God forbid anyone criticize a man who has never had a losing season. Never mind that his last playoff victory was during the 2016 season against the likes of Matt Moore and Alex Smith. We Steeler fans should be grateful because other teams would kill to have Mike Tomlin and "The Standard" that he brings... which at this point is middle of the pack finishes and first round exits.
Did I mention Tomlin has never had a losing season?
Even amongst all of Tomlin's winning seasons, there have been a couple blunders. I can't quite put my finger on it, but for some reason The Pittsburgh Steelers sometimes play as though they were told there would be a game just 30 minutes before kickoff. Here's my list of the top 5 most miserable Steeler losses under Mike Tomlin.
2020 Wild Card Round vs. The Cleveland Browns - The COVID Clown Show
This one is basically a fireable offense. Just consider some of the facts leading up to this game and ask yourself how the Browns had any business winning this game, let alone somehow scoring 48 points on the Steelers at Heinz Field.
The Browns could only practice ONCE all week due to COVID running rampant through the roster
First year head coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t even in Pittsburgh because he had COVID
Pro Bowler Joe Bitonio and top cornerback Denzel Ward were out with COVID
Cleveland had lost 17 straight at Heinz Field and were coming in for a night game
It’s the f*cking Browns
… and it wasn’t just losing the game, but the incredible fashion in which the entire Steelers roster looked like someone slipped Xanax into the water cooler during pre-game. From the very first play of the game, when Maurkice Pouncey snapped the ball over Ben Roethlisberger’s head and Cleveland recovered the ball inside the Steelers 5 yard line, you could have sworn it was the Steelers who didn’t practice all week.
The Browns went on to hang 35 on Pittsburgh in the first half, making Tomlin’s defense look downright pathetic. When a team comes out flat and unprepared, what is the reason?
Eventually the Steelers narrowed the margin, making it 35-23 at the end of the third quarter. Facing a 4th-and-1 from their own 46 yard line, Tomlin opted to punt the ball saying “I just wanted to keep the momentum going in terms of field positioning”.
Good call coach. The Browns continued to gash Tomlin’s defense on the ensuing drive, marching 80 yards in 60 plays and effectively icing the game. Yeah the Steelers made the playoffs, but holy shit – I’d prefer they hadn’t by the time this game was over.
2017 Divisional Round vs. The Jacksonville Jaguars - The Game We Already Won In Our Minds
Can anyone tell me where Blake Bortles is today? Ahhh, right. He hung up the pads to focus on his equestrian future. In January of 2018, it was Bortles and the Jaguars who were victory trotting at Heinz Field – winning 45-52 and ending the Steelers 13 win season.
The toughest part of this loss is that 2017 felt like the last shot the Steelers had at a championship. That roster had 8 pro-bowlers, Big Ben in the last year of his prime, AB and Bell at the heights of their respective careers and a coach that never had a losing season.
Everyone remembers the controversial Jesse James "no catch" against the Patriots earlier in the season, but it seemed like the Pittsburgh locker room overlooked their playoff opponent on a quest for revenge. Le'Veon Bell was sure the Steelers would get a chance to play New England again:
And who could forget outspoken and often outplayed safety Mike Mitchell, with this bold take on a potential rematch with New England:
“We can play them in hell, we can play them in Haiti, we can play them in New England. … We’re gonna win.”
Some coaches make a big deal out of the "bulletin board" material their players post on social media. Some coaches tell their players to STFU and focus on their job, while others have built a culture that invites their star wideout to record 17-minute long Facebook live streams of their locker room.
The Steelers put so much energy into guaranteeing a win against Jacksonville that they forgot there was a game, and in classic fashion they came out flat. Leonard Fournette carried the ball 25 times for 109 yards and 3 touchdowns, two of which came in the first quarter. Ben Roethlisberger threw one of his first passes to Myles Jack that set up Jacksonville inside the Pittsburgh red zone, and before long the Steelers had spotted their opponent 21 points.
The Steelers fought their way back into contention near the end of the game, but Tomlin made sure to put an end to any idea of a comeback. Down by a touchdown with 2:19 left on the clock and two timeouts in his pocket, Tomlin opted for an onside kick. When that failed, unfavorable field position allowed the Jaguars to kick a field goal, extending their lead to two possessions and leaving Pittsburgh without any remaining timeouts. Season over.
2011 Wild Card Round at The Denver Broncos - The Tebow Game
The "Mile High Miracle" really seemed to mark the end of an era. Just one season prior, the 12-4 Steelers made it to the Super Bowl, and Troy Polamalu was named Defensive Player of the Year. Pittsburgh seemed primed to make another deep playoff run at the end of the 2011 season, again finishing 12-4.
The road to another championship started in Denver as 7.5 point favorites against Tim Tebow and the Broncos. Tebow was 6-4 as a starter in the regular season with 12 TDs and 6 INTs. He was sacked an insane 10.9% of the time he attempted to pass the ball. It sounded like a free lunch for our edge rushing tandem of James Harrison and Lamar Woodley.
But during this particular wild card game, Tebow was sacked a total of 0 times. He completed 10 of 21 passes for 316 yards and 2 TDs – the latter of which was the famous walk-off to win the game. Tomlin said Monday after the game that he'd defend Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow the same way if given another chance. So he would lose the game again?
After the Tebow game, the Steelers would post back to back 8-8 seasons, and Troy Polamalu would suffer lingering injuries that created a significant drop in his production and eventual retirement. Tomlin has admitted recently on a podcast with Ryan Clark that the Tebow game was the end of an era, but does he realize that era was championship contention?
2018 vs. The 2-10 Oakland Raiders - Drama Kings
Late into the 2018 season the 7-4-1 Steelers were sliding out of playoff contention while the headlines were chock full of stories about Antonio Brown speeding on the highway, throwing patio furniture and acting crazy.
The season was riddled with drama from the beginning. Le'Veon Bell was holding out, Martavis Bryant was traded away while on suspension and Ben Roethlisberger had openly shit on the decision to draft Mason Rudolph.
What better way to prove that The Steelers are above the noise? What better way to prove this organization has a higher standard than going into Oakland and beating up on a 2 win team while you're favored by 10.5 points? I can't think of one.
Well the Steelers lost the game 24-21.
And the loss was just downright strange from a personnel management perspective. At one point it seemed like Tomlin was trying to punish either AB, Big Ben or both as he held Roethlisberger out on the sidelines after Ben returned from a rib injury earlier in the game.
During Ben's apparent timeout, Joshua Dobbs led the Steelers on 11 plays for a total of 27 yards, and in the same interval they lost a 14-10 lead.
“I was just waiting for coach to tell me when to go,” Roethlisberger said.
“He probably could’ve come in a series or so sooner, but we were in a rhythm and flow of the game," Tomlin said. "He was ready to go when he got back out there.”
The Steelers would go on to lose 4 of their last 6 games, missing the playoffs where they likely would have been smoked anyway. Also AB freaked out during the final game of the season and was never seen on the Steelers sideline again.
2009 vs. The 3-8 Oakland Raiders - Brucey Gradkowski's Homecoming
Fresh off their 2008 Super Bowl campaign the Pittsburgh Steelers started the first half of the 2009 season going 6-2. Was the team primed to make another championship run? Not so much.
Things quickly changed for the worse when Pittsburgh lost 3 in a row and found themselves in the thick of wild card contention. Luckily an early December matchup against The Raiders at Heinz Field had the Steelers favored by a whopping 15 points – the ideal opportunity to get things back on track.
Bruce Gradkowski, Seton La-Salle graduate and Pittsburgh native, had other plans. He marked the highlight of his career when he threw for 308 yards and 3 fourth quarter touchdowns, one in the final nine seconds of the game, and earned AFC player of the week.
The embarrassing loss marked the fifth time in six losses the Steelers couldn't hold a lead in the fourth quarter, and their woes would continue the following week with another loss against Cleveland. Pittsburgh would finish the season 9-7, missing the playoffs by one game.
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