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Five of the Most Disappointing Losses of the Mike Tomlin Era

Mike Tomlin is the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl and has never had a losing season. Still, Tomlin's bad losses stand out.
Mike Tomlin

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most decorated franchises in all of sports. Their robust history which can be read in books and viewed on the internet could literally give the purest of sports and football fans days and days’ worth of entertainment and knowledge. The seventh oldest franchise in the NFL and the oldest in the AFC, the Steelers have amassed six Super Bowl championships. They have played in 16 AFC title games, 11 of which they were the host. However, despite the Championships and Title game appearances, the most telling stat of all for this franchise is the face they have had only three head coaches since 1969. Chuck Knoll from 1969-1991, Bill Cowher from 1992-2007 and current Head Coach Mike Tomlin from 2007 till now. Tomlin, is the youngest head coach (36) to win a Super Bowl (XLIII), has never had a losing season, and has led his teams to nine playoff runs, seven division titles and three AFC title game appearances. Despite all this success, there are multiple instances in which teams he has coached have loss games they have zero business losing. Here are five of the most disappointing losses of the Mike Tomlin era.

Most Disappointing Losses of the Mike Tomlin Era

December 9, 2018: Oakland Raiders 24 – Pittsburgh Steelers 21

This is one of the many Steelers/Raiders matchups over the years that have left Steelers fans wondering “what just happened?” The Steelers entered this game 7-4-1 and in a playoff battle in the AFC, meanwhile the Oakland Raiders were 2-10 and on the verge of obscurity. Ben Roethlisberger just returned from injury to throw for 282 yards and two touchdowns. His counterpart Derek Carr threw for over 300 yards and two touchdowns. The game winner was to Derek Carrier with just 21 seconds left. While not a lot for many, 21 seconds was enough for Ben Roethlisberger to get the Steelers in range to attempt a game-tying 40 yard field goal. The kick, surprisingly, was no good. Kicker Chris Boswell slipped on the mushed up turf/dirt in the Oakland Coliseum. However, his game should have never been close. This is just one of the many instances in which a Tomlin-lead Steelers team, played down to an opponent.

November 25, 2012: Cleveland Browns 20 – Pittsburgh Steelers 14

For a team that was 6-4, pushing for a playoff spot, the Steelers hardly looked like a team ready to take care of business against a hapless, two-win Cleveland Browns team. Yes, they were forced to start third string quarterback Charlie Batch and yes, this game was on the road. However, that is zero excuse for the eight–yes, eight–turnovers committed by the Steelers on this day. Batch threw three interceptions and the team lost five fumbles in route to the 20-14 loss, their first loss in three years to the Browns. For Coach Mike Tomlin, this set things in the wrong direction for his Steelers, as they would lose five of their next six games.

September 19, 2021: Las Vegas Raiders 26 – Pittsburgh Steelers 17

Coach Tomlin and the Steelers were coming off a great opening season win in Buffalo against the Bills. Pittsburgh held Josh Allen and the defending AFC East champs in check in the second half. Winning on the road as a near full touchdown underdog. So, what could go wrong in Week 2? How about the Raiders, again! Once again, Tomlin’s Steelers, a 6.5-point favorite themselves, were unable to stop a Raiders team coming off a crazy Monday night win against the Baltimore Ravens. Derek Carr threw for 382 yards, 75 of which came on a third down bomb to Henry Ruggs III for a game-sealing TD. T.J. Watt was injured, and the offense failed to really gain any traction. This performance wiped away all the good vibes from the previous week’s win in Buffalo.

January 11, 2021 AFC Wildcard Game: Cleveland Browns 48 – Pittsburgh Steelers 37

It’s hard to believe that this game happened. The Steelers, at one point were 11-0, they finished 12-4. The Cleveland Browns were without their Head Coach Kevin Stefanski due to COVID-19. The Steelers were home. They’ve owned the Browns for the better part of a decade. However, before you could heat up your queso dip, Cleveland had a 28-0 first quarter lead. The Browns dominated in every facet of this game. Just to give you an idea on how stats can be misleading, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards and four touchdowns. His Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) was 59.2. He threw four interceptions and attempted 68 passes.

The Browns won their first playoff game in nearly a quarter of a century. This game could be a symbol, a passing of the torch so to speak. Were the Steelers were being replaced at the top of the AFC North by the upstart Browns? Only time will tell, however perhaps the most memorable image of this game and season for the Steelers, is that of longtime teammates Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethlisberger sitting on the sidelines, in shock over what just transpired. Roethlisberger is quoted as saying to Pouncey after the loss “You’re the reason I came back.” Pouncey retired after this game.

January 14, 2018 Divisional Round: Jacksonville Jaguars 45 – Pittsburgh Steelers 42

Many will say this game is one that is unforgivable. The Steelers were 13-3 in the regular season. They secured a first-round bye, and set themselves up to face Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars in the cold, in January. This had a trip to the AFC Title game written all over it, or at least we thought it did. Jacksonville came out swinging and running. In fact, only four minutes into the second quarter, they had a 21-0 lead on three rushing touchdowns. Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon combined for nearly 200 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. Tomlin and his Steelers played catch-up all game, getting it as close as 35-28 with 9:08 left in regulation. However, the defense couldn’t get a stop. They allowed Bortles to drive the Jaguars down the field just four minutes later, capping off a scoring drive with a 14-yard TD pass to seldom-used Tommy Bohanon. The Steelers would score with 2:18 to go on a Le’Veon Bell touchdown run to get it back to 42-35, but a failed onside kick recovery lead to a Jaguars FG, and ultimately a 45-42 loss.

While the loss to the Browns in 2021 was shocking, this game goes down as the worst loss in the Mike Tomlin era. This team was primed for a Super Bowl run, instead, it was another lost opportunity for Tomlin and the Steelers.

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