Actually, he’s helping to turn up the heat.
“It’s good to be in the kitchen. The kitchen’s in Pittsburgh, PA, this week in the National Football League, and at Heinz Field,” Tomlin said of his team’s showdown with New England in arguably the biggest game of the NFL season. “That’s where you want to be in the middle of December. We don’t take it for granted.”
Tomlin wasn’t shying away from the buzz three weeks ago, when he predicted Patriots-Steelers “fireworks” during an on-camera interview with NBC’s Tony Dungy, outlining how the Week 15 game will determine seedings and a playoff rematch.
That plan has come to fruition, with Sunday’s matchup likely determining home-field advantage and the No. 1 AFC seed. The Steelers lead the conference at 11-2; the Patriots fell to 10-3 with a 27-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Monday night.
Asked about whether he’ll quell the game’s hype with his players this week, Tomlin said, “Man, I love it.”
“It’s good to be in big games. It’s better to be in big games than ones nobody’s watching,” he said. “We better be appreciative of this spot and not resistant in any way, but embrace it. This is what we’ve been fighting for since March, to be in these types of games against these types of people. Why would you fight that? It’s an awesome thing.”
After clinching the AFC North with a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers were greeted with questions about what it would mean to knock off the Patriots and Tom Brady, who has 22 touchdown passes, no interceptions and six wins in his last seven games against Pittsburgh.
The Steelers lost last season’s AFC title game in New England, 36-17.
Safety Mike Mitchell couldn’t hide his excitement about Sunday’s game.
“This is the game everyone’s been waiting to see. We’re going to show up and fight,” Mitchell said. “Obviously it’s got a lot of history to it; I’ve been thinking about this game since we lost it last year. Very much look forward to playing them. Obviously, Tom Brady is the GOAT [greatest of all time]. I tip my hat to him. He is the GOAT, and for us to be the champ we have to beat the champ.”
Mitchell said the Steelers need to prove to themselves they can beat New England. Other players stuck to the script that every game’s important.
“What would it mean? Just another check mark, that’s all it is,” guard Ramon Foster said. “I won’t make a big deal out of it because heck, we got to bring our A-game. We asked for it, it was put out there, so here we go.”
The Steelers will have a plan for Brady, the only quarterback in NFL history with five Super Bowl championships. But they won’t be intimidated by his résumé or history against Pittsburgh.
When asked about what makes Brady dangerous at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, Tomlin was calculated in not praising the Patriots too much.
“They are really good, they’ve got great continuity, Tom Brady’s Tom Brady — you can talk all day about that,” Tomlin said. “What are we going to do at the line of scrimmage prior to the ball snapping? What are we going to do to improve our overall readiness and detail in our play? I think therein lies the discussion. You can waste a lot of man hours and not getting a lot accomplished worried about what he’s going to do prior to the snap.”