Field position battle: Coach Mike Tomlin uttered words that everyone felt after losing to the Cincinnati Bengals, 37-30, at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday.
"Disappointing football game," said Tomlin. "Tough competition."
Tomlin pointed to the field position battle as a key factor in the second half where the team struggled on both sides of the ball.
In one situation the Steelers got the ball on the Bengals 47-yard line in the fourth quarter, but two penalties put them in a first-and-25 situation they weren't able to dig out of and were forced to punt.
They were able to pin the Bengals back at their own seven-yard line, but the Bengals marched 93 yards on eight plays to extend their lead to 34-23.
"I thought the significant component of the game was the field positioning in the second half," said Tomlin. "We had the short field on offense and weren't able to get points. I think we had a holding penalty and ended up third and 25. Just when you're in a battle like that, you got the short field, you got to produce points. We didn't. I thought it was significant.
"We pinned them back and they went plus 90 and scored a touchdown on the subsequent drive. I thought that was a significant sequence in the game, particularly from a field positioning standpoint. When you're in that position, the field positioning is a component. When you got it, you got to maintain it. It has to produce points, and obviously when you got it on defense, you can't allow them to drive the field. Those are a couple things that happened that I thought shaped the second half of the football game.
"That is a significant sequence. I thought that was a significant sequence that kind of defined the second half and ultimately the outcome of the game.
"We got the ball at mid-field. We don't produce points. Pinned them back and they go the length of the field. That's a significant swing."
The defense came through with two interceptions, but the offense was only able to convert them into six points on two field goals. And on the flip side, Tomlin stressed the need to hold opponents to field goals, something that didn't happen.
"We got to make people settle for field goals," said Tomlin. "We can't allow people to score touchdowns at the rate they scored tonight. You got to make them settle for field goals. We weren't able to do that, and that's why the game ended up the way it ended up."
The offense put 20 points on the board in the first half, but managed only 10 points in the second half, which included a one-yard touchdown run by Najee Harris with just 47 seconds left to play.
"The penalty component stopped a drive or two," said Tomlin. "Just wasn't able to get the type of rhythm that we needed in an effort to control the game in the manner which we did in the first half."
Finishing plays: Linebacker T.J. Watt intercepted Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow at the line of scrimmage in a manner where everyone had to shake their head and ask how he did it. But you don't have to ask too hard because he did almost the same thing against Burrow and the Bengals in Week 1.
"It happens a lot in training camp and throughout practice, so it's something that I'm constantly trying to work on," said Watt. "Going to always try to make a play, try to make a play, even though I can't get the quarterback all the time. Just happened to come down with it."
While the play was one of the best defensive plays in the NFL in Week 11, it wasn't enough to help the Steelers get by the Bengals.
"They had a good game plan for us clearly," said Watt. "They were able to move the ball down the field. We weren't able to hold them to field goals and help our offense out. We just need to finish plays. I mean, myself personally. I only get so many one-on-ones in the game. When I get them, I need to execute it to finish at the quarterback and I wasn't able to do that tonight."
Watt, who said he isn't happy with where the team is right now at 3-7, was asked how he keeps from getting too frustrated with the way things are going.
"We got a game next week. This business is crazy," said Watt. "You have to learn from each experience, whether it's good, whether it's bad, and you have to move forward.
"We're not where we want to be clearly right now. But sitting here and sulking about it isn't going to do anything. We have to be real with what we put on tape. Can't take everything personally. We have to digest the film and practice hard and then come out next week with a better performance."
Cleaning things up: The last time the offense had the ball it drove 72 yards on nine plays in 2:33 and scored a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge by running back Najee Harris with 45 seconds left in regulation.
It may have turned out to be garbage yardage, to an extent, on the way to a 37-30 loss to the Bengals, but the drive also shined a light on quarterback Kenny Pickett's confidence, even as the Steelers were in the process of falling to 3-7.
"Fine," Pickett replied, when asked about that directly. "Listen, I'm going to sling it until the end and my confidence level has not wavered. I'm extremely competitive and I hate to lose. Doesn't feel good sitting up here after a loss, that's for sure.
"So we got to get things cleaned up and get back on track this next week."
Pickett completed six of seven passes for 77 yards on the march, which began with a 6-yard loss on a sack.
The one incompletion was a deep ball that glanced off the hands of wide receiver George Pickens in the vicinity of the Cincinnati 12-yard line that would otherwise have gone for a 49-yard score.
Pickett ended up 25-for-42 passing for 265 yards, with one touchdown, no interceptions and a passer rating of 85.9.
But most of the damage was done in a first half that saw Pickett go 14-for-19 for 141 yards and the Steelers head to the locker room with a 20-17 lead.
Some adjustments by the Bengals' defense and a lack of execution conspired to limit the Steelers to one scoring drive in the second half, a 4-play, 6-yard effort that ended on a field goal, prior to the last-possession touchdown that cut a 14-point deficit to seven.
"I think it was a little bit of both," Pickett said. "They made adjustments and I don't think we executed. The penalties and not taking advantage of the short fields, those are the two major things I can think of right now that needed to be done and we didn't get done."
The Steelers also gained 71 of their 102 rushing yards in the first two quarters.
"I think the balance between the run and pass, right?" Pickett said regarding what went right until it didn't. "That's what was great for us against the Saints, and I think that was what was really good for us in that first half, having that balance and not relying on one. I think both really worked well together, and I don't think we had both working together well in the second half.
"Our job, you know, receivers and quarterback, we have to be consistent. The run game needs to be consistent in order for our offense to work the way it needs to be and the way it should, that it looked like in the first half. So we know what it looks like and we just got to execute at a higher level in the second half."