View Full Version : Mike Tomlin: Bonehead Moments

07-16-2010, 02:34 PM

Jul 13, 2010

Lest it be thought that those that actually wear the uniforms of the Pittsburgh Steelers have a monopoly on bone-headedness insofar as the fortunes of the Black & Gold, let’s review the three-year tenure of Head Coach Mike Tomlin.

As we all know, Coach T is now the beneficiary of a three-year contract extension, at an as yet undetermined price. I don’t think that anyone’s really surprised. Even with the option year of 2011, would the Steelers have allowed their young Head Coach to be in the position of a semi-lame duck this year, a situation that’s perhaps lamer than your traditional lame duck circumstance? And certainly, things would have never progressed, or regressed, to the point of Tomlin entering 2011 as a definitive lame duck. It’s not the Steeler Way.

Some may note that Tomlin’s predecessor, Bill Cowher, was permitted to enter the final year of his deal, and thus argue that the situations are identical. Not so fast! Cowher’s situation was never about ownership not wanting him to continue, but rather about not offering enough dough, specifically not more coin than The Walrus, Mike Holmgren, who Cowher defeated in Super Bowl XL, was making in the Pacific Northwest. So, for The Chin, it was off to Carolina, with Mrs. Cowher having a head start, and Cowher took up residency as a turncoat, operating the siren with an ear-to-ear grin for the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, even as they faced his hometown Penguins.

I’ve not much issue with the Tomlin extension; it was inevitable. It’s an opportune time though to review his moments of bone-headedness, as there have been useful examples from every one of this three seasons.


*3rd & effin' 6:

I’ve written about this recently. Tomlin was a Bonehead twice over during the ’07 Wild Card matchup vs. Jacksonville at Heinz Field. In some circles, he’s guilty of three transgressions in one night. One could argue both sides of Tomlin “chasing points” approaching midway through the 4th quarter and seeking to narrow a 28-23 deficit to three points by going for two. But in a moment of bone-headedness for the ages, Tomlin persisted in going for the deuce even when backed up to the 12-yard line via penalty. His explanation post-game, “I play to win, Baby!” This Tomlinism, a preview of priceless quotes to come as the years progressed, was then contradicted by 3rd & effin' 6.

The Steelers had taken a 29-28 lead, had the ball 3rd & 6 on their own 26 yard-line, had a quarterback that while gimpy-ankled, had lit up the joint through the air in the second half, leading his team to three 4th quarter touchdowns, had a running game that couldn’t crack the 50-yard rushing mark on the night. After a stoppage of play, in which Tomlin had plenty of time to weigh in on the play-call with Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians, the Steelers elected to run their gimpy-ankled QB wide, where he gained but a yard. The Steelers punted, Jacksonville down a single point, drove and kicked a field goal, and the Steelers’ season was over.

Gaining a first down and then exhausting the remainder of the clock was vital, in a situation where a field goal beats you. Tomlin either endorsed the OC’s play-call, or he stood there, like a potted plant, and did nothing.

But, “I play to win, Baby!” Baloney!!

*The Spike:

Tomlin learned from this moment of bone-headedness, so we’ll give him a pass on this, and his educability results in my not having major issues with the contract extension. Steelers trailing in Baltimore, 9-6, in the ’08 season’s biggest game, pick up a first down at the Baltimore 4-yard line with a full minute remaining, and with a timeout in their pocket, spike the ball to stop the clock. A second down pass fell incomplete, leaving third down in which to affect a game-winner, otherwise the game would likely head for overtime. The 3rd down pass to Santonio Holmes was initially ruled to have been caught inches short of the end zone, and it looked as though it was decision time for Mike Tomlin, go for the win on 4th down, or kick the game-tying field goal. Fortunately, Tomlin was spared needing to make a choice by an instant replay reversal, and the Steelers were winners.

In Super Bowl XLIII, faced with nearly the exact same situation, Tomlin wisely expended his final timeout with 49 seconds remaining and the ball on the six-yard line, keeping every bullet, in the form of remaining plays, in his arsenal. We know what happened next

The ’09 season, Tomlin’s only non-playoff year, was also Coach Tomlin’s peak in terms of bone-headedness. We offer three bonehead calls made by the head coach, in consecutive weeks:


Once again, was Mike Tomlin a potted plant, ceding control of his football team to his OC? On the cusp of field goal range in overtime, in Kansas City, Steelers give the ball to their slowest back and run him wide. Predictably, he loses yardage, the Steelers punt, and never see the ball again in a loss to the lowly Chefs.

*Put him on the freakin’ edge:

Going into Baltimore on Sunday Night, sans Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers place substitute quarterback Dennis Dixon, he being fleet afoot, on the edge twice all night. The result? Dixon throws for one score, and runs for another. Queried as to why he didn’t put Dixon in this favored position more often, particularly in overtime, CoachTomlin, not saying “I play to win, Baby!” this time, opines as to the possibility of injury, in which case the unprepared Tyler Palko would have entered the game. Mike!! It’s overtime!! You’re on the 50. It’s 3rd & 5. A first down and you’re just about in field goal range with a chance to bury your divisional rival. Put him on the freakin’ edge!!

*Skippy’s History:

Tomlin’s on a roll; for the 3rd week in a row, a coaching decision will cost his team the game. Leading the bedraggled Oakland Raiders by a score of 10-6 in an unexpectedly closely contested game, the Steelers are in field goal range at the Oakland 25 when a 3rd down sack knocks them back. After first letting the 3rd quarter expire, Tomlin sends Jeff Reed on to attempt a 53-yard field goal. Reed misses, and the floodgates are opened. Soon thereafter, the Raiders score their first of three fourth-quarter touchdowns, and the Steelers suffer another terrible loss. Tomlin, explaining his decision to attempt the field goal, cites Skippy’s “history” as his rationale for attempting the long kick. Hmmm…..what history is that, Coach? Would that be the kicker’s history of never having made a field goal from that distance in that venue? No worries, though. Pregame, Tomlin had promised to “unleash hell” for the remainder of the season.

http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/20 ... ad-moments (http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/2010/7/13/1567994/mike-tomlin-bonehead-moments)

07-16-2010, 02:41 PM

Jul 14, 2010


Previously, I listed current Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's "Bonehead Moments," but the hue and cry came from Steeler Nation demanding fairness, calling for the same standard to be applied to his predecessor, Bill "The Chin" Cowher. My initial response was that such an assignment would cause me to request a sabbatical from my place of employment, Cowher's capacity for bone-headedness was so expansive.

While Cowher's transgressions were often of philosophy, and sometimes less captured in a single moment, I've narrowed the focus a bit, and offer a baker’s dozen of "Cowher Moments." As you shall see, my original intent was to serve up a Top Ten (or eleven), but we'll lead with a pair that really had nothing to do with his coaching ability, but are noteworthy in their own right.


1. The Turncoat Bill Cowher:
Did he really do this? In the '09 Stanley Cup Playoffs Semi-Finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricane, who's operating the siren, with a ****-eating grin in Raleigh’s RBC Center? It couldn't be Pittsburgh native and former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, taking such a visible role in rooting against his hometown Penguins, could it? Yes, sadly, it could, and it was. Cowher followed the Mrs. to Carolina, and bought the entire act, dressing in red, and acting the clown. That's okay...Penguins swept those bitches.

2. Yukkin' it up with Mike Vick:
In Cowher's final lame-duck season, he appeared to some Steeler fans, self-included, to have mailed it in. Gone was the trademark Cowher intensity, the fire, replaced by a distant figure on the sidelines, who seemed rather disinterested. He was Catatonic Bill. In a tie game in Atlanta, the Falcons faced a key 3rd down at the two-minute mark. Troy Polamalu has a shot at Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in the backfield, but Vick avoids the tackle and runs for a key first down, going out of bounds, right in front of Cowher. The early-day Cowher would have been ballistic, would have been tempted to deck Vick himself with a forearm shiver. This time, "the eye in the sky don't lie," and there's Cowher shown laughing with Vick on the sideline. Yes, laughing. Steelers lose in OT...wheels are coming off this team.

3. Starting Neil O'Donnell:
Neil O'Donnell sustained an injury late in the '92 season, Cowher's first, and was replaced by the colorful Bubby Brister for the final three regular season games. After two losses in which his offense failed to score a touchdown, Brister lead the Steelers to a win in the regular season finale, in the process earning the Steelers a first round bye, home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and earning Brister the opportunity to tell the assembled members of the fourth estate, critics of his erstwhile play the past few weeks, to kiss his ass.

Come time for the playoff game with the Buffalo Bills two weeks hence, it was back to O'Donnell, who'd not played in a month. Would Bubby have been the better choice? We don't know, but he couldn't have been much worse. O'Donnell plain sucked, throwing a pair of interceptions, and losing a fumble while being sacked seven times. The Steelers exited the playoffs early, losers by a score of 24-3, the first of many home playoff losses for Bill Cowher.

4. The Spike:
Down three points late in a Sunday Night game in Arizona in '94, the Steelers, dressed in hideous throwback uniforms, resembling inmates from the Allegheny County Jail, storm back, and on the strength of a 46-yarder to Eric Greene, pick up a first down at the Cardinals' five-yard line with a minute remaining. Cowher, with a timeout in his pocket, elects to spike the ball, giving his team, in essence, two shots at a game-winning touchdown instead of three. Failing to pierce the endzone on 2nd or 3rd downs, the Steelers kick the tying field goal. After Charles Johnson fumbles the overtime kickoff, the Steelers are quickly dispatched into the Arizona night.

5. Not so quick with the Time-Out:
This sadly didn’t turn out to be very significant, but does represent a bone-headed use of the clock. Perhaps in the most maddening loss in Steelers history, Steelers down 4 points late to San Diego, complete a pass to John L. Williams, who’s tackled at the 3-yard line, whereupon Cowher calls a timeout with 1:13 on the clock. He has one timeout remaining, so if the 4th down play fails (as it did), Steelers aren’t getting the ball back (yeah, I know, some of you think Steelers subsequently tackled Humphries for a safety which wasn’t called). All hinges on the 4th down play, so why so quick to call the timeout? Should the Steelers have scored, San Diego would have needed a field goal to tie and would have had a full minute left to move the ball into position. Let the clock run, Bill, call the timeout as the last possible second.

6. Establishing the Running Game:
While this was a general, and perhaps unfounded, criticism of Bill Cowher Playoff Football, this time it applies specifically to Super Bowl XXX. Going in, there was sufficient doubt that Dallas could cover the five-wide formation often employed by the Steelers. Instead of pressing this advantage from the outset, however, Cowher chose to establish the running game, and to do so with Eric Pegram rather than Bam Morris. In the process of establishing this running game, the Steelers fell behind 13-0, and only then opened things up. As we know, the Steelers were never able to catch up.

7. Chan Effin' Gailey:
It's only fair. The buck stops with Mike Tomlin, wherein his offensive coordinator is concerned, so the same holds true for Cowher. It's the '97 AFC Championship Game, and the Steelers had established the running game, behind Jerome Bettis. Meantime, Kordell Stewart had narrowly averted disaster, on at least two occasions, throwing into double coverage. Facing 2nd & 1, on the Denver 35, ahead by a score of 14-10, and with four minutes remaining to the half, the call seemed obvious. Entrust the football to Bettis, who was on his way to a rare hundred-yard rushing day in the playoffs, eat the clock, keep John Elway on the opposing sideline, and go in at the half with at least a seven-point, but perhaps an 11-point lead. Gailey sends in a pass, Stewart throws long, into double coverage, is picked, and when the smoke clears, the Steelers trail at the half by a 24-14 margin.

8. Field Goal Bill:
Thanksgiving Day '98, in Detroit, and it's the infamous "Heads, I mean Tails" game, in which a Steelers overtime loss was attributed to a botched coin flip. But the flip may not have been necessary had it not been for a decision that cemented the moniker "Field Goal Bill," assigned Cowher in some circles. Down three points late to the Lions, the Steelers mount a furious drive, and face 3rd & goal at the eight with seconds remaining, one more shot for a winning TD pass, right? Wrong. Cowher meekly runs the ball, and then sends Norm Johnson onto the field for the 25-yard game-tying field goal.

9. Cover Derrick Mason!:
Steelers, riding a five-game win streak, and in their fifth straight game of not surrendering a touchdown, score on a Mark Bruener TD reception mid to late fourth quarter to take a 7-6 lead in Nashville. Tennessee faces a 4th down with a game on the line. Tennessee has only one receiver on the field, in the person of Derrick Mason, who’s ever caught an NFL pass. Which receiver do the Steelers elect to cover with one man? Yup…Derrick Mason. Titans convert the first down, and go on to win the game on the 3rd Al Del Greco field goal of the game, 9-7.

10. Troy Effin' Edwards:
In one of the best examples of Bill Cowher being schooled, his counterpart on the opposing sideline in the '01 AFC Championship Game, Bill Belichick, renowned for his film study, alerts officials pre-game of the propensity for Troy Edwards to run out of bounds unimpeded on punt coverage, and then return to the field of play illegally. Edwards does just this on a booming first-quarter punt by Josh Miller, is predictably flagged, and Troy Brown of the Pats, takes the ensuing punt back for a touchdown, keying the Pats upset win over the Steelers. Cowher's guilty of either not knowing of Edwards' nasty habit, or knowing and electing to do nothing about it.

11. Field Goal Bill, Part II:
In one of the most horrific game decisions in modern Steelers history, the Steelers battle back from a 21-point deficit on a frigid Heinz Field January night in the '04 AFC Championship Game, are down 14-points entering the 4th quarter, and are facing 4th down on the Patriots 2-yard line. With a golden opportunity to make it a one-score game, Cowher sends on the field goal team, narrowing the margin to eleven, where he would still need another field goal, a touchdown, and yes, a 2-point conversion from the same 2-yard line, in order to tie the game. The life is sucked out of the Heinz Field, and the Steelers never narrow the ensuing eleven-point deficit, losing by fourteen.

12.Tommy Effin' Maddox:
No, not the entire '03 season, but specifically the October '05 debacle vs. Jacksonville at Heinz Field. Maddox, subbing for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, is picked on the Steelers first possession, is picked again, and clearly doesn't have it. There's hope, as Maddox appears injured in the 2nd half, but he's able to dust himself off and continues. Only later do we learn that Maddox does incur his coach's wrath post-game for having concealed the extent of the injury to his throwing shoulder. The game proceeds to overtime, and when Quincy Morgan brings back the kickoff to the Jax 25, it looks as though victory lies ahead for the Steelers. But after a botched running play loses yardage, Maddox is sacked and fumbles on 3rd down. It gets worse! After stopping the Jags; Maddox takes the field and promptly offers up a pick-six to Rashean Mathis. With a first-time guest in my home, I eject the VHS tape on which I'm recording the game, grab a hammer, and smash that thing to smithereens!! Tommy Effin'' Maddox is appropriately villified. His wife falsely claims to have had garbage dumped on her lawn. If only it were true. Cowher? Post-game he says, "I was thinking about making a switch at quarterback." Earth-to-Bill. When were you gonna do it!!

13. Ricardo Effin' Coclough??:
It’s Cowher’s mail-it-in season of ’06, and the Bengals are in town for an important early-season game. Steelers have recovered from throwing an interception on first down from the Bengals five, with a 7-0 lead, while literally running the ball down the Bengals’ throats in the first quarter, and have battled back from a deficit to retake a 3-point lead. The defense is putting the heat on Carson Palmer. Cinci punts midway through the fourth quarter. Back at around the 15-yard-line to receive is Ricardo Colclough. One small problem….Colclough can’t ****in’ catch!! Sure enough, Coke fumbles, Cinci recovers, goes into score, and wins the game. Postgame, Cowher says that he puts Santonio Holmes into receive punts “close to the goal line” as he “likes his hands.” Bill!! Up three points, a scant 6 or 7 minutes left, your D is playing lights out…was not this close enough to your goal line to put an absolute priority on fielding the ball cleanly?

The Cowher Myth
Now, it’s time to debunk this myth that Cowher’s playoff losses were due to his playing too conservative, insisting on pounding the rock, taking after his mentor, Marty Schottenheimer.

In ’92, I’m not of the mind that having Neil O’Donnell go back to pass more often would have yielded better results. The book on O’D for the day is already referenced here in. In ’93, Steelers came out throwing, put the ball up in excess of 40 times, and very nearly upset Kansas City, largely on their passing game. The ’94 AFCCG was marked by a stark inability to run and O’D logged over 50 passing attempts. Cowher’s guilty as charged in SB XXX, as has been established earlier in this treatise. The ’96 Fog Bowl in Foxboro was a total debacle, with the Steelers in the hole from the start; Rod Woodson’s jersey is still smoldering. Cowher shoulda been more conservative in the ’97 AFCCG, the Chan ****in’ Gailey game.

Steelers lost the ’01 AFCCG largely on the performance of their special teams, having surrendered a punt return for a TD in a second consecutive playoff game that post-season. We know that teams that return a punt for a TD win 82% of the time; I just heard Sean Payton say so. Steelers survived that against Baltimore in the Divisional Playoffs. They couldn’t survive it again, particularly when paired with a 2nd special teams TD in the same game. The Steelers couldn’t run as the Pats lined a defensive end over Jerame Tuman and proceeded to kick his ass all day long. Oh…Kordell couldn’t throw either. I can still see him overthrowing a wide open Hines Ward late, down seven points, and was picked. And please, stop it with the Pats having cheated in this game. They’re accused of stealing defensive signals. The Pats offense scored a single touchdown. Yeah, I know, Hines said the Pats were calling out the plays the Steelers would be running. Ever hear of film study?

Going forward, TMaddox aired it out for 40-plus attempts in the ’02 playoff loss to Tennessee. Not too conservative there. And finally, in the ’04 AFCCG, the Steelers enjoyed success with play action and could have gone to this well more often. Keep in mind though, that rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger was staggering at the finish line at the close of this season. He barely escaped the Divisional Playoffs against the Jets, having thrown a couple of bad picks, one of which was taken in for a TD. Against the Pats, he opened the game with a pick thrown behind an open receiver, then followed it up with another pick-six on a play where he clearly did the opposite of what he was told. Could you blame Cowher for not putting that game in the rook’s hands?

All told, was Cowher too conservative in his playoff losses? Sounds good, but it’s bogus, a myth.

http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/20 ... hers-burnt (http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com/2010/7/14/1569218/famus-faux-pas-cowhers-burnt)

07-16-2010, 03:44 PM
An interesting walk down memory lane...

But, I'm not impressed with second guessing and Monday morning armchair quarterbacking...

07-16-2010, 03:53 PM
Let me add Field Goal Bill III. In that 2006 home game against the Bungles, with just over a minute left in the first half, Big Ben gets sacked on third down to effectively put the Steelers out of field goal position. Instead of punting, Cowher has Skippy attempt a 50 yard FG which he misses (has anyone ever kicked a 50 yard FG at Heinz Field?). The Bungles take over at their own 40 and promptly move down and score a TD before the half ends, which totally changes the momentum of the game. [As a side note, I have recounciled myself to the fact that Big Ben will take more sacks than normal because he refuses to throw the ball away, but he really needs to be more aware of avoiding a sack that will take us out of FG range].

As for putting Ricardo Coclough back to return the 4th quarter punt in the same game, I was in the House and as soon as Coclough went back to receive everyone around me was complaining "no, not Coclough", "the guy is going to fumble", etc. There was a noticeable murmer that went through the crowd. Why is it that Cowher was apparently the only person in the stadium that didn't realize what a bad idea it was to put Coclough back there?

07-16-2010, 03:54 PM
These are both pretty good lists HI-

To the Tomlin list, I'd have to add:

"Unleash Hell"
I won't go into the details- which we are all familiar with - but the utterance, combined with the preceding circumstances, and inevitable outcome- absolutely belongs on this list.

To Cowher- well, myth or no myth-

We have all witnessed more than our share of BC going into "turtle ball" mode in the 2nd half of games- only to let the opponent back into the game. Thereby making a walkover, actually a challenge.

07-16-2010, 04:37 PM
An interesting walk down memory lane...

But, I'm not impressed with second guessing and Monday morning armchair quarterbacking...

More like a painful tumble. However, I digress...

I appreciate where you're coming from with the second-guessing of these decisions, but I think many of them should have been followed by the ol' McFly rap on the head...as a matter of fact, I think Bill Romanowski delivered one to Kordell in that '97 AFCC game. Second-guessing should be tempered when there is a logical and viable alternative to the play called on the field. Several of those plays were so horribly atrocious that they defied all logic or represented far too much risk. The coaches should be barbequed for them.

In this team's history, I've never seen a more horrific coaching performance than the Jags wildcard game. It was the genesis of my disdain for Arians. He almost won me over after the first series with that short passing game (just weeks after saying he would never incorporate a 3-step drop). The rest of the game...well...it is what it is. Tomlin's failure to rein Arians in and his own call on the 2-point conversion, were equally mind-numbing.

stlrz d
07-16-2010, 11:13 PM
I think articles like this could be written about most NFL coaches.

07-16-2010, 11:49 PM
I think articles like this could be written about most NFL coaches.

I was thinking the same thing, but I only care about one of them. I am a fan of Tomlin, but he has left me scratching my head a few times. Most of those revolve around Brucey A.

stlrz d
07-17-2010, 07:07 AM
I think articles like this could be written about most NFL coaches.

I was thinking the same thing, but I only care about one of them. I am a fan of Tomlin, but he has left me scratching my head a few times. Most of those revolve around Brucey A.

I agree. I was only commenting because many will look at articles like this about Tomlin and Cowher and their excellent hindsight abilities will kick in.

Holmgren is seen as a football genius...look at some of the blunders he made in XL, and that's only one game.

Football is a strategy game. Sometimes strategies work and sometimes they don't. When they work we say, "Brilliant! What a gutsy move!" When they don't we say, "What an idiot...everyone knows you do _____ in that situation!"

07-17-2010, 10:34 AM
Some say the same thing about Arians but ehhh we know he is always wrong. :stirpot

07-17-2010, 12:24 PM
I think articles like this could be written about most NFL coaches.

And you can't say this about most NFL coaches:


07-17-2010, 12:46 PM
I think articles like this could be written about most NFL coaches.

And you can't say this about most NFL coaches:


Despite what I stated about playing Monday morning quarterback earlier, I absolutely agree with both of these sentiments. It does not however, make any of them immune to criticism.

07-19-2010, 01:40 PM
You are not allowed to look back at our past teams and criticize them or wonder "what if"

How dare you! :x

07-19-2010, 06:31 PM
You are not allowed to look back at our past teams and criticize them or wonder "what if"

How dare you! :x

especially on a message board! :P