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Mike Tomlin can make Steelers great again

The Steelers have staged two of the greatest comebacks in recent franchise history this week.

First, they rallied from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Ravens 31-27 Sunday and clinch the AFC North.

Then on Tuesday, Mike Tomlin had a comeback for Terry Bradshaw‘s criticism of him last week.

The former Steelers quarterback said that Tomlin isn’t a great coach, that he’s more of a “cheerleader” guy. Tomlin acknowledged in his weekly news conference that he’s a long way from being a great coach, but also said that Bradshaw calling him a cheerleader was over the line.

“But what do I know?” Tomlin said via ESPN.com. “I grew up a Dallas fan. Particularly a (Thomas) ‘Hollywood’ Henderson fan.”

Henderson famously said that Bradshaw wouldn’t be able to spell “cat” if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a,’ and it seems as though Tomlin doesn’t disagree with that sentiment four decades later.

Bradshaw wouldn’t have come off as such a buffoon if he had said that Tomlin is only the third-best coach in Steelers history. In that case he would have been right, and there’s no shame in being the third-best coach in the history of a franchise that has won six Super Bowls.

There’s no debate about Chuck Noll, but the gap between No. 2 and No. 3 on this list is a lot narrower. Tomlin has put together three straight playoff seasons for the first time in his career. Bill Cowher, who by the way did just as much “cheerleading” as Tomlin does, went to the playoffs six straight times with three different quarterbacks, and Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak and Kordell Stewart will never be wearing yellow jackets in Canton.

Ben Roethlisberger just might, and while Cowher had to be persuaded to draft him, it worked out pretty well for him. He finally had a franchise quarterback in his last two seasons as Steelers coach and went 26-6 in those seasons, reaching the conference championship game in 2004 and winning the Super Bowl in 2005.

It hopefully will be at least a few years before we know how far Tomlin can take a team with a mediocre quarterback. If he wins a second Super Bowl, however, he’ll have one more ring than Cowher and also a serious case to be considered the best ever Steelers coach not named Chuck Noll.

For now, what’s important is that the Steelers were able to preface Tomlin’s zinger on Tuesday with a rebuttal to Bradshaw on the field. It’s possible that they also silenced the echo of comments made by another Hall-of-Famer-turned-TV-blowhard.

Warren Sapp‘s words five years ago were a little more accurate. After the Steelers lost 35-7 at Baltimore in the 2011 season opener, Sapp said the Steelers were “old and slow and it’s over.”

The era in which the Steelers went to three Super Bowls in six years sure was over. The Steelers won just one playoff game over the next five years, and that shellacking turned the tide in the Steelers’ rivalry with the Ravens. The Steelers had won six of the previous eight games between the teams, including two playoff games. Since then, the Steelers had lost nine of the previous 12 matchups, including a 2014 wild-card game at Heinz Field, heading into the Christmas showdown.

Losses to the Ravens cost the Steelers a first-round playoff bye in 2011 and playoff berths in 2012 and 2013. Last season was the only one of the last five that the Ravens didn’t play a role in ruining, and they came damn close when they upset them in Week 16.

The Ravens are largely responsible for the Steelers’ first five-year conference-championship drought in more than two decades. This is the first time since 1989-1993 that the Steelers have gone five straight years without reaching the AFC title game.

Now the Ravens have missed the playoffs in two straight seasons for the first time since John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco arrived together in 2008. The Steelers lost to the Ravens twice last year and therefore had nothing to do with their 2015 demise.

On Sunday, however, the Steelers did the honors of knocking the Ravens from playoff contention. It was the first time the Steelers eliminated the Ravens since 2010, when they beat them in the divisional playoffs. That also was the last year the Steelers went to the Super Bowl.

Perhaps the magnitude of Sunday’s victory will be enough to give the Steelers the upper hand once again in this longstanding feud and restore their status as a franchise that can reasonably be expected to make a run at the Super Bowl every year.

Maybe it will even put a game-worn sock in the mouths of Bradshaw and Sapp.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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