Mike Tomlin had “seen enough.”
After the Steelers’ special teams were dominated thoroughly by the Dallas Cowboys throughout Sunday’s game, Tomlin didn’t give his specialists one more chance to right the ship with the game on the line.
The Steelers were facing a 4th and 1 at the Dallas 14 with a five-point lead and less than a minute on the clock. A field goal would have put Pittsburgh up eight and given the Dallas the ball back, but a first down would have guaranteed victory.
Tomlin went for the win, but James Conner was stuffed, forcing another late stand from the Pittsburgh defense, and Minkah Fitzpatrick bailed the team out with another game-ending pass breakup to secure a 24-19 win.
Tomlin said after the game that his decision was influenced by Dallas’ special teams dominance throughout the game and the Steelers’ own failures. The Cowboys had sprung two long returns, blocked one kick and nearly blocked another. The Steelers had missed an extra point and even the special teams highlight of the night — Chris Boswell’s record-setting 59-yard field goal — was preceded by a penalty on the field goal unit.
“We have struggled so much with our field goal group early in the game, I just didn’t feel good about it,” Tomlin said. “They were beating us to the punch, pretty much, for the better part of the day on special teams. We missed the extra point. They blocked the kick. We skied a kick trying to pin them down in their territory and they flipped the field with a big kickoff return. I had just seen enough of their dominance in teams. I’ve got a great deal of confidence in our short-yardage abilities. Obviously, it didn’t work out for us.”
In particular, Dallas defensive end Tyrone Crawford was a thorn for Pittsburgh. Lining up just to the right of long snapper Kam Canaday, Crawford was able to leap through the A gap and block one kick and nearly had another. If Tomlin had elected to kick late and Crawford had blocked it, the potential existed for a Dallas splash play.
Tomlin said that this week will provide a more thorough opportunity for the special teams unit and the field goal block group in particular to work through the issues at hand instead of attempting to effect a quick fix on the sideline mid-game.
“We were just getting hit in the teeth,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got to combat that.”