Not only is the elephant in the room, we’re even allowed to talk about it now. And Pittsburgh Steelers head coach has been lifted up off the coals after compiling a series of wins since he acknowledged that his team’s game against the New England Patriots—the elephant—appears to be shaping up as a game with dramatic import.
Those with an ax to grind—both supporters of the team and detractors—took to social media for every sloppy play over the course of the past couple of games to rib Tomlin and the Steelers, who were obviously “looking past their opponent” and ahead to the Patriots game.
They can look all they want now, because it’s the Patriots on deck, ready to head to Pittsburgh shortly for a visit to Heinz Field. Hopefully not the last one they take this season, should the two teams have to meet up again in the postseason.
During his pre-game press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin did not shy away from his earlier comments, which have been frequently used as ammunition for criticism since then. “It’s good to be in big games”, the leader of the top seed in the AFC said to the gathered media.
“It’s better to be in big games than one’s nobody is watching, you know?”, he asked rhetorically. “We better be appreciative of this spot and not resist it in any way but embrace it. Because this is what we’ve been fighting for since March”.
To be more specific, “this spot” is not necessarily facing the Patriots, specifically, but rather participating in a game that can potentially seal for them homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. A victory over the Patriots would virtually assure that that happens.
The only way that that outcome could be prevented from that point on would be if the Steelers lose their final two games against the Texans and the Browns and the Jaguars win each of their final three games. While the latter is quite possible, the former is rather unlikely.
Tomlin referred to their home turf as ‘the kitchen’, saying, “we’re excited about being in the kitchen. It’s good to be in the kitchen; the kitchen’s in Pittsburgh, PA this week in the National Football League at Heinz Field, and that’s where you want to be in the middle of December”.
Following last season’s loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, we have heard since then from a number of different players in coaches about how important it is to be able to secure homefield advantage, something that the Steelers have not had as the number one seed literally since 2004.
This is easily the best opportunity they will have had to secure that top spot in a long time. While they are certainly not without their flaws, they have a team that is capable of beating any team in just about any way imaginable, and they have already been through the grind of adversity and close games.