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Steeler pride

Tomlin carries on tradition, not afraid of perfect Pats

Posted: Thursday December 6, 2007 11:26AM; Updated: Thursday December 6, 2007 11:26AM
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Mike Tomlin leads the 9-3 Steelers into Foxboro to take on the undefeated Patriots on Sunday.
Mike Tomlin leads the 9-3 Steelers into Foxboro to take on the undefeated Patriots on Sunday.
John W. McDonough/SI

A year ago, most of the country had never heard of Mike Tomlin. He was the Vikings' first-year defensive coordinator, someone whose name was easily confused with the Boston Red Sox reliever. In quick order, he elevated the Minnesota's defense from No. 21 in 2005 to No. 8 in 2006, the kind of improvement that turned heads and opened eyes.

On Sunday at Gillette Stadium, Tomlin will introduce himself to a new audience when he brings the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-3) to New England (12-0) and tries to take down a Patriots team that hasn't lost a game since January.

"We're approaching this week like we approach any other week," Tomlin, the Steelers first-year coach, said Wednesday during a conference call. "We have no control over who we play, the schemes they prepare, and things of that nature. We focus on what it is that we do and how we prepare and, ultimately, how we perform."

While Tomlin is playing down the hype of the matchup -- at least publicly -- a Steelers victory on Sunday would lift his rookie season from excellent to other-worldly. It might even elevate him to the front of the pack in the voting for coach of the year.

At the very least, the 35-year-old Tomlin has already earned a place in that conversation. Though he took over a talented team, Tomlin's transition didn't have the malaise and lethargy that visited the San Diego Chargers and Norv Turner early this season.

Coming from a 4-3 defensive background, Tomlin kept Dick LeBeau's 3-4 system intact, blending his own beliefs with the style that has marked Steelers defenses for decades. If anything, the bedrock of the Steelers is the same under Tomlin, who preaches accountability, toughness and physicality.

"It's not only the Steelers' story -- that's the story of this game, the game of football," Tomlin said. "I think that's just the way this game was meant to be played. Most people that are good play the game that way."

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