Throughout the 2007 season, Coach Mike Tomlin will answer questions exclusively for Steelers Digest and Steelers.com. The following is one of those sessions. For the complete interview, pick up the latest issue ofSteelers Digest.
Q. Can you describe what the NFL playoffs are like for the players and coaches involved in them?
A. It's awesome, and by that I mean you feel the gravity of the moment on a daily basis. You understand you're playing single-elimination football. You understand you're playing against the very best. The margin for error is very minimal. It brings out the best in all of us, players and coaches, and that's what makes it special. The atmosphere is electric, and it's not something you can manufacture.
Q. In some other sports – hockey and basketball to name two – the game changes from the regular season version to the playoff version. Does football change during the playoffs?
A. Scarcity is what makes this game different. In the sports you mentioned, you're talking about best-of-seven series, and the single-elimination element of this heightens the game.
Q. Can a team actually take its game to another level for the playoffs, and how is that achieved?
A. I don't necessarily subscribe to taking your game to the next level. I view it as guys capturing the moment, making plays at critical times and identifying guys who are capable of doing that. If that's taking your game to the next level, then I agree with it. To me, it ultimately boils down to playmaking and guys who are capable of making game-changing plays. The kitchen gets hot in January.
Q. In an AFC playoff field that includes New England and Indianapolis, the Steelers definitely are in the role of underdog. Do you relish that role?
A. I'm really ambivalent to it. If you listen to prognosticators, we were picked to finish third in our division, so I don't worry about underdog or favorite, or anything of that nature. I know that we have a seat at the table, and so we're going to eat.
Q. You have said you don't want a team that rides the emotional roller-coaster, but can't emotion be used as a positive tool in the playoffs?
A. It is a tool. Maybe I'm misunderstood when I make that statement. It's OK to be emotional, but you can't let your emotions consume you. When you use it as a positive, when you use it for energy, it's a good thing. I try to control emotion in that way, rather than allow emotion to control me.
Q. Do you consider the act of simply making the playoffs an accomplishment?
A. I think it's a necessity to get an opportunity to win a world championship. Our goal is and always will be the pursuit of Lombardi trophies. So, making the playoffs is a requirement.
Q. You have said you don't care which team you meet in the first round of the playoffs because you have to beat them all. I perceive that to mean you aren't afraid of any team. But is there any sense of wanting to get some payback on the teams that beat you in the regular season?
A. Not a payback element, but there is a familiarity element. You like to play teams that you have played before, because you get a sense of the matchups, you understand how they're going to attack you schematically. Conversely, they get to say the same thing, but familiarity brings comfort, no doubt.
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