The Steelers 10-6 victory over the division rival Cleveland Browns may not have been pretty or dominant, but it nonetheless revealed something important. During the second game of the season the Steelers got a raft of second chances, and the way they handled those speaks volumes about the team’s identity.
If the Steelers didn’t always execute perfectly, they made up for it with attitude.
On a night when wind and rain and a quarterback with an ailing would seem to conspire against it, Mike Tomlin demonstrated a clear confidence in the men he leads. And if the Steelers didn’t always deliver the first time around, they played with poise under pressure.
Although the Steelers failed to cross the 50 during the first half, the Steelers made it evident that they were going to reach for what they wanted, not what was going to be given to them.
The Cleveland Browns, almost everyone’s preseason pick to win the AFC North if not the, tried the same tack. What followed was a clinic on separating pretenders from contenders.
After one quarter of statement, Brown’s decided to test the Steelers defense by going deep as soon as the wind was their favor. Derrick Anderson fired downfield to Brandon Edwards…
...Bryant McFadden got there first.
The Steelers moved the chains twice, but then found themselves facing fourth and one. They went for it, and Roethlisberger drew the Browns off sides, only to learn that Mike Tomlin had already called a timeout.
After a botched play like this, conventional wisdom would indicate that you punt or perhaps try a very long field goal.
Don’t tell that to Mike Tomlin. He sent the offense right back out there, and 13 yards later Willie Parker vindicated him. Three plays later, the Steelers Hines Ward dropped a touchdown pass, but Ben unhesitatingly went right back to Ward on the next play for the game’s only touchdown.
To their credit, Cleveland fed off the challenge, and answered by driving from their own 18 right down to the Steelers 11. The Browns poor clock management aside, Tomlin could not have liked seeing the Browns at the 11 with eight seconds remaining at the half. But Tomlin certainly must be happy that he let Troy Polamalu train independently this summer, as the strong safety picked off a would be touchdown pass at the one to end the half.
The second half brought more of the same story.
In the third quarter the Steelers faced with fourth and 4th at the Cleveland 30, and Mike Tomlin elected to attempt a field goal. Normally does not qualify for a mini-gut check, but, but given the rain and wind a coach with less confidence in his men would have elected to punt.
Reed split the uprights with a 48 yard kick.
Undeterred, the Browns answered with vigor only to have the Steelers defense show them once more why Pittsburgh was going to win ten and a row. Cleveland drove from the 20 all the way back down to the Pittsburgh 5. But James Harrison tackled Jamal Lewis for a loss, a false start cost Cleveland another five yards, and an incomplete Derrick Anderson forced the Browns settle for a field goal after driving 75 yards.
Although the Steelers punted on their next series, they again revealed that they would not buckle under pressure. After a mishandled kickoff, the Steelers had to start from the two. The Browns stuffed Parker for no gain on first. On second and ten from his own two, the offensive line put a protective shell around Roethlisberger as he rifled 31 yards down field to Hines Ward.
Give the Browns credit for persistence, because after forcing the Steelers to punt, they drove again, this time, taking the ball from the twenty to the twenty. But LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, and Bryant McFadden stuffed the Browns on three straight plays. At this point the Browns had seemed to get enough of prime time, and settled for another field goal.
After Willie Parker went for no gain after the ensuring kickoff, Tomlin demonstrated that he is a man who learns form his mistakes. Rather than play it safe by running the ball, he let Ben be Ben, and Roethlisberger rewarded him by hitting Health Miller for 19 yards. The Steelers would eventually turn over on downs, but the Steelers defense, helped by an Aaron Smith sack, saw to it that they didn’t even get a shot at a final Hail Mary.
When 2008 chapter on the Pittsburgh Steelers is written, game two will likely be cast simply as the night the Steelers went 2-0 by the ho-hum score of 10-6.
Fair enough, none of the key plays were outstandingly spectacular, nor will they be long remembered. But they nonetheless reveal something important. Mike Tomlin is a coach who is ready to put the game in the hands of his players, and when he does that the players will respond with poise.