If it wasn’t obvious before Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin proved to a large segment of the fanbase that he deserves to be fired when he called for a fake punt on fourth and five in the fourth quarter that gave the New Orleans Saints a short field to record the game-winning score.
Let me just pause for a moment to say that I don’t actually think that, but I know many who are probably reading this do. I don’t necessarily think it was the wisest call given the distance involved in converting. However, I do understand his thought process, and it’s one he’s been consistent about.
Of course Tomlin was asked once again yesterday about his decision to hand the ball off to fullback Roosevelt Nix to try to get the first down rather than punting the ball to Drew Brees in the hopes that his defense can record a stop.
“Obviously the fake punt was unsuccessful”, he recapped. “Like I mentioned after the game, I accept full responsibility for that. I thought it was a good place in the game to execute it. I felt good about the look. I felt good about the guy that was carrying it in Rosie Nix. He came up a half-yard short”.
Of course he didn’t think he came up a yard short. Nix, as is his personality, very audaciously celebrated what he believed to have been a first-down run, and in his defense, had he actually succeeded, it would have been an enormous play that may well have directly led to a victory if the Steelers offense was able to maintain control of the ball.
“Even if we came up short, I felt good about us having an opportunity to stop them and/or having an opportunity to get the ball back”, he said. And this is a similar philosophy that he has practiced in other situations when he wasn’t confident in his defense’s ability to make a stop.
Whether that was attempting a fake punt or running a play on a fake field goal or attempting an onside kick with the lead—these instances usually come on the road as well—Tomlin has been consistent over the course of his coaching career in trying to steal advantages like this. They don’t always work, of course.
“Unfortunately, how the game unfolded, we weren’t able to stop them”, he pointed out. “We got the ball back, but we were unsuccessful in our attempt to move the ball subsequently. That’s like, man, we’re not going to play not to lose. We’re going to play to win. Guys understand that. That’s just how we live”.
While he doesn’t always practice what he preaches, Tomlin more often than not is a coach who doesn’t live in his fears. He’s not afraid to take the aggressive, proactive approach to try to secure victory rather than allowing his opponent to dictate terms at the end of the game. He takes calculated risks, conceding that if they do score, we’ll at least have another chance.
To be fair, his strategy came pretty close to working on Sunday, and only came up short because of a fumble from a player who’s never fumbled before.