The tweet came Sunday night from Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy just as the Cleveland Browns were finishing off the highest-scoring first quarter in NFL playoff history.
“28-0 Cleveland in the 2nd Qtr. Pittsburgh has made mistakes and Ben has been off target. But Cleveland is playing harder than Pittsburgh right now and that is very surprising to me.”
There it is, the most damning indictment of Mike Tomlin’s role in the Steelers’ 48-37 loss, the worst loss in franchise history.
It wasn’t Tomlin’s decision to punt on fourth and 9 from the Cleveland 38 when the Steelers trailed 28-0 and on fourth and 1 from the Pittsburgh 46 after they had pulled within 12 points, even though those decisions were horrendous. That second decision sabotaged any chance the team had of making a miraculous comeback.
No, what was awful was that the Steelers came out flat and weren’t ready to play.
Sure, Maurkice Pouncey’s errant snap and a couple of Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions were hurtful. But the team didn’t play with any urgency, offensively or defensively. It allowed the Browns to be physically dominant.
If you watched, you were embarrassed for the Steelers.
That’s on Tomlin.
Unfortunately, it was that way for much of the second half of the season. The Steelers didn’t score a point on their opening drive in their final 10 games and managed a total of one first down in the past seven. Even worse, their offense failed to score a point in the first quarter of the past eight games. If that’s not bad enough, the offense’s mistakes led to three Cleveland touchdowns in the first quarter.