The 2017 Season will be Mike Tomlin’s 11th as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With his decade at the helm, he is currently the fifth-longest tenured coach in the NFL. As we count down the days until the start of Training Camp and the start of the 2017 season, we’re taking a look back at Mike Tomlin’s 10 year tenure as Steelers head coach. The “10 For Tomlin” series has featured 10 posts each with 10 items from the past decade. Today marks the conclusion of the Ten for Tomlin series and we hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as we enjoyed putting the lists together. If you missed any of the previous posts, here is a quick rundown of links:
- Key Statistics
- Best Games
- Worst Games
- Best Draft Picks
- Best Free Agents
- Best Reactions
- Best Assistant Coaches
- Worst Nemeses
Without further ado, here is our ranking of Tomlin’s ten seasons:
Choosing the worst season of the Tomlin Era was not an easy task. The two easy candidates were the two 8-8 seasons. Deciding which was the worst was an adventure in picking your own poison. After the 2011 season ended in heartbreaking fashion in Denver, the Steelers stumbled out of the gate in 2012. They fired Bruce Arians and brought in Todd Haley but started the season just 1-2 with losses in Denver (to newly-signed Peyton Manning) and by blowing a 10-point lead in Oakland. A bad loss to Tennessee on a Thursday night was the only other pitfall in the first half of the season, but after a 5-3 start things would fall apart. Ben was injured in a Monday night game against Kansas City, forcing Byron Leftwich to start the next week against Baltimore. The Steelers committed 8 turnovers the following week in Cleveland but were able to win in Baltimore with Charlie Batch under center to stay above .500. Ben returned and the team had hope, but proceeded to lose 3 in a row to San Diego (when they didn’t even show up until the game was already lost), Dallas, and Cincinnati. The season finale of 2012 was the only meaningless game of the Mike Tomlin Era where the Steelers were not mathematically alive for the playoffs.
After losing 5 of their last 7 in 2012, the Steelers slumped out of the gate in 2013, losing their first four games. Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the season on the opening drive, and it was all downhill from there, including a loss to the Vikings in London. The team started to right the ship out of the bye week with two wins, but dropped a game to the Terrelle Pryor-led Raiders then got hammered by the Patriots to fall to 2-6 at the midway point. They nearly clawed back to .500 but a loss to Baltimore then an embarrassing defeat by the Dolphins in the snow at Heinz Field dropped them to 5-8. The Steelers needed a ton of things to go right to make the playoffs, and they slowly started to happen with a wins over the Bengals and Packers. There was an outside chance of the playoffs heading into the season finale, which the Steelers won, but they ultimately missed the playoffs because Ryan Succop missed a field goal for Kansas City and the Chargers won in overtime.
Expectations were high after winning Super Bowl XLIII in 2008. After eking out a win over the Titans in overtime in the season opener, the Steelers dropped games to the Bears and Bengals to fall to 1-2. They would turn things around with a 5-game winning streak to get to 6-2 at midseason before the wheels absolutely fell off. After dropping games to the Bengals and Chiefs (in a game Ben got injured), Dennis Dixon was forced to start in Baltimore. He was able to get the game to overtime but threw an interception that led to the Ravens game-winning field goal. The Steelers proceeded to lose to Oakland (in the Bruce Gradkowski/Louis Murphy Game) and Cleveland in a game with a wind chill well below zero where they called over 40 passing plays. The team was able to right the ship and end their 5-game losing streak in a shootout with the Packers where Mike Wallace caught the game-winning touchdown as time expired. The Steelers would go on to beat the Ravens and Dolphins but missed the playoffs after losing out on the Divisional Record tiebreaker with Baltimore.
Lost in Wild Card Round
After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, the Steelers started 2014 at one of their lowest points in years. They nearly blew a 24-point halftime lead to the Browns in the season opener then dropped 2 of their next 3 to the Ravens and Buccaneers. The later of those games was the Louis Murphy Redux game and one of just 2 games Tampa won in 2014 en route to the top pick in the draft. A 31-10 shellacking by the Browns in Week 6 was arguably the low point of Mike Tomlin’s tenure. At that point the Steelers were 3-3 and started the ensuing Monday night game in a 13-0 hole against Houston. Then Lawrence Timmons started blowing chunks on the field and Martavis Bryant, dressing for the first time in his career, arose. The Steelers capitalized on a fumble and an interception and put 24 points on the board over the final 3:08 of the half. With Martavis in the lineup, Ben would explode for 6 touchdowns in each of the next two games, but the team came crashing back down to earth with a loss to a Michael Vick-led Jets team that was absolutely terrible. After squeaking past a terrible Titans team, the Steelers got picked apart by Drew Brees and the Saints but stormed back to win their final four games and claim the division title. The joy would be short-lived, however, as the Ravens came to town and beat the Steelers in a demoralizing 30-17 Wild Card game. Despite the Steelers winning the division, the 2014 season ranks so low because they also lost to 2 of the worst teams in the league, nearly lost to a third, and got blown out by the Browns.
Lost in Wild Card Round
Mike Tomlin’s first season came with high expectations. The Steelers had won a Super Bowl in 2005 but missed the playoffs in Bill Cowher’s final year. The Steelers started Tomlin’s tenure with convincing wins over the Browns, Bills, and 49ers before falling in Arizona. They bounced back to shut out the Seahawks, who are still the only team to never score a point at Heinz Field. After a Sunday Night loss in Denver, the Steelers swept through the division with a win in Cincinnati, an extremely satisfying throttling of Baltimore, and a come-from-behind victory over the Browns. In what would unfortunately become a motif of Tomlin’s tenure, the team dropped a road game to a terrible opponent, this time to the 1-8 Jets. They would beat the winless Dolphins in the muddly slop of Heinz Field when a punt memorably stuck in the mud, but would lose 3 of their final 4 games. One of those losses was to the undefeated Patriots in a game where safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a victory. Admittedly, the Steelers rested their starters in the season finale against Baltimore so that loss is understandable. The following week, they played an entertaining Wild Card game against Jacksonville. Two Rashean Mathis interceptions broke the Jaguars out to a 21-10 lead that they extended to 28-10 before the Steelers scored three touchdowns in the 4th quarter to storm back and take the lead. With just over 2 minutes to go, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard attempted a QB sneak on 4th and 2 and was able to break through the line and run for 32 yards thanks to Jacksonville committing about 20 holding penalties. From there, a field goal sealed the game and ended Tomlin’s inaugural season.
Lost Wild Card Round
Coming off an appearance in Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers had high expectations for 2011. The season started off on the wrong foot when they got absolutely massacred in Baltimore on opening day. They were able to turn things around and escape against the Manning-less Colts before losing to Houston in a game where Arian Foster ran all over the defense. From there, the Steelers rattled off 4 straight wins, including a victory over the Patriots. That Patriots game was Tomlin’s only victory over Tom Brady, but it unfortunately came at a high price – LaMarr Woodley sustained a hamstring injury that would start the downfall of his career. The Steelers faced Baltimore on a Sunday night and after battling back from a 10-point deficit in the 4th quarter, lost when Torrey Smith hauled in a pass with 8 seconds left. That game would prove decisive as both the Steelers and Ravens would finish the year at 12-4, but Baltimore would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and would win the division crown. Baltimore got a first round bye while the Steelers had to go to Denver to face the 8-8 AFC West Champions, led by Tim Tebow. Due to his sickle-cell trait, starting safety Ryan Clark was unable to play in the Wild Card game, and the Broncos took advantage by basically running “Da Bomb” from NFL Blitz on every pass play. The Steelers clawed back from a 20-6 halftime deficit and had an opportunity for a game-winning drive at the end, but were unable to get into Broncos territory. The game went to overtime and we all know what happened from there.
Lost in Divisional Round
The Steelers started 2015 with a loss to the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots but rebounded to win their next two. Unfortunately, the second came at the cost of Ben Roethlisberger suffering a knee injury that would keep him out the next four weeks. Recently-signed Michael Vick took over and was dreadful in a loss to Baltimore. The team pulled out a victory in San Diego with Le’Veon Bell scoring a walk-off touchdown. Vick was injured the next week and Landry Jones took over and surprisingly wasn’t terrible. Martavis Bryant scored two big touchdowns to lead the Steelers past the Cardinals. The Steelers would then drop two in a row as Jones couldn’t figure out the Chiefs defense and the Bengals had Ben’s number in his first game back. Le’Veon Bell was lost for the season in that Bengals game, but DeAngelo Williams stepped in admirably. The Steelers won a shootout with Oakland then crushed the hapless Browns before dropping a game in Seattle. The offense would then find its groove and roll past the Colts and Bengals before coming from behind to beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos. The Steelers lost an opportunity to win the division when they dropped a game in Baltimore, but would lock up their playoff spot in dramatic fashion as they beat Cleveland and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw three 4th quarter interceptions to cost the Jets their shot at the postseason. Without Le’Veon Bell or DeAngelo Williams, the Steelers would win a slugfest with the Bengals where Ben was carted off but returned to lead a game-winning drive that was aided by a Vontaze Burfict cheap shot on Antonio Brown and Pacman Jones throwing a punch at assistant coach Joey Porter. The Steelers would then travel to Denver with a hobbled Ben and no Brown or Bell. The Steelers held the lead into the fourth quarter but a fumble led to a Peyton Manning game winning drive that spurned Denver on to a Super Bowl title.
Lost in AFC Championship
The Steelers 2016 season hit a road block before it even started with Le’Veon Bell being suspended the first three games and Martavis Bryant for the season. The Steelers would manage to start the season 4-1 with the only blip a shellacking at the hands of the Eagles. A trip to Miami was nearly disastrous as Ben got injured and the Dolphins ran all over the Steelers defense. Landry Jones couldn’t beat the Patriots and the Steelers lost their 4th straight game to the Ravens. The red hot Cowboys came to town and Ezekiel Elliot lived up to the hype, scoring three times (including on a 32-yarder to win the game with under 10 seconds left). The fourth consecutive loss dropped the Steelers to 4-5 but games against the Browns and Colts would be just what the doctor ordered to get things back on track. Three more wins against the Giants, Bills and Bengals would set up a date with Baltimore on Christmas Day with the division title on the line. The teams went back-and-forth with the Steelers ultimately prevailing when Ben engineered a game-winning drive capped off by Antonio Brown’s “Immaculate Extension” across the goal line with just seconds to play. A win over the Browns would send the Steelers to the playoffs on a 7-game winning streak. They would keep rolling as Antonio Brown’s two touchdowns and Le’Veon Bell’s ground game led them to get revenge on Miami. Chris Boswell carried the load the following week in Kansas City, kicking 6 field goals as the team was able to drive down the field but could not find the end zone. The Steelers would then get an AFC Championship Game rematch with the Patriots that they had been waiting for for over a decade. The game unfortunately did not live up to the hype as the Patriots rolled past the Steelers and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Lost in Super Bowl XLV
The Steelers were forced to start 2010 without Ben Roethlisberger due to a suspension for off-field conduct. Dennis Dixon started the first two games. The Steelers won the opener thanks to a Rashard Mendenhall walk-off touchdown in overtime against Atlanta then won in Tennessee when Antonio Brown returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown then Jeff Reed booted 4 field goals. Dixon was injured in Tennessee, which brought on Charlie Batch who lit up the Buccaneers the following week but then couldn’t beat the Ravens. Ben returned and led the Steelers to wins over the Browns and Dolphins before losing on Halloween in New Orleans. Tom Brady and the Patriots would dink and dunk the Steelers to death two weeks later. Jeff Reed was cut and the Steelers signed Shaun Suisham who booted 4 field goals to lead them past the Bills in overtime in a game where Stevie Johnson dropped a wide open touchdown for Buffalo. The Steelers would then head to Baltimore and top the Ravens on Isaac Redman’s touchdown where he spun through 9 members of the Ravens vaunted defense. The Steelers won 3 of their last 4 to win the division and secure a first round bye. A rematch with Baltimore was first on the docket where the Steelers would overcome a 21-7 halftime deficit and Ben would engineer a game-winning drive highlighted by Antonio Brown catching a pass against his helmet on 3rd and forever. The Steelers got a rematch against a Jets team that had defeated them 5 weeks prior. After jumping out to a 24-3 halftime lead, the Steelers would hang on while the Jets stormed back in the second half. The Steelers met the Packers in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas. The Packers jumped on the board first then returned Ben’s next pass for a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead. Ben would throw another interception in the second quarter that led to another Packers touchdown, but would engineer a touchdown drive in the final minutes to cut the halftime deficit to 21-10. The Steelers would score an early touchdown and dominate the third quarter but get no other points to show for it after Suisham missed a 52-yarder. Rashard Mendenhall fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter and the Packers drove back down for a touchdown to stretch their lead back to 28-17. A Mike Wallace touchdown would make it a one-score game but the Packers would add a field goal with 2 minutes to go and the Steelers were unable to drive the length of the field for a tying score. People remember the Mendenhall fumble, but ultimately the Steelers gave up 21 points off turnovers and still were in the game in the fourth quarter, which is an impressive feat. Though they fell short of their ultimate goal, the 2010 season still produced a number of memorable games and big wins over the Ravens and an AFC Championship.
Super Bowl XLIII Champions
Just like the “Best Games” post had an obvious #1, so does any ranking of Mike Tomlin’s seasons. Tom Brady was injured in the first week of the 2008 season after the Patriots went 18-1 in 2007, opening the door for the rest of the AFC. The Steelers started strong with wins over Houston and Cleveland before dropping a game in Philadelphia where they gave up 9 sacks. They bounced back to defeat Baltimore in overtime thanks to a yeoman’s effort from Mewelde Moore after first round pick Rashard Mendenhall’s collarbone was broken by Ray Lewis. The Steelers would get revenge on Jacksonville for knocking them out of the playoffs the prior year and hammer Cincinnati. The Steelers would face both Manning brothers over the next 3 weeks and lost both games. Memorably, James Harrison was forced into action as a long-snapper against the Giants and committed a safety by snapping the ball over the punter’s head. The Steelers beat the Chargers in the only 11-10 game in NFL history, kick-starting a 5-game winning streak which included a victory over the Matt Cassel-led Patriots, DeShea Townsend’s pick-six to bury Romo and the Cowboys, and Santonio Holmes’ epic goalline stretch to beat the Ravens. The Steelers would lose out on a chance for the #1 overall seed by getting physically manhandled in Tennessee, but would finish the season by pounding the Browns. They avenged some playoff demons with a win over the Chargers then got to host the AFC Championship after Baltimore won in Tennessee. The Steelers jumped out to a 13-0 lead thanks to a 65-yard catch-and-run from Ben to Santonio Holmes. The Ravens would cut the lead down to 16-14 before Troy Polamalu intercepted Joe Flacco late in the 4th quarter and returned it for a touchdown to send the Steelers to the Super Bowl. Super Bowl XLIII was arguably the best in Super Bowl history, and featured James Harrison ending the first half by stepping in front of a pass at the goalline and rumbling 100 yards for a touchdown. The Steelers held a 20-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but two Larry Fitzgerald touchdowns would put the Cardinals in front. This set the stage for Ben Roethlisberger to drive the team 88 yards before finding Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone and fitting the ball over three Cardinals defenders into Holmes’ outstretched hands. A LaMarr Woodley strip-sack ended Arizona’s last gasp comeback attempt, giving the Steelers their sixth Lombardi Trophy.