By BOB LABRIOLA
Steelers.com It wasn't a message. Or a statement. Or a vote of no-confidence. Mike Tomlin said it was just a coach trying to win a football game.
The Steelers ended their five-game losing streak with a 37-36 win over the Green Bay Packers, and in the process they kept their playoff hopes alive. But neither of those facts has generated as much buzz as a decision Tomlin made along the way to that end.
After Jeff Reed's 43-yard field goal gave the Steelers a 30-28 lead with 3:58 left in the game, Tomlin ordered an onside kick. Maybe not as daring as Bill Belichick's decision in Indianapolis when he opted to go for it on fourth-and-2 from his own 28-yard line with 2:08 remaining in a game the Patriots led, 34-28, but still fodder for the second-guessers nonetheless.
Belichick's decision was praised in many circles even when New England failed to convert the fourth down and ended up losing, 35-34, after Peyton Manning directed the short touchdown drive that was the difference.
Tomlin has received some criticism even after the Steelers won the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace as time expired.
"I don't look for feedback," said Tomlin when asked whether he had received any in the aftermath of the game. "I'm just trying to win football games. My 8-year-old asked me what I was thinking."
When Tomlin was asked how he explained himself at home, he joked, "I just told him to be quiet," but he did go into some detail during his regularly scheduled news conference on Tuesday.
"I try to get a feel for the flow of the game, try to decipher how it can potentially unfold, and how I can increase my team's chances of winning," said Tomlin. "What I told (the media) after the game was the thought process in the latter part of the third quarter and all through the fourth quarter. I felt like both offenses were capable of moving the football. Making that decision to kick the onside kick started with the belief that we could get the football – legally. We weren't able to do that, and even if we weren't able to do that, with (almost) four minutes left in the game, if we were not able to stop them I felt we would have a significant among of time to navigate down the field."
In the second half of the game – to the point of Reed's field goal – Green Bay had three offensive possessions. On the first, the Packers went three-and-out and punted. On the other two, they drove for touchdowns – 65 yards on 13 plays and 62 yards on four plays. The Steelers also were in the 14th game of a season in which they had held leads in the fourth quarter in five of their seven losses.
"That thought process was geared toward them maybe kicking a field goal and being up by one, 33-32, and us having to kick a field goal to win," said Tomlin, "not necessarily with those guys scoring a touchdown, which is what they did."
The Packers were awarded possession of the ball when Ike Taylor was ruled to have touched the onside kick before it had traveled the required 10 yards, and they needed only six plays to cover the 39 yards and score the touchdown that gave them a 36-30 lead.
Tomlin said his decision was based on what he was seeing during the game against the Packers and might not be the same one he would make in a similar point in, say, Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.
"I really approach it with how the game unfolds inside the stadium," said Tomlin. "A plan is one thing, but we all understand that games unfold differently than plans. I didn't necessarily anticipate that game unfolding the way it did, but as you watched the game you realized the familiarity that both offenses had with both defenses was going to be a factor in the outcome, so you adjust plans and approaches accordingly."
Tomlin explains onside kick decision
By BOB LABRIOLA