The Pittsburgh Steelers were written off by many (including yours truly) at the start of the season. Everyone loved Baltimore. Many thought Cincinnati would finish with a better record.
When the Steelers lost a Week 6, Thursday night contest to the lowly Tennessee Titans to drop their record to 2-3, it looked as if the prognosticators were right. With games looming at the Bengals, home against the Redskins and RG3 and at the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, many (including yours truly) thought the Steelers were done.
How completely and utterly silly of us to think such a thing while Pittsburgh employs Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers went into Cincinnati on Sunday night in Week 7 and emerged with a 24-17 victory. They trounced RG3 and the Redskins in Week 8, 27-12. They followed that up with the most impressive win of the three, beating a soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach (Tom Coughlin) and quarterback (Eli Manning) to improve their record to 5-3.
It was at the conclusion of their win over the Giants that I finally realized the enormity of their impact, the sheer scope of their accomplishments and the knowledge that they're not even close to being finished.
The last—and most important—conclusion I reached was this: Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger won't be underrated forever. They're both going to the Hall of Fame.
Record as head coach: 60-28, 68-percent winning percentage
Two Super Bowl appearances, one Super Bowl title
Ask yourself this question: how many coaches in the NFL would you rather have leading your team than Mike Tomlin?
Mike Shanahan? No. He "staked (his) reputation" on Rex Grossman and John Beck last year and has done an awful job in Washington.
Mike McCarthy? I love me some MMC, but he's only been to one Super Bowl (albeit beating Tomlin).
Sean Payton? He's won a Super Bowl, but Bountygate eliminates him from consideration.
There are only two acceptable answers: Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. Both have won multiple Super Bowls and are surely ticketed for Canton.
One day, Mike Tomlin will join them there.
In 2008, Tomlin's second year in charge of the Steelers, he became the youngest coach (age 36) to ever win a Super Bowl. Two years later, Tomlin coached in another Super Bowl, falling just short. He is one of only 18 coaches in league history to coach in two Super Bowls and win at least one. Out of those 18 coaches, nine are in the Hall of Fame, and another three are locks (Parcells, Belichick, Coughlin).
In his five-plus seasons in Pittsburgh (2007-present), Tomlin has guided the Steelers to a 60-28 record. His winning percentage sits at a staggering 68 percent. To put this in historical perspective, that is higher than the winning percentages for present-day counterparts Belichick (64 percent) and Coughlin (56 percent).
In addition, I present the nine Hall of Fame head coaches in the modern era who have won at least one Super Bowl: Vince Lombardi, Weeb Ewbank, Hank Stram, John Madden, Chuck Noll, Tom Landry, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs and Bill Walsh. Out of that elite pool, only Madden (76 percent) and Lombardi (74 percent) hold higher winning percentages than Tomlin's 68 percent.
Tomlin is stellar in every single facet of the coaching profession. His players love him, but more importantly, they respect him. He's simply unbelievable with the media, a very under-appreciated aspect of the job. He has his finger firmly on the pulse of his roster, and refuses to let injuries—or any other potential excuse or distraction—weigh his team down.
Perhaps the most effusive praise that can be showered on Tomlin is reserved for a move that he didn't make: replacing Dick LeBeau as the Steelers defensive coordinator when he took over as head coach.
Remember, Tomlin is a disciple of the "Tampa-2", popularized by Tony Dungy when he was with the Buccaneers. It would have been easy for Tomlin to bring his defense to Pittsburgh, but he smartly realized that Dick LeBeau's attacking, 3-4 system perfectly fit the Steelers personnel, and he made the decision to retain LeBeau as his top defensive lieutenant.
The proof is in the pudding: During Tomlin's five full seasons in Pittsburgh, the Steelers defense has ranked first, first, fifth, second and first. The genius of this move cannot be understated.
All of this, and Mike Tomlin is still only 40 years old. Imagine what he'll do if he coaches for another 20-plus years. There is zero doubt in my mind that he's going into the Hall of Fame.
Overall record as starting QB: 85-36
Record as starting QB under Mike Tomlin: 56-25
Three Super Bowl appearances, two Super Bowl titles
Quick—name the five best quarterbacks in the NFL. Go!
Isn't it amazing how Ben Roethlisberger's name isn't usually mentioned in the same breath as those quarterbacks? Out of those five players, only Brady has more Super Bowl titles (three to Ben's two) and appearances (five to Ben's three). Roethlisberger has both more titles and appearances than Rodgers, Brees and Peyton Manning.
Don't try to tell me that Jim Plunkett has more titles and appearances than Rodgers/Brees, nullifying the Ben argument—Roethlisberger's stats dwarf Plunkett's, and he's twice the QB that Plunkett was.
There are 11 quarterbacks in NFL history (including Ben Roethlisberger) who have started three Super Bowls. Eight are currently in the Hall of Fame (John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Bob Griese and Fran Tarkenton) and the other two will one day be in Canton as well (Brady and Kurt Warner).
There are only two current coach/QB combos that are recognized by almost everyone as being locks for the Hall of Fame: Belichick/Brady and Coughlin/Manning. Since Mike Tomlin became the head coach of the Steelers in 2007, Roethlisberger's record as the starter is 56-25. By comparison, Tom Brady was 60-21 in his first 81 games under Bill Belichick, Eli Manning was 48-33 in his first 81 games under Tom Coughlin.
Tom Brady has 26 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career. Eli Manning has 24. Ben Roethlisberger has 22. Brady and Eli are always talked about as Hall of Famers. Why not Ben?
Roethlisberger is an incredible quarterback. Few signal-callers in league history have displayed his toughness and escapability in the pocket. Watching defensive linemen and linebackers try in vain to bring Ben to the ground has become an annual fall tradition. He's supremely clutch, and he is on pace to have his best statistical season ever (projecting to 4,406 yards, 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions, all while completing a career-best 67 percent of his passes).
All of this, and Ben Roethlisberger is only 30 years old. Imagine what he'll do if he plays for another eight or more years. There is zero doubt in my mind that he's going to the Hall of Fame.
The juxtaposition on Sunday at MetLife Stadium was nothing short of brilliant. Going into the game, almost everyone was talking about the 6-2, defending Super Bowl champion Giants, with their soon-to-be Hall of Fame head coach and quarterback.
Almost everyone (including yours truly) picked the Giants to win the game. But, in the end, it was the soon-to-be Hall of Fame head coach and quarterback that almost no one was talking about, Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger, who had the last laugh.
The Steelers, left for dead after the loss at Tennessee, are 5-3. In a wide-open AFC, they rank among the favorites. At this point, I refuse to pick against them to qualify for the postseason. I predicted Baltimore would represent the AFC in the Super Bowl this year. Barring significant injury, I will pick Pittsburgh to defeat them in two weeks on Sunday night. That fact is a testament to their coach and quarterback.
Will Ben Roethlisberger & Mike Tomlin both make the Hall of Fame?
If you believe, like I do, that Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger will get to, and win, at least one more Super Bowl, then it's time to properly rate them in the manner they deserve.
Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger are going to the Hall of Fame.
Nick Kostos is the executive producer of the "SiriusXM Blitz", hosted by Rich Gannon and Adam Schein, on SiriusXM NFL Radio. You can follow Nick on Twitter: @TheKostos.