NFL Playoffs 2011: Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin Stay Cool In Win Over Ravens
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If you watched Saturday's taut match between the hometown Pittsburgh Steelers and visiting Baltimore Ravens, you not only saw an outstanding football game, but also got a bird's-eye view of two very different types of head coaches.
At least in terms of their sideline demeanor.
While we witnessed endless frenetic movement and frequent loud outbursts from Baltimore's emotional head man John Harbaugh, Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin barely budged from the spot he took immediate residence on and never seemed to change a facial expression only occasionally in full view due to the deft positioning of his ever trusty clipboard.
But in the eyes, you could see a level of calm intensity that allowed both Tomlin and his team to maintain focus even after a couple of first half blowups cost Pittsburgh 14 gimme points (to an otherwise inept Baltimore offense) that left the home-side down at the half 21-7.
Early in the third, though, the game changed for good in one golden Steeler moment, when Ray Rice got hit from behind and fumbled deep in Baltimore territory with Roethlisberger & Co. soon after capitalizing on a nine-yard T.D. pass to tight end Heath Miller.
Moments later safety Ryan Clark picked off a deep ball intended for Raven tight end Todd Heap. Another short drive ensued, Roethlisberger ended up connecting with Hines Ward over the middle on a third and goal from the eight and suddenly the game was tied at 21 apiece.
Sensing impending victory off this massive momentum change the Steeler faithful, out en masse, not to mention the Pittsburgh players themselves went wild.
He remained as pensive as ever, brown-eyed death stare fully in play, no doubt speaking upon his certain awareness of the time within the game not yet played.
An exchange of field goals ensued, precious ticks escaped the 60-minute clock and, with most of it eaten away, came the big third-down pass, deep down the right sideline to Steeler rookie wideout Antonio Brown.
For all intents and purposes that was all she wrote as second-year running back Rashard Mendenhall ended up bursting home form the two with 1:33 left on the clock. Pittsburgh went right after Flacco on the ensuing possession, the Raven quarterback and his offensive mates fared no better then at any earlier point in the game, (a cumulative 125 forward yards), and the Steelers had come all the way back from an early 14-point deficit to emerge victorious 31-24.
Naturally pandemonium ruled Heinz Field from there, and one could only imagine head coach Mike Tomlin allowed himself the luxury of some happy facial expressions in the aftermath of a win that will probably send his team off to Foxboro next Sunday.
But in the throes of battle you only see one side of Pittsburgh field leader. He is cool and collected, as cool as a cat as exists amongst the exclusive cast of NFL head coaches, and he is always thinking ahead.
Those qualities serve this current version of the Pittsburgh Steeler organization in a little different way than predecessor Bill Cowher, or even the oft fiery Chuck Noll for that matter, but to no less effect.
Tomlin is cool, and his teams win. That's the only culture that matters in Steel-Town, and even in lieu of the potentially heavy competition immediately ahead, it really would come as no great surprise to any avid follower of the game to find this Pittsburgh team in Dallas on February 7th.
Certainly the highlight for the home side came early as Matt Ryan and the Birds took 7-0 and 14-7 leads off a 45-yard drive and 102-yard kick return by Eric Weems, but just as they have since getting QB Aaron Rodgers back from concussion syndrome before the Giant game in Week 16, the Green Bay Packers had all the answers yesterday in Atlanta, exploding for 41 points in the last 36 minutes to run away from the slightly favored Falcons by a final score of 48-21.
It comes as no great surprise to us, as we've been touting the Pack for a return to to Superbowl XLV for several weeks now but with top comp New Orleans and Atlanta both out and Chicago about to blast Pete Carroll and the Seahawks back to reality, or oblivion (take your choice), it sets up a very winnable scenario for the Pack, even as a visitor to Soldier Field in a rematch of the season finale where they bruised and battered a game Jay Cutler for most of 60 minutes.
Home game for Chicago or no, we just love the way Green Bay is playing on both sides of the ball. Rodgers and his four-man combo of Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones have proven themselves to be virtually unstoppable, and this close to Dallas and Super Bowl XLV we just don't see their collective flame suddenly sputtering.
You want to say Seattle has no chance against the Bears, and they probably don't, but with the way they threw the ball on New Orleans last week you can't count them out altogether.
Still, that was at ultra friendly Qwest, and today they'll be face first in the elements against a Chicago team and fan faithful that will be out for bloody murder, and I figure they'll get it in a 34-14 victory.
Sanchez and his mates may keep it close in the first, but at some point they'll be forced to open things up to keep pace with New England's juggernaut attack, and that will spell their ultimate doom.
Don't figure on Brady letting up either, after all of Antonio Cromartie's mouthing off this past week. New England 38 - Jets 17.
Enjoy these last precious moments of football; it's a long offseason soon to come,
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