Tomlin focuses on his team's challenge

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Mike Tomlin finally admitted to watching a Monday night football game, and his impression was different from that of many others.

He did not necessarily see a team, for the second consecutive week, almost beating the undefeated New England Patriots. That's not the point, he said.


Sunday
  • Game: Steelers (9-3) vs. Patriots (12-0), 4:15 p.m.
  • Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
  • TV: KDKA.

"They are a great team because they find ways to win critical games at critical times," Tomlin said. "The fact that they almost lost really is irrelevant. They find ways to win. They're a dominant team."

As the 12-0 Patriots enter the season's final quarter on their quest to become the first undefeated NFL team in 35 years, the Steelers no doubt will gather more fans around the country who would love to see New England's quest end Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, Mass.

"The fact that they are undefeated is their story, not our story," Tomlin said. "Whether or not they had close calls, again, is their story not our story. Our story is that we play them this weekend."

Tomlin has stated on a weekly basis throughout his first season as Steelers coach that it matters not who his team plays; it matters more how his team plays. He did not veer from that stance merely because the opponent Sunday is the team heavily favored to win the Super Bowl and is being compared to the greatest teams in NFL history.

"We are going play our game," Tomlin said. "We don't let people dictate to us how we play defense. But we've got to play our game and play it well. We acknowledge that. This week is not unlike any other week. If we play at a high level, we've got a chance to win; if we play poorly, we've got a chance to lose."

Nor would Tomlin acknowledge that the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens showed the Steelers how to beat the Patriots. The Eagles lost a lead in the fourth quarter as the Patriots pulled out a 31-28 victory Nov. 25 at New England. The Ravens also lost a fourth-quarter lead and the game, 27-24, when the Patriots scored with 44 seconds left Monday night in Baltimore.

On Nov. 4, the Patriots won their only other close game, 28-24, in Indianapolis, when they scored two touchdowns in the final eight minutes.

There are assumptions that those teams, especially the past two, showed the rest of the league how to play the Patriots, that they have somehow discovered New England's Achilles' heel. Tomlin doesn't buy it.

"The fact that people almost beat them doesn't mean anything," he said. "They're finding ways to win. We've got to be prepared to play at a high level, and if we do that, we have a chance to win.

"I'm not concerned about how other people performed against them. I wouldn't view the Patriots any differently had they lost [Monday] night or lost the week before or if they lost to Indianapolis. The reality is that they are a very good football team."

So, how do you beat them?

"New England can attack you however they choose to attack you," Tomlin said, offering not a clue. "If they want to run the football, they can do that, they are capable of that. They picked up Kyle Brady, at tight end, who is as good an in-line blocking tight end as you'll find.

"They are capable of running the football and pounding you, they are capable of spreading you out, the vertical passing game, the quick passing game. We've got to be prepared for all of that and that's just the reality of it. That's the reality when you play good people, when you play good offenses. And it is a challenge that we look forward to getting ready for this week."

Philadelphia and Baltimore chose to pressure quarterback Tom Brady, and it worked to a point. Of Brady's 16 sacks this season, six came in the past two games, three each to the Eagles and Ravens. He also had his two lowest passer ratings of the season the past two weeks -- 90.0 vs. Philadelphia and 73.3 vs. Baltimore.

Yet Brady also threw three touchdowns and one interception in those two games combined and had 637 passing yards. He has thrown 41 touchdown passes and only five interceptions this season.

"They formulated a plan and they had a level of success with it," Tomlin acknowledged, "but not enough to win. We will formulate our plan. We will use some things people have done in the past potentially to formulate our plan, but ultimately, it has to be us and we will move forward and see what happens this weekend."

Tomlin does not want to sound as if he's not excited to coach against such a team. He recalled his days as secondary coach in Tampa Bay and defensive coordinator in Minnesota when he had to help formulate plans to stop great offenses.

"It is awesome. I get the feeling I used to get when we used to prepare for the Rams when they were 'The Greatest Show on Turf' or when we had to prepare for Minnesota when I first broke in and they had Cris Carter and Randy Moss.

"You love those games. If you are a competitor, you do. I believe we have a bunch of competitors here."


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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