Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is a straight shooter. Because of his consistent candor, it is no surprise to hear Tomlin tell it like it is when asked about the key mishaps in his team’s Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots.
In what was supposed to be a revenge game for former Patriots Pro-Bowl return man Gunner Olszewski, the veteran WR dropped a punt at a crucial moment that Tomlin believes cost his team the game.
Steelers Depot captured this quote froom Tomlin on Olszewski’s muffed punt:
Tomlin also called out the late score in the first half, the TD pass to Nelson Agholor, as a “significant play,” but it seemed the punt was at the forefront of his mind when looking for the reason behind his team’s loss.
Olszewski’s gaffe happened at 3:58 of the third quarter. The Steelers had forced the Patriots to punt. Olszewski attempted the field the punt at his 20-yard line and return it, even though Pittsburgh didn’t have 11 players.
The punt caromed off Olszewski’s face mask, and the fumble was quickly recovered by Patriots rookie special teams ace Brendan Schooler. Unfortunately for the Steelers, no one was designated to block Schooler, so he made it into position to recover the fumble because he was unimpeded throughout the play.
Here is a look at it for those who haven’t seen the play:
The Patriots put together a short, three-play drive to score a TD and extend their lead to 17-6, which turned out to be the dagger.
What Did Gunner Olszewski Say About His Error?
As expected, Olszewski accepted full responsibility for his error. “I just dropped it,” Olszewski said after the game. “That’s on me. Game that tight, you can’t have mistakes like that.”
He’s right. I’m not sure the Steelers’ Mitchell Trubisky-led offense would have been able to put together an 80-yard TD drive even if Olszewski had done what he was supposed to do and called for a fair catch. Still, as a return man, you want to give your team a chance to win.
Olszewski’s error took the most realistic path to victory off the board. To Olszewski’s credit, he impacted the Steelers’ next possession in the running game. Olszewski reeled off an 18-yard run that he finished in his signature, hard-nosed style at the 2:18 mark of the third period.
The Steelers scored a TD and a 2-point conversion on the drive to draw to the final score of 17-14.
How Did the Patriots’ Return Game Look Against the Steelers?
New England didn’t take a punt or kickoff to the house, but they were efficient, and perhaps most important, none of the return men turned the ball over. The best return of the day for the Patriots came from third-year safety Kyle Dugger.
Before he went out with an injury, Dugger reeled off a 37-yard kickoff return, making you wonder if the Patriots will look to incorporate him in this role more often. Myles Bryant had three punt returns for an average of 7.3 yards, and rookie RB Pierre Strong Jr. returned two kickoffs totaling 48 yards.
While Dugger and Bryant have flashed some potential, it would appear the Patriots’ long-term solution in the return game should be rookie DB, Marcus Jones. He has the most explosive skill set, but we’ll see which direction the Patriots will turn for their returners.