On Second Thought: Giddyup, Let’s Go (Steelers)
by Homer J.
“Oh, it’s lovely weather for a victory together with you.”
Playing on the road in winter conditions can be too much, even for heavily favored teams performing at their best.
Napoleon was on a big winning streak when he took on the Czars in a big road game in Moscow. The weather, as they say, was a factor. The Czar’s field generals, General Mud, General Frost, and General Snow wore down the plucky little Corsican. The home team won the battle in the trenches, and humiliated the heavily-favored French, sending them limping home in defeat. Tchaikowsky wrote a song about it, or something, and they still play it on the 4th of July.
Freddy von Paulus also looked unstoppable when he took his Berlin Fighting Sixers into Stalingrad for a road game in the winter of ’42. The host Stalingrad Reds withstood a strong first quarter offensive, and barely held on, until the cruel winter became the decisive advantage for the home team, especially in the trenches. They stopped the Sixth Army’s ground game, kicked their butts, and eventually cost Paulus his job.
Knowing the lessons of history, it’s obvious why many of us had fears and doubts prior to Sunday’s confrontation on a deep, dark, snowy December afternoon in Buffalo. Maybe Mike Tomlin doesn’t live in his fears, but we do. Let’s admit it. We do.
“Buffalo has the best running game in the league, by far. Their backs are unstoppable. The Steelers are weak against the run. It’s going to snow. Or maybe sleet. Ben is awful on the road. Repent. The end is near. Prepare to meet thy doom. Blah. Blah. Blah.”
Well, maybe we were right about the Ben on the Road part. But we were sure wrong about everything else.
Mike Tomlin won his 100th game as the Steelers clearly out-Buffaloed Buffalo at Buffalo in the middle of a Buffalo winter. And he became the third Steeler Coach to win 100 games, making Pittsburgh the only NFL team to have three head coaches win one hundred games. The most remarkable thing about that is those were the only three coaches we’ve had since 1969. Three in a row! Talk about a streak of winners!
Like those away games in Moscow and Stalingrad, this one was won in the trenches. The Steeler running game was unstoppable. They rang the Bell for 236 yards on the ground, another 62 on the air, and abused the hell out of the home team.
Make no mistake, this WAS your father’s Pittsburgh Steelers team. Run first. And keep running until the other team shows they can stop you. And if they can’t,`run it down their throats all day. As part of the nostalgia craze, they even brought back something called a Fullback. Even an extra lineman ‘n@.
If this was your father’s Steeler team, it certainly wasn’t the team that began the season. And that might be the biggest takeaway from yesterday’s win. Setbacks and adversity forced the coaches to make adjustments, and resulted in a better team.
The Steelers were projected to be a pass-first team this season, but they lost Bryant. They lost Coates. They lost DHB. They lost Wheaton. The receiving corps depth was gone. They also lost Pouncey and Gilbert for short periods of time to injury. Hubbard and Finney performed spectacularly as fill-ins.
When Bell returned from his suspension and Ben from his injury, the team quickly transitioned from a pass-first offense to a running team. The return of underrated blue-collar hero Rosie Nix from injury completed the transformation. They didn’t have the wideouts they thought they’d have, but they had the trench fighters. They went to war with the army they had. And won big.
With the extra lineman and the road grader Fullback, and the best all-weather running back in all of football, this is a team now built for winter weather. In the second half, Buffalo knew the Steelers were going to run on them, and there was nothing they could do to stop them. That, my friends, is what is good in life. The only thing missing was that we couldn’t hear the lamentations of their women. It was too cold, and the Buffalo gals were probably all bundled up. [Editor’s note: A nice touch, though, was B.J. Finney mentioning that he could hear the lamentations of the Buffalo linemen in the second half, as they frantically and correctly pointed out to each other where Bell was going to be coming and knew they couldn’t stop him.]
The other amazing takeaway from this game was that Ben threw three picks, had a quarterback rating smaller than his waist size (38), and yet they still won. The first two picks may not have been his fault – with wrong routes or bad routes in the snow, but the fact that his numbers were awful made no nevermind. They possessed the football 39 minutes and demolished the home team defenses.
On defense, the Steelers came out like a swarm of angry hornets and rattled Taylor early. They stopped Buffalo’s offense cold for the first 53 minutes because they were much quicker. The linebackers and DB’s were all over the line of scrimmage, and they stopped Buffalo’s heralded running game cold. There were no cutbacks.
This was a defense without Heyward and without Hargrave, but the front guys who did play were terrific, and the guys behind them – especially Shazier – played as complete a game as one could imagine. Shazier was the best player out there on defense, and Sean Davis continues to show that he was a brilliant pick in the second round.
Several years back, the Steelers were weak at LB, and they did the Panera Pick-Two, choosing Timmons and Woodley, two linebackers in the first two rounds. Bingo. This year, weak at DB, they went with Burns and Davis one and two. Two DB’s. Another jackpot. These guys are the real deal, and we saw it again yesterday.
The only other in-game observation worth noting is that it seemed the Steelers had better footing than the home town Bills. The Buffalonians were slip-slidin’ away all afternoon, with Bell and AB juking them out, and the Steeler offensive line was dumping the Buffalo defenders flat on their backs, where they could have made snow angels if they wanted to. It was almost like the visitors were playing on a different surface.
Ben gave the game ball to Mike Tomlin, and it was fitting. Not only was it his 100th NFL victory as a head coach, but this game showcased some of the decisions and adjustments Tomlin has made to turn this season around and turn this team into a powerful contender to win it all.
He and Colbert were faced with a leaky defense. They drafted three defensive players in the first three rounds, and seem to have hit the jackpot with all three. They took a big gamble and plugged them in early, staying with them through the rookie jitters, mistakes, and adjustments. The defense that was once too old and too slow and leaky as a colander in the secondary is now a strong point and still improving.
He and Haley lost their Nos. two-three-four-and five wide receivers. They were able to change course and transition from a pass-first to a run-first team, adding a fullback and extra lineman to the offensive package. Oh, and that’s adding years to Ben’s playing life and saves on his laundry bill.
Le’Veon Bell is getting all the press for his historic performance yesterday, and he certainly deserves it. He was terrific. But don’t forget the job that Mike Tomlin has done all season, and especially yesterday on the road, in the snow in Buffalo.
Napoleon held on to his job for a couple of years after his road loss in Moscow. Paulus lost his job the day after he lost to the Stalingrad Reds. And now we read that Buffalo’s home town general, Ryan, may lose his job any day now, in the wake of his defeat.
Well, Michael Pettaway Tomlin has no worries about job security. The job is his as long as he wants it. What he and his assistants and players have done this year in the face of adversity has been nothing short of remarkable.
The hope here is that Coach decides to stick around for a long time, and then, like his two predecessors, finally decides to step down to enjoy his golden years. Then, twenty-some years from now, one of Artie’s kids will pick the next Steeler head coach to win 100 games or more. Four in a row.