PITTSBURGH – Mike Tomlin was in a glass-half-full mood Tuesday, two days after the Steelers dropped their regular season opener, 16-9, to the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field.
Don’t misunderstand. Tomlin wasn’t happy with the result of a game in which the Steelers had just 195 yards of total offense and lost key contributors in center Maurkice Pouncey, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and linebacker Larry Foote to season-ending injuries.
But he wasn’t ready to blow up the team and start over, either. Not with another game coming up Monday night against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
“I thought in the midst of it, as miserable as it was at times, we had opportunities,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t capitalize on them.
“I thought we were an explosion play or two away from really being in the game. We had a couple balls thrown down the field that we weren’t able to convert. I thought we had an opportunity on the onside kick. We had a couple balls tipped up in the air on defense that kind of fell harmlessly to the ground on third-down stops. I thought we did some good things defensively.”
History would show that Tomlin isn’t just whistling past the graveyard. Despite some pitiful games in the past, the team has rebounded from some awful games and starts to some seasons.
In 1989, the Steelers opened at home against Cleveland and barely had more total yards than the Browns did points, turning the ball over eight times and gaining just 53 yards in a 51-0 thrashing at the hands of their bitter rivals.
The Steelers followed that loss by taking another beating, 41-10, from Cincinnati. But they rallied to finish 9-7 that season, making the playoffs as a wild card and came within one point of advancing to the AFC Championship, dropping a 24-23 decision at Denver.
In 2002, the Steelers got off to a similar 0-2 start, losing at New England, 30-14, to open the season, then coming home to drop a 30-17 decision to the Oakland Raiders. It was the last time before Sunday’s loss to Tennessee that Pittsburgh failed to win its home opener.
The Steelers had five turnovers in each of those games – they had three games that season in which they turned the ball over at least five times – but rallied to finish 10-5-1 and won the AFC North.
Opening day losses aside, the Steelers have played some bad games in the midst of what were otherwise good seasons in recent history, including a 2005 loss at Indianapolis in which they gained 197 total yards; a 2008 defeat at Philadelphia in which they allowed nine sacks and gained 181 yards; and a 2010 win at Tennessee in which they amassed just 127 total yards, scoring their lone touchdown on an Antonio Brown kickoff return to open the game.
The Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl in each of those seasons, winning it in 2005 and 2008.
Despite the lackluster performance Sunday, Tomlin remains optimistic about the possibilities for the Steelers in 2013.
“I liked the overall run stopping ability of the defense,” said Tomlin of the Steelers, who allowed just 2.7 yards per carry against the Titans. “We had our chances at the end of the game. We had an opportunity to get the ball at the end of the game. We didn’t do it. All of those things are things to build from, I think.”
Odds and end zones
Foote had surgery Tuesday on his injured right biceps, while Stephens-Howling is scheduled for surgery today to repair his torn ACL. Pouncey’s ACL and MCL surgery is scheduled for later this week. … Tomlin said tight end Heath Miller will begin participation in some portions of practice this week as he continues his comeback from a torn ACL. Miller only participated in position drills last week. … Cornerback Cortez Allen, who left last Sunday’s game with an ankle injury in the second quarter, will be limited in practice early in the week, but could return later in the week. … Kion Wilson will get the first opportunity to replace Foote, though Lawrence Timmons will take over play calling duties for the defense. … Kelvin Beachum is listed as the starter at center, though Tomlin left the door open for Fernando Velasco, signed Monday, to be the starter against the Bengals if he quickly picks things up. … Despite a pair of fumbles against the Titans, Isaac Redman will remain the starter at running back.