That recent dominance is what Tomlin is asking his team to find the emotional energy to avenge. The added beef about the teams’ relative divisional playoff game times is a facade for the Steelers facing total disrespect as underdogs.
Tomlin can go big in his motivation and talk about how the Patriots gained advantages with their spying and deflating scandals. He can go small and tell his team the Patriots only won in Heinz Field back in Week 7 because they were with Rob Gronkowski and the Steelers were without Ben Roetlhisberger.
The numbers dont tell the whole story, but they tell a lot of it. Since that Richard Sherman interception in the end zone that sealed their 23-17 loss to the Seahawks in January 2014, the 49ers have gone 15-32. Since Thanksgiving 2014, theyre 8-28.
That’s under three coaches, Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly. When they replace Kelly as expected, theyll have four in four seasons.
The talent drain has mirrored the nosedive in wins. Ironically, one of the few key components of those contenders, Colin Kaepernick, has survived. Virtually everything around him on both sides of the ball has changed, though.
Michael Crabtree, the target of the end-zone throw in that NFC title game, is gone. So are Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Alex Boone, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Chris Culliver, Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner.
NaVorro Bowman has been injured twice since that game (notably including during that game). Rookie Chris Borland arrived the next season, then retired after that lone season.