Significant plays costly: Coach Mike Tomlin always stresses the 'weighty downs.'
And on Sunday, the Steelers didn't win those 'weighty downs,' losing to the Patriots, 17-14, at Acrisure Stadium.
"They made more splash plays in circumstance than we did," said Tomlin. "I thought they won the field position game on special teams. They got a couple of kick returns from a field position standpoint.
"When we didn't handle the punt, that was a significant play. The two-minute go ball was a significant play. Sometimes when you are in games like this, that's the difference. It felt like it was today.
"I thought those were the critical weighty things where they were able to control the game, particularly in the fourth quarter as we were trying to regain control of it. They got propped up by those plays and we didn't do what was required. We didn't make the significant chunks or move the ball enough on offense. At the end we didn't get the necessary stop on defense."
The mishandled punt Tomlin was referring to was a muff by Gunner Olszewski in the third quarter. The Patriots recovered, and with an unnecessary roughness penalty on Connor Heyward tacked on, they took over at the Steelers 10-yard line. The offense made them pay when Damien Harris scored on a two-yard run to extend the lead to 17-6.
While Tomlin said it was 'painful' now, he stressed the importance of moving forward as the Steelers don't have much time to think about it with a Thursday night game in Cleveland this week.
"It's important we zero our focus in on this short week," said Tomlin. "There's some things to learn from this performance, but we better learn quickly and shift our focus because we have a road division game here in a short period of time."
Not going deep: The Steelers longest pass of the day was a 23-yard completion to rookie George Pickens along the sidelines near the end of the first half, with the deep ball not utilized much more in the game.
Tomlin was asked if that was specifically by design or a decision by quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
"They're a group that really specializes in minimizing big plays, splash plays defensively," said Tomlin. "That's been their calling card. (Devin) McCourty's been back in the middle of the field for a long time so we knew the game would be challenging from that perspective."
The catch by Pickens was his longest of the young season, and only his second catch of the year after having an explosive preseason. While many expected Pickens to be targeted more early on, Tomlin said a lot of it is based on what transpires inside the stadium.
"I don't know that I had expectations about what that would look like," said Tomlin. "I think at the early portions of the year you are establishing roles. What happens in stadiums is more important than what your intentions are. Intentions are just that. The reality of how we perform, how we divide the labor up and how we distribute the ball and who makes the plays is what's important in stadium."
Minimizing things: The defense played their first game without linebacker T.J. Watt, who was put on the Reserve/Injured list after suffering a pectoral injury against the Bengals.
The defense didn't record a sack, after having a seven-sack game one week earlier.
"I thought New England would do a good job on minimizing that component of our game by running the football, by rhythm throws, things of that nature," said Tomlin. "I didn't necessarily go into this game thinking it would be a seven-sack type of game. It wasn't going to unfold that way. Their style of play wasn't going to allow that to happen."
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 2 game against the New England Patriots at Acrisure Stadium
It's on us: Linebacker Alex Highsmith, who had three sacks against the Bengals, didn't have the same output against the Patriots as the defense was held without a sack.
Coach Mike Tomlin said the Patriots offense has the ability to minimize those type of plays, but Highsmith said the defense still should have done more.
"It's on us. We've just got to be better. I've got to be better," said Highsmith. "We know that going into the next game. We've just got to be better. We've got to have more of an attack mindset and getting off blocks better.
"Like I said, we've got to be better. I know the type of front we can be. I think it's just on us as a whole, just to be able to get there."
The defense was without linebacker T.J. Watt, who is on the Reserve/Injured List, and used multiple players to try and compensate for his absence.
"I think guys stepped up when they came in today," said Highsmith. "We got some good plays out of a lot of guys. I just know we can be better as a defense as a whole, especially coming down that last drive. I know I've got to play better too. I'm far from what I wanted to do today."
Stressing accountability: They were better on third down than they'd been in Cincinnati, gained more total net yards and held the ball longer than they had against the Bengals, so the home opener was a small but perceptible step forward for the Steelers' offense.
But after two offensive touchdowns in two games, one of which included 10 minutes of overtime, quarterback Mitch Trubisky knows what the Steelers are doing on offense is being questioned.
"Everybody's got an idea of what the offense should or could be," Trubisky acknowledged following the Steelers' 17-14 loss to the Patriots this afternoon in the home opener at Acrisure Stadium.
"Everybody" in this instance includes those playing offense for the Steelers.
"I mean, everybody wants the ball in their hands," Trubisky confirmed. "I want the ball in my hands.
"We got a bunch of talent. We just have to figure out what works best for us going forward."
Trubisky's postgame remarks stressed accountability ("I just need to play better") and the need to stay the course two games into a 17-game regular season.
"We have to come together as a collective unit, everyone has to keep buying in," Trubisky continued. "We're a young offense and we're still growing in this thing together. The best thing you can do at this time is just continue to buy into the plan, whatever it is, do you job to the best of your ability.
"When everybody is saying 'call this play' or 'call that play' it makes it tough just for everybody to do their jobs. I think everybody just needs to worry about their job then we'll just keep growing and going in the right direction together.
"You just gotta tell guys to buy in, be patient and just focus on your job. That's what you gotta do as a leader, just keep guys on track. If everybody just does their job, we'll be a lot better as an offense."
Trubisky completed 21 of 33 passes for 168 yards with one touchdown and one interception against the Patriots.
He led a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth and a completion to wide receiver Diontae Johnson for a two-point conversion that brought the Steelers to within 17-14 with 14:58 left in the fourth quarter.
But the Steelers' next two possessions ended with passes to running back Najee Harris on third downs that failed to move the chains.
The first resulted in a 2-yard completion on third-and-8 from the Steelers' 13-yard line.
"We're gonna have to look at that one," Trubisky said. "They had 'Cover 0' (no safety deep), that was my hot throw, the corner did a good job having eyes, he came off on it and made the tackle.
"We just gotta have better answers when they show us that type of look."
The second was a lob to Harris down the sideline on third-and-2 from the Steelers' 28 with 6:47 left in regulation.
Harris tried to go up over linebacker Matthew Judon but was unable to make the catch.
The Steelers punted the ball back to the Patriots and never got it back.
"I tried to give him a chance," Trubisky said. "It was slightly under-thrown. He did a good job of going up and trying to make a play on it.
"I'd like to lead him downfield a little bit more and hit him on the run. I tried to buy some time. I was probably fading a little too much in the pocket to my right to buy him some time. I could have just got out a little sooner and threw it downfield so he could make a play on it. That one was on me."
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