FOXBORO -- Mike Tomlin has been Pittsburgh’s head coach since 2007, named to the post at the ripe old age of 35. A year later, he and the Steelers won a Super Bowl.
More Lombardi Trophies seemed certain to follow, but -- despite a half-dozen seasons of 10 wins or more -- Pittsburgh and that stacked roster has come up short ever since, including an AFC Championship Game loss at New England last season.
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You might think that would dim Tomlin’s confidence. No chance. He may be a decade older, but he still has oodles of swagger. We saw that earlier in the year when during an interview with Tony Dungy prior to Sunday Night Football, he admitted to looking ahead to the Steelers’ matchup with the Pats.
"I'm going to embrace the elephant in the room. (The game) going to be fireworks," Tomlin said in that conversation. "And it's probably going to be Part 1. That's going to be a big game. But probably, if we're both doing what we're supposed to, the second one is really going to be a big game. Then what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, which is going to determine the location of the second one."
You’d never hear Bill Belichick go that route and he’s won five Super Bowls here in New England. We are now conditioned to believe that’s not only the right way but the only way to do business. I would tend to agree. History doesn’t lie.
Tomlin, however. isn’t adopting Belichick’s public approach. He says he’ll be forthright with the media because he’s doing what he’s supposed to do in his job. Perhaps that’s a little jab at Belichick and the Pats, who have long been less than forthcoming.
“I don’t know if any of us were looking ahead, to be quite honest with you," he said "That was the way it was described by (the media). We were simply answering questions. We were doing our professional due diligence. When we do interviews and people ask us about potential big games down the road, we’re going to politely answer questions and do so honestly. That’s not us down the road, that is us simply performing our professional duties.”
An exuberant fellow, Tomlin thinks it’s foolish to not admit there are larger things at play during the course of a season.
“If you set out on the season to be world champs, obviously you’re going to play in significant games along the way,” he said. “The road gets increasingly narrower. That is part of being [on] the pursuit of a world championship play. It’s ridiculous to goal set and not to acknowledge natural things that occur along the way if you are committed to the pursuit of your goals.”
To reach those goals, Tomlin’s Steelers usually need to go through the Patriots. This season is no different. Right now, Pittsburgh is the top seed in the AFC. The Pats are number two but can reclaim that spot with a win Sunday afternoon.
The Patriots may not have a real rival in the AFC East, but what they have with the Steelers is real.
“It's an awesome thing to be a part of," said Tomlin. "Not something that I or we take for granted. To be in significant games is just part of chasing what it is that we're chasing and to have a routine dance partner that just speaks to their commitment and achievements in similar ways. We're excited to be a part of it. We don't take it for granted. We realize that these type games are just part of what we desire to be.”