For the vast majority of his tenure as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin has had his team playing at a high level in the final months of the season. That is, up until recently, because over the past few years, the Steelers have gone from being one of the best teams in December to one of the worst.
If you look at just the last three seasons, they have finished 2-3, and then this past season, 2-4 in games played beyond December. If you include this season’s playoff loss, they are actually 2-5, and one of those wins was the Baltimore Ravens game pushed back into December when their opponent was without more than a dozen players.
After barely beating the Ravens’ practice squad, they proceeded to lose three games consecutively to the Washington Football Team, the Buffalo Bills, and then to cap it off, the Cincinnati Bengals, who were starting their third-string quarterback.
They barely escaped the jaws of defeat the following week against the Indianapolis Colts if not for an improbable 17-point comeback in the second half, but could not come back in the finale, or in the wildcard round.
“It is something that I am in the process of researching and working to identify, and to make necessary changes to ensure that we’re not having similar conversations as we move forward”, Tomlin said earlier today when discussing his team’s recent late-season collapses. “It has been a disappointment. I’ll acknowledge that. I’m not going to maintain status quo and hope that the outcome changes. That’s the definition of insanity”.
I can’t help but wonder if that’s the first time that Tomlin has actually used that phrase, even though it’s one that is frequently brought up when fans are discussing their frustration with the head coach’s seeming lack of willingness to make changes to address ongoing issues.
But there is no mistaking the record. They have become a bad December team, which his the exact opposite of who they were during the first decade under Tomlin, and the exact opposite of the team everybody wants to be.
Everybody wants to be the team with the proverbial arrow pointing up, playing your best football on the doorstep of the postseason. The Steelers were not one such team during the 2020 season, and it is thus no surprise that they were granted an early and unceremonious exit from the postseason in their first appearance there since 2017—the last time they didn’t have a December collapse.