of pulling Vick, explaining:

This guy has seen about all of this game has to offer. He has unique abilities that you can’t coach. That scramble play, that’s indicative of what he is capable of. He has a career of highlights like that delivering those types of plays at critical moments. That’s why for the time being he is our quarterback

On the sidelines, Ben Roethlisberger saw a weakness in the San Diego defense. With Todd Haley’s approval, he drew up a play with Mike Vick and Markus Wheaton. Moments after Gruden called for Vick’s benching, Mike Vick entered the game, rolled out, fired off a lighting quick pass to Wheaton that he took 71 yards to the house.

Philip Rivers of course regained the lead.

Vick now had to run the two minute drill. Again he delivered:

  • First with 2 precision passes on third down to Darrius Heyward-Bey
  • Second with a 24 yard, head first scramble on 3rd and 6
  • Finally with another 16 yard third down strike to Heath Miller

There the Steelers had the ball on the 1 inch line, with 7 seconds left. That left Mike Tomlin with a choice. He could take the safe route and kick a chip-shot field goal and play for over time. Or he could go for it all.

  • Tomlin opted to go with Le’Veon Bell, arguably the most talent player on the field.

Bell delivered, ran the half yard and earned a touchdown. Faced with an all or nothing prospect, Mike Tomlin opted to trust the game by putting the ball into the hands of his most talented player on the field.

And because of that trust, the Steelers left San Diego at 3-2 with their first west coast victory in a decade.

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