The ‘next’ game is always the biggest one if you talk to most coaches. It’s just how they think. For many fans, the biggest games are usually reserved for the ones in the postseason and that certainly makes sense. For many in the Steeler Nation, Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s biggest game ever with Baltimore was the 2009 AFC Championship game and that’s certainly understandable but in my mind this week is his biggest yet.
Why is this Christmas Day showdown the biggest game yet for Mike Tomlin in this series? Simple, he needs a win to stop the bleeding.
Tomlin and his Steelers have dropped four straight games, including one in the postseason, to their most-hated rival. Since defeating the Ravens in October of 2013, the Steelers have just one victory in their last seven meetings. And since the AFC Divisional Playoff win over Baltimore in 2011, the Steelers have just three victories over the Ravens in their last 12 games.
Ya, you read that right… Three wins over the Ravens in our last 12 games!!
There are any number of viable excuses that Mike Tomlin can use to explain this troubling trend but they don’t take away the fact that this streak is ugly. The recent home playoff loss featured not just the absence of Le’Veon Bell due to injury but DeAngelo Williams as well. There have been games during this stretch where Ben Roethlisberger was unavailable due to injury too but these excuses do not matter and Mike Tomlin would be the first to tell you this.
We as Steelers’ fans have to swallow a bitter pill when it comes to this rivalry of late. If we are refusing to call the Bengals’ series a rivalry because of dominance over them then we must be willing to accept the same in regards to our struggles against Baltimore.
This time around, the Steelers have both Big Ben and Bell and an offensive line that has really come together. They have a defense that is playing much better and perhaps most importantly they are playing at home. But none of this will matter if the Steelers don’t win. A loss means their playoff fate will, as it did last season, rest in someone else’s hands more than likely.
It would also be a fifth straight loss to the Ravens and it would be the third straight at home. Perhaps bigger than all of that however would be the extraordinary fact that this team, picked by many to go to the Super Bowl, may not even make the postseason. This is in no way a call for Mike Tomlin’s removal as head coach either regardless of how bad it may sound.
I cannot hide the fact that his seat would have to be warm if they do in fact miss the playoffs. All of that can be discussed later though. I don’t have to tell Tomlin the importance of this game and neither does anyone else. He knows he needs to beat John Harbaugh and the Ravens to quiet people like me down. He won’t admit that – no coach ever would – but it’s why this game is so huge.
It isn’t just this time he’s fighting for but for the past and future as well.