I have never heard Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin less thrilled after a victory than he was yesterday, following a 19-14 win over a very depleted Baltimore Ravens team that finished the game with their third-string quarterback, running back, and tight end, and with a litany of other starters and key depth players sidelined due to the Covid-19 protocols.
There have been times when he has been less than ecstatic following a victory, to be sure, and that is especially true when he is talking after games in which the Steelers had suffered a significant injury. This is the third time the year alone that they have lost a starter due to a torn ACL, first Zach Banner in the opener, then Devin Bush against the Browns, and then Bud Dupree, a critical component of their best unit, the pass rush.
This was a game in which the frustrations went far beyond Dupree’s injury, of course, and by then there’s a reasonable chance that Tomlin wasn’t overly aware of the exact nature of his pass rusher’s injury.
He said that he was really disappointed in their performance, in all phases, and that there was nothing to be proud of. The offense only put up 13 points against a defense without three starters in the front four, and other absences. The defense allowed a backup quarterback to a backup quarterback hit a late 70-yard touchdown. The special teams coverage units were lacking, and the return units offered nothing but a muffed punt that led to half the Ravens’ point.
Asked at the end of the press conference if he could recall a time in which he was more frustrated after a win than he was at that time, he said, “I don’t know”, after a pause to give it some consideration. “I know this one’s pretty frustrating”.
While they never trailed by more than one point during the game, and even then for just five minutes, we all know the circumstances of the game under which it was played and why it was reasonably expected that they would have a lot more success than they did.
It doesn’t help that the team dropped at least a couple of touchdown passes on drives that did not wind up in the end zone. It doesn’t help that they had one red zone trip in which they came away with no points at all. It doesn’t help that the punt return unit gave up a free possession after the defense got a stop.
Needless to say, the Steelers can’t afford to play this way again. How much of it was due to the weird timeline leading up to the game? How much of it was just random occurrence? How much can they clean up in time for their next game?
Tomlin said seemingly months ago by now that he understands at some point he’ll be airing his frustrations with his team’s shortcomings after a loss instead of a win. It’s a virtual inevitability, since no team has ever gone 19-0 before. If it does come, let’s just hope it’s in December, and not the middle of winter.