It was in his eyes on Sunday, confidence. You just saw it on his face each time the camera panned to him. Mike Tomlin, going into the game against San Diego was a coach with the look of confidence. Confidence in his team.
Tomlin had been criticized by about playing his starters in a meaningless game at the end of regular season against the Cleveland Browns. After all, by doing so, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended up with a concussion after hitting the turf. Yeah, the Cleveland game might have been meaningless for the books, but this past Sunday proved that it provided something much more valuable, confidence.
Sunday, against the Chargers, the Steelers played with confidence. They reflected their coaches belief, their own belief and they came out with something to prove.
- Mike Tomlin wanted to prove that his Steelers deserved to be there.
- Bruce Arians wanted to prove that his offense wasn’t as bad as every one wanted to think they were, and that they did have a running game.
- Special Teams wanted to prove that they could be good on all aspects of the return and coverage.
- Ben Roethlisberger wanted to prove that he was healthy and could play well in a playoff game.
- The oline wanted to prove they could protect their quarterback.
And Sunday, they proved everything and more. What part of the team didn’t come out big. Roethlisberger had good throws that kept drives alive, read the field well and didn’t give up the ball. The concerns about the concussions were all wiped away Sunday.
The running game came together, perfectly. Willie Parker, finally healthy ran wild on the Chargers offense, and when he was out, Mewelde Moore came in with positive yardage. Chargers defense may have denied Gary Russell one touchdown, but they weren’t going to deny him a second one.
Big plays on special teams, both in returns and coverage. Holmes would run one back for 6, something that hadn’t happened all season for the Steelers.
Defense would come up with one interception and would sack Phillip Rivers four times.
However, it would be the oline that proved themselves in a big way. In their initial meeting with the Chargers defense, the Steelers offensive line gave up four sacks on Roethlisberger. This game, they gave up only one sack and opened up some nice holes for the running game.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians proved that he could actually stick with play calling that worked and that it was okay to put more faith in his quarterback.
Head coach Mike Tomlin once again proved that he wasn’t afraid to take chances and play the game to win, versus playing not to lose. Although the fake punt failed, it showed some creativity in finding ways to try to get something started on offense.
With the win on Sunday, Steelers stayed alive to face the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship. They’ll be going into that game with a dangerous combination. Confidence and a completely healthy team. Unlike the Ravens/Titans games were a number of Ravens players sustained injuries, the Steelers left the Chargers game relatively unscathed and no injuries.
Forget that the Steelers record at home in the AFCC isn’t the best. They proved this season that none of that matters. They’ve shaken monkeys before. They weren’t suppose to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars or the New England Patriots, because…well…their record against them wasn’t the best. They were 0-2 against San Diego in the playoffs before Sundays games. They’re beating those monkeys back. Curses, jinxes are not factors in this upcoming game.
They say that third times a charm. Perhaps. Then again, there’s a truism that bad news comes in threes. Perhaps it’s not a good thing for the Ravens to meet the Steelers in Heinz Field this time. Either way, these sayings offset each other, so they're not factors either.
This past Saturday, the Ravens won the battle of the turnovers against the first seed Titans, to advance on to the AFCC. However, the Titans aren’t divisional rivals. In their two previous matchups, the Steelers and Ravens were equal in turnovers. In the first game, Roethlisberger threw for one interception. It was Joe Flacco that would throw for two interceptions in their last matchup.
The question for the Steelers will be in the play calling. Will Bruce Arians become overconfident in his play calling against a defense, though exhausted and beat up, pulls from their very soul to find a way to make the stops when necessary? Will the Steelers offense become one dimensional, or will he use the running game to help wear the Ravens defense down? This game will be a defensive battle, as Ravens/Steelers games always are. Can the Ravens defense sustain the energy to last 60 minutes and will Joe Flacco maintain his cool against a defense he had already met up with twice before?
This will be a game where a “never” will be answered. A rookie quarterback never started in the AFC Championship and went on to the Superbowl. Ben Roethlisberger never won the AFCC at home. Despite the Ravens being the media darling for this game, I’ll take the Steelers at home. After all, look at what happened to the other media darlings this season.