PITTSBURGH — Trailing early in the second quarter on Monday night and his team well within field goal range, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin could have opted for a field goal that would have cut Washington’s lead in half.
Instead, he sent a message that might as well double as Pittsburgh’s mission statement in 2016.
Forget the odds. The Steelers are going to go for it.
Moments after Tomlin pointed to the offense to stay on the field, Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 29-yard touchdown that gave Pittsburgh a lead and all the momentum it would need in an eventual 38-16 victory in which the Steelers’ high-powered offense looked very capable of living up to its hype.
Tomlin doesn’t consider the call gutsy. With the talent the team has at its disposal, why not go for it?
“It wasn’t haphazard by any stretch,” Tomlin said Tuesday. “We prepared for it during the week and the guys created enough comfort in us through preparation that we had very little hesitation not only making that call, but making a similar call a few moments later.”
Faced with a similar situation on Pittsburgh’s ensuing drive, the Steelers let loose again, with Roethlisberger hitting Eli Rogers for 19 yards on fourth-and-1 at the Washington 34 with under two minutes to go in the half.
That drive also finished in the end zone, with Rogers catching the first touchdown of his career after a Roethlisberger pass caromed off Sammie Coates right to Rogers.
So much for Pittsburgh being hampered early in the season while waiting for running back Le’Veon Bell to return from a three-game suspension and tight end Ladarius Green nursing a lingering ankle injury.
“We hold ourselves to high expectations,” Roethlisberger said. “I think people thought, ‘What are you going to do without Martavis (Bryant)? What are you going to do without Le’Veon? Without (retired) Heath Miller?’ My message was, ‘Well, we’ve got Sammie Coates, Eli, and all the tight ends (and) DeAngelo Williams.'”
That was more than enough to overwhelm the Redskins, who looked helpless as Brown lit them up for 11 receptions for 126 yards, two touchdowns and a comically risque celebration that drew a flag and set social media aflame.
“It’s not about who is on me,” Brown said. “It was about getting the job done. Whatever that takes.”
Which should only ramp up the next Sunday when Pittsburgh hosts Cincinnati in their first meeting since a memorably contentious victory by the Steelers in the wild-card round last January.
The Bengals appeared to have things well in hand with the ball in Pittsburgh territory and the lead with less than two minutes to go only to see the Steelers rally for an improbable win following an epic meltdown by the Bengals.
Cincinnati committed a pair of personal fouls in the final seconds, including a shot to Brown’s head that left him concussed and forced to sit out the Steelers’ divisional round loss to Denver.
Cincinnati is already trying to downplay the rematch, with the coaching staff basically ordering the players to tone down any rhetoric.
Tomlin doesn’t feel it’s required for the Steelers. Last time he checked, his team wasn’t the one that lost its composure.
“I thought largely, our guys handled themselves appropriately and didn’t get consumed by the emotions that comprised the recent elements of the matchup,” Tomlin said. “I don’t anticipate anything changing this time around.”
And for all of the gaudy stats put up against Washington, there are issues Tomlin would like to see addressed.
The pass rush didn’t get to Kirk Cousins, something he’d like to see corrected to prevent Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton and A.J. Green from getting loose.
“We have to create more disruption,” Tomlin said. “We have to get after the quarterback more, particularly when we’re ahead.”
NOTES: LB Ryan Shazier was being evaluated on Tuesday for a knee issue that Shazier tried to downplay after the victory. “I know he felt good about his circumstance after the game, but we will let the medical experts determine that and his status,” Tomlin said. … WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder) will have a “significant chance” to play against Cincinnati after sitting out the opener.