It was shaping up to be a delicious dose of schadenfreude for Patriots fans.
The Steelers allowed a Packers game-tying touchdown with just over two minutes remaining in regulation of their Sunday night matchup, and with one slip, Pittsburgh could've seen its No. 1 seed in the AFC vanish.
To the Aaron Rodgerless-Packers. At home. After beginning the day as a two-touchdown favorite in Vegas.
A last-second 53-yard game-winning field goal from Steelers kicker Chris Boswell spoiled the spot for those in New England, but for an instant the prospect of a Green Bay upset dangled in front of them like a 22-ounce bone-in ribeye.
And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin only made the moment juicier by doing his damnedest to break every Bill Belichick PR rule on the books in one sit-down interview with NBC's Tony Dungy.
“Man, I’m going to embrace the elephant in the room," Tomlin told Dungy when asked about a looming Week 15 matchup with the Patriots in Pittsburgh. "It’s going to be fireworks. It’s probably going to be Part One, and that’s going to be a big game. But probably, if we’re both doing what we’re supposed to do, the second one" -- i.e., the AFC Championship Game in January -- "is really going to be big. And what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, and determine the location in the second one.”
So let's see how many Belichick rules Tomlin broke:
Look past the game at hand to get worked up about another one taking place at a later date? Check.
Peer about two months into the future to predict a playoff matchup? Check.
Insult the remaining opponents on the schedule -- aside from the Patriots -- by indicating they are mere formalities to be rolled over before and after what Tomlin believes will certainly be Battle for Homefield? Check.
Predict victory? (See below) Check.
The hubris. The lack of discipline. The scattershot focus . . . The trifecta.
And here's the thing: Most of the football world would nod in agreement with everything Tomlin said. The expectation is that homefield advantage for the playoffs will be determined by what happens at Heinz Field on Dec. 17. That Tomlin feels the same way and was willing to share gave us in the media the kind of honesty we crave.
But that doesn't make it the intelligent thing to do. It's one thing for reporters and fans to postulate. It's an entirely different kettle of pierogis for Tomlin to say it so publicly, especially since he knows the weight his words in the media carry with his players.
Consider this back-and-forth that Tomlin had with Dungy during the same interview. The topic was how Tomlin handles his press conferences.
Dungy: “So you use that press conference to talk to the team?”
Tomlin: “No question. And that’s probably my primary function.”
So how, then, does Tomlin think his team will react when they hear their coach say that the Patriots game is the last one on the schedule that matters? Or when he says they're already championship-caliber?
"We can win it all," Tomlin told Dungy. "We should win it all. I sense that about the group. In terms of talent, in terms of having enough competition, depth, I think we check all those boxes. But, checking the boxes doesn’t run the race.”
You'd find Belichick wearing Gucci on the sidelines before he ever uttered anything remotely similar in front of a camera.
"Being around Coach Belichick -- and being so focused on that one game at a time -- that actually sounds really weird," ex-Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who shares a spot on the Sunday Night Football broadcast with Dungy, said later in the show. "Because you do not seem like you are giving your opponent the respect that it deserves when you are sitting back and you are thinking about the Patriots three weeks from now."
"Let me clue you in on something," Dungy replied. "When I was coaching, no matter who we played, I was always thinking about you [the Patriots] so that doesn’t surprise me that Mike Tomlin would be. I do not think this team is going to overlook [the Packers] at all."
We know there are certain individuals in the Patriots organization who look ahead to opponents other than the ones up immediately on the schedule. They have to be. That's advanced scouting. That's being prepared. The idea that the Patriots have a franchise-wide laser focus on the next game is not based in reality.
But the public message and the message to the team is consistently consistent. On to Cincinnati. Or, as is the case this week, on to Buffalo.
Look at how Belichick replied to an innocuous question during his Monday conference call about how he and the Patriots secured a record 17-consecutive winning seasons by beating the Dolphins over the weekend.
"That’s what we’re here for is to win games," Belichick said. "Yeah, we take a lot of pride in it. But, that being said, there’s probably another time to talk about that and reflect back on it and so forth. You know, none of those other -- however many seasons it was or however many games it was -- really makes any difference this week. I mean, nobody cares about that. This is just strictly a matchup between the Patriots and the Bills in 2017, and how these two teams compete against each other is really what it’s all about. So, I don’t think living in the past is going to help us, and I don’t think living in the future is going to help us, either."
Embracing the elephant in the room is all well and good. (Again, it's fantastic from a media perspective. More embracing of large mammals, please.)
But living in the future very nearly got Tomlin's Steelers stomped by one of the worst teams in football.