The Pittsburgh Steelers have been trying to step up from mediocrity for quite some time. The Atlanta Falcons have been failing getting back to the place they were in two seasons ago. For both Mike Tomlin and Mike Smith, the opportunities to save their jobs and make sure they stay on for more than just the rest of this season are running out.
In 2012, the Atlanta Falcons were five yards away from reaching the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan was playing injured in the end of that loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Going into the 2013 season, optimism was at an all time high. So were expectations.
This season? Optimism, of course. No injuries to start with, and a team that looked like it was an improved version of the one that went 4-12 last year. The end result? Fun offense at home, a defense that looks bad anywhere and most of the time, and now three consecutive losses that might mean the end for Mike Smith and more people in the coaching staff and front office.
If the Falcons would have been able to keep the win at home, lose away thing, maybe the feeling of an impending doom wasn’t so strong. But they’ve been giving up a scary amount of points. They lost to a Vikings team that got smashed by everyone else so far. They blew a promising lead on the road against the Giants, the same Giants who were shutout by the Eagles. They failed to run the ball against a terrible run defense by the Chicago Bears. Matt Ryan is a good quarterback. Julio Jones is a freak of nature at wide receiver. But it feels like there’s nothing else.
It feels the same when it comes to the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have a very good offensive line or too many impressive receiving targets except for Antonio Brown. But it works, some of the time. Which isn’t enough because Le’Veon Bell doesn’t get enough touches. And the defense is either old and expensive, or too young to make a difference. The transition from the Super Bowl appearances under Tomlin has been difficult.
The Steelers haven’t crashed out to an embarrassing record, but they’ve not been able to make that big push towards the top spot in the AFC North. The identity is gone, and the thing that’s come instead isn’t really better or especially good. Tomlin looked like the perfect replacement to a coach that was there forever when he started, but after a few years of being given a chance to rebuild, maybe his time as the head coach in Pittsburgh is over as well.
There’s that feeling in the NFL – two straight wins and you’re on top of the world, ready to make it to the Super Bowl. Two straight losses, especially early in the season and everything is falling apart or it’s the end of an era. For both the Falcons and the Steelers, early reasons for optimism haven’t been able to latch on. Instead, the notion that there’s not a lot the head coaches currently in charge can do about saving their job has been creeping in to both organizations.