PITTSBURGH (AP) – Mike Tomlin doesn’t make decisions based on job security.
Call it the freedom of working for a team that changes coaches once every couple of decades.
A few inches away from victory in San Diego on Monday night and with 5 seconds to go, Tomlin eschewed the percentages and the chip-shot that would have forced overtime for something more daring. He pointed to the best player on his team and empowered Le’Veon Bell to go out there and finish it.
Moments later, Bell stretched the ball across the goal line at the buzzer – give or take the 18 seconds that mysteriously vanished at the start of the final drive – and the Steelers had an unlikely 24-20 win that revealed a mindset that has endeared him to his bosses and the men he leads onto the field each week.
“We were going to play to win, we weren’t going to play not to lose,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We talked about it openly the night before the game … We don’t live in our fears. I like the fact the group embraces that.”
Having one of the most talented players in the league at your disposal certainly helps. Bell finished with 111 yards rushing and spent most of the game as Pittsburgh’s only source of offense while backup quarterback Mike Vick struggled to find a rhythm. When Vick got hot late – hitting Markus Wheaton for a 72-yard touchdown and calmly leading the Steelers to the San Diego 1 – Tomlin still stuck to the game plan.
Twice in a 23-20 overtime loss to Baltimore the Steelers had given the ball to Vick instead of Bell with the game in the balance only to have Vick come up short. Not this time. Vick didn’t even touch the ball, instead lining up at wide receiver while Bell stood in the shotgun and shimmied to his left, following pulling guard David DeCastro and finding just enough room to break the plane before his left knee hit the ground.
“They told me during the game that if it was close, I’m going to get the ball right there,” Bell said. “I’m glad the offensive coordinator (Todd Haley) had faith in me to call the play, and coach Tomlin had faith in me to do the job. It was a great play call, great execution.”
There was no margin for error. And – thanks to a clock operator error that ran off 18 seconds when the offense ran onto the field – no time. And it didn’t matter, with Bell’s lunge likely saving the NFL the embarrassment of having to explain how another Monday Night officiating mistake cost a team a shot at a victory.
Tomlin shrugged off the error, though maybe because it ended up becoming only a footnote after Bell stretched out every inch of his 6-foot-2 frame.
“I’m not looking for an explanation,” Tomlin said. “I’m simply moving on. That’s how I’ve got do it in my business.”
Even if not that many people in his business approach their job with Tomlin’s aggressiveness. Pressed on his methodology, Tomlin offers only “most of it is gut-oriented.”
That gut tells him what looks like a risk might not really be a risk at all. He went against “The Sheet” when he chose to attempt 2-point conversions twice early in a romp over San Francisco in Week 2. Even with his defense spending most of the final three quarters in the face of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, Tomlin didn’t want to mess around with overtime even in a stadium that felt an awful lot like Heinz Field West.
Pittsburgh had the ball. It had momentum. It has a foot or two to go. And it had Bell, whose ability to find creases where none exist is among the best in the NFL.
“You’ve got to have the courage in your convictions,” Tomlin said. “You can miss a lot of life by hesitating or not taking calculated risk chasing greatness.”
NOTES: The Steelers activated WR Martavis Bryant and released S Ross Ventrone. Bryant was suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and missed Monday night’s game with a knee injury. … Tomlin said he expects LB Ryan Shazier to be available for Sunday’s visit from Arizona (4-1). Shazier has missed three straight games with a shoulder problem.
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