According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Chuck Noll's record from 1972-79 vs. "weaker teams" was 59-1. That lone loss came in 1979 when the eventual Super Bowl XIV champion Steelers were hammered, 34-10, in Cincinnati by a Bengals team that was 0-6 at the time and 4-12 at the end of the season. And in that game, the Steelers turned the ball over nine times (two interceptions and seven lost fumbles) to finish minus-5 in turnover ratio.
Even for a team containing nine Hall of Fame players and a Hall of Fame coach, as was the case with the 1979 Steelers, a decisive loss in the turnover battle can mean defeat at the hands of a lesser opponent.
That was Mike Tomlin's message at MetLife Stadium last Sunday after his team's loss to the 1-8 New York Jets, and he reiterated it today at his weekly news conference.
"You're not going to be minus-4 in turnover ratio and win many football games, regardless of circumstance," said Tomlin. "We had our chances, we lost by seven, but the turnovers were really too much for us to overcome. It was more than just turning the football over, it was us not getting (takeaways)."
During their recent three-game winning streak, the Steelers were an overall plus-2 in turnover ratio, and in none of the games did they finish as a minus in that statistical category. But against the Jets, Antonio Brown lost two fumbles, Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, and the Steelers defense and special teams managed no takeaways.
To Tomlin, that was the reason for the loss to the Jets, as opposed to the theories of a possible mental let-down against a 1-8 opponent.
"I'm sure we can bounce around a myriad of things regarding the mental element of it," said Tomlin. "I tend to focus on what's really tangible, and with regard to Sunday, we turned the ball over a lot and we didn't get any turnovers. And minus-4 is going to put you in a tough position to win regardless of who you're playing or where you're playing or what the circumstances of the game are."
- The Steelers' first turnover – a lost fumble by Brown – came in the first quarter and gave the Jets the ball at the Pittsburgh 20-yard line. Five plays later, a 5-yard touchdown pass from Michael Vick to Jace Amaro upped the Jets lead to 17-0.
- Roethlisberger's first interception came on a second-and-8 from the Jets' 10-yard line, and, in Tomlin's view, cost the Steelers an attempt at a short field goal.
- Roethlisberger's second interception came early in the third quarter at the Jets' 20-yard line, and cost the Steelers another attempt at a field goal.
- Later in the third quarter, William Gay had a Vick pass bounce off his chest, and on the next play Nick Folk kicked a 30-yard field goal to give the Jets a 20-3 lead.
"Those points add up," said Tomlin. "When you look at the outcome of the game and you lose by seven, it's obvious what the turnover game does to you, aside from field position and killing drives. We hadn't done that in recent times, but it was us on Sunday."
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And because of the players involved, Tomlin doesn't believe there was a lack of preparation or an absence of being mentally into the game as a result of the opponent's record.
"Specifically relative to what happened in the stadium last Sunday, I doubt that," said Tomlin. "Antonio Brown is a guy who's always ready to play, a guy who's always wired-in mentally. His preparation is what it is: consistent. There are a lot of stories regarding (his preparation), and those stories are true. He didn't possess the ball very well on Sunday. He lost the ball from scrimmage, he lost the ball in an attempt to field a punt. And it's not that he's good in that area, he's great in that area. But it happened twice on Sunday.
"Ben is a guy who, prior to Sunday, had thrown three interceptions on the season. He threw two on Sunday. That's not reflected in his preparation or who he is. He's been very good, if not great, for us, but it happened on Sunday. When those things happen, you have a tough time winning football games – if you're not getting turnovers – and we didn't."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We've got some guys who have been out who will continue to be out this week. Troy (Polamalu) with his knee, Ryan Shazier (ankle) with his injury, and Ike Taylor with his forearm. All three of those guys can be characterized today as out for the football game. A couple of guys who had existing injuries will be evaluated in terms of their availability. Shamarko Thomas with a hamstring and Ross Ventrone with a hamstring. We'll let their level of participation throughout the week be our guide in terms of their overall readiness. We could use one or both of those guys. We're thin at the safety position, and both of them are known special teams commodities. Steve McLendon is nursing a sore shoulder. He has dealt with that in recent weeks, and it crept back up. We'll watch him and monitor him, but his participation could be in question depending on how his shoulder perks up."