Steelers’ slide hasn’t shaken Tomlin’s confidence | News, Sports, Jobs


Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin looks at the scoreboard during the first half of an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Indianapolis Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mike Tomlin’s confidence is unshakeable.

Just ask him.

“Fifty-one years of life, man, most of which have been in football, that’s probably what gives me confidence,” the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers coach said Monday. “But I can’t necessarily transfer that to others.”

Too bad. A transfusion might be necessary.

There have been late-season fades during Tomlin’s 17 years on the sideline, just as there have been late-season surges.

This swoon, however, feels different. It certainly looks different, with Pittsburgh getting outcoached and outplayed not by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady or Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes but Jonathan Gannon and Kyler Murray. Shane Steichen and Gardner Minshew.

The nadir — at least what the Steelers hope is the nadir — of a wildly uneven season came in a 30-13 loss to Steichen, Minshew and the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday in which Pittsburgh squandered an early 13-point lead and spent the final three quarters showing all the hallmarks of a group in utter disarray.

Penalties. Turnovers. An indifference to stopping the run against a team starting a pair of backs who have spent a portion of the year on the practice squad. An inability to produce much on offense — again — besides bad body language, iffy calling and (charitably) questionable decision-making.

It all added up to a fourth loss in five games and little evidence the Steelers (7-7) have what it takes to navigate an increasingly complicated road to the postseason.

Tomlin promised changes and started by swapping out Mitch Trubisky in favor of Mason Rudolph for Saturday’s visit from Cincinnati (8-6) provided Kenny Pickett’s right ankle isn’t ready to let him play, a move that makes sense and also smacks of relative desperation.

Rudolph finished third in a three-way quarterback derby with Trubisky and Pickett during training camp in 2022 and Tomlin had been dismissive of the prospects of Rudolph starting when Pickett underwent right ankle surgery following a loss to Arizona two weeks ago.

Tomlin pointed to Trubisky’s experience working with the starters in practice as a contributing factor, even though Rudolph isn’t an undrafted rookie free agent but one of the longest-tenured players on the team.

Even though Tomlin and former general manager Kevin Colbert made it a point to say they had a first-round grade on Rudolph in the 2018 draft after selecting him in the third.

Not that it matters.

Trubisky. Rudolph. Pickett if he’s healthy enough. They’re all playing in a system that has become ineffective. Sure, offensive Matt Canada is gone. The playbook he put in, however, remains. And little — if any — of it works.

A new offensive coordinator is coming in the offseason. That’s a given. The bigger question — theoretical as it may be at this point — is whether there will be a new coach too.

It’s hard to imagine for a myriad of reasons, from Tomlin’s resume to Pittsburgh’s deeply held belief in stability to the fact he’s under contract for 2024 and the list of people the Steelers pay to not work for them is incredibly short.

Yet the club is also in the midst of its longest drought between playoff wins — six (likely soon to be seven) years and counting — since Chuck Noll got the “Super Steelers” dynasty rolling in the 1970s.

It speaks to the franchise’s “the standard is the standard” excellence sure. It could also serve as tangible evidence that Tomlin’s message might not resonate in the locker room the way it used to.

He talked before facing the Colts about passing along a sense of urgency to his team as things got “thick.” And it responded by getting drilled.

While Tomlin took responsibility in the aftermath, he also acknowledged his words are essentially meaningless.

“It’s not about what we say at this juncture. It’s not about what anybody says at this juncture,” Tomlin said. “The road is getting narrow. And so what you do when you step in stadiums speaks a hell of a lot more than what comes out of your mouth. That’s my mentality.”

That’s the problem. Pittsburgh’s play is saying a lot. And none of it is good.

For its players. For its management. And certainly not its coach.

No matter how confident he may be.


The NFL schedule makers, who did the Steelers a solid by not having them play on Christmas Eve for a second consecutive year.


George Pickens’ attitude. The second-year wide receiver has been inattentive at best and negligent at worst on plays where he’s not directly involved. That trend has now trickled over to plays in which he is directly involved.

The talented but mercurial Pickens barely bothered to give chase after Julian Blackmon’s interception on Saturday on a pass that sailed over Pickens’ head. Pickens actually ran — well, he jogged — away from Blackmon after the pick.


Pittsburgh’s slide could damage T.J. Watt’s Defensive Player of the Year campaign. The outside linebacker’s sack total is now at an NFL-best 16 after getting two against the Colts.


Safety Damontae Kazee was suspended for the remainder of the season by the NFL on Monday for repeatedly violating rules designed to protect player safety.

The final straw came against the Colts when Kazee made contact with the head of diving Indianapolis wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. Referees immediately ejected Kazee, who is out roughly $208,000.


Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is out for Saturday with a knee injury. Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward is in the concussion protocol and his status is uncertain. Safety Elijah Riley, who has missed a month because of an ankle injury, could return against Cincinnati.


0 — the number of losing seasons Tomlin has had in his career. That streak could be in serious jeopardy.


Hope Rudolph — who hasn’t won a game he started and finished in more than four years — provides a lift against the Bengals.

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