Take a bow, Mike Tomlin: Steelers are alive in playoff race after win over Rams

The look on Mike Tomlin’s face was fantastic.

The Pittsburgh Steelers made one of the most aggressive fourth-down calls of the season. Leading the Los Angeles Rams 14-12 with less than nine minutes left, the Steelers had a fourth-and-1 at their own 34. Even if it’s the right call to go for it, very few coaches would have the guts to do it. They’d punt and protect the lead. Had the Steelers came up short, the Rams would have taken over in field-goal range.

Fortune favors the bold. The Steelers completed a 6-yard pass to running back Trey Edmunds out of the backfield for the first down. Cameras found a relieved Tomlin, who looked like he got away with one. The Steelers went on to bleed six more minutes off the clock on that drive and kick a field goal. That was the key moment in a hard-fought 17-12 win over the Rams.

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Tomlin has been under fire for years, even seasons in which he leads his team to the playoffs. That’s the life of an NFL head coach in a passionate market. It seemed the bottom could fall out this season. But suddenly the Steelers are 5-4 after a four-game winning streak and alive in the playoff race.

Even Tomlin’s biggest critics have to admit: He is doing a heck of a job this season.

Mike Tomlin is having a fine season

The Steelers were 0-3 at one point, and Ben Roethlisberger was done for the season with an elbow injury. Then new quarterback Mason Rudolph suffered a concussion in the Steelers’ fifth game and at 1-4 they went on the road to face the Los Angeles Chargers with Devlin Hodges making his first start.

The Steelers beat the Chargers 24-17. They haven’t lost since. The last two wins have come without injured running back James Conner, like the Steelers needed more adversity to overcome.

Pittsburgh is in the middle of the wild-cart hunt in a soft AFC. They still have a long way to go and there are issues. The offense still isn’t very good. But they have stayed afloat. This is one of the best seasons Tomlin has had, and perhaps his best season considering the circumstances. If the Steelers make the playoffs, he should be in the NFL Coach of the Year conversation.

“Since I’ve been here, this is the best of Mike Tomlin,” offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva told ESPN earlier this week. “From a leadership standpoint, from an ability to motivate his players and to get the best out of the current circumstances. Awesome.

“I’m sure that he’s going to look back at this year and look fondly at some of the lessons that we’ve all learned because obviously it’s been a different season. It’s one that we all are struggling to write and hopefully finish on a good note.”

Steelers win slugfest against Rams

Sunday was an ugly win, but the Steelers don’t have much choice. Without Roethlisberger, and also with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown long gone, they aren’t an easy team to watch. That doesn’t matter. Wins do.

The Steelers won Sunday by shutting down the Rams’ offense. The defense has played very well lately. A fumble recovery touchdown by Minkah Fitzpatrick was a huge play, and a controversial one. The fourth-down gamble in the fourth quarter was exactly what the Steelers needed in a close game. The Rams had a shot at the end, but the Steelers’ defense held. They got a pass breakup on a fourth-and-10 heave to the end zone, and then after a Steelers punt, Fitzpatrick had an interception with 20 seconds left to clinch the win.

The Steelers were left for dead a long time ago. There was no reason to believe they could get back in the playoff race. But it’s November, the Steelers are alive, and Tomlin deserves a lot of credit for that.

T.J. Watt of the Steelers celebrates after a big play in a win over the Rams. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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