Sure, it was a preseason game, and the first of four at that. Yes, there is plenty of time to correct mistakes, and yes, the first units played sparingly, and yes, even with that there were some positives to come from the evening.
But where the Pittsburgh Steelers disappointed in their preseason opener on Saturday night against the New York Giants at Heinz Field, an 18-13 defeat to be precise, was in the very aspect of the game Coach Mike Tomlin seemed to emphasize during his pregame news conference.
Asked what he wanted to see from his team against the Giants, Tomlin answered, "That we go out and we play football, and we don't allow one mistake to become three mistakes. I want to see our ability to put negative plays behind us and move forward individually and collectively, and that's what is going to determine whether this is a positive outing or not. With so many young guys and particularly the ones getting their first opportunities, I think that's going to be an important element of it. We're going to talk openly about that leading right up to kickoff."
In that, the Steelers failed, and frighteningly consistently over the course of the evening, too.
Compounding mistake on mistake is exactly what happened early in the first quarter and led to the Giants' first score, a 23-yard field goal by Josh Brown.
Drew Butler's first punt traveled 55 yards and ended up netting 52, but it was nullified by a penalty on Marshall McFadden for being illegally downfield. On the re-kick, Damontre Moore broke through to block the punt, and Louis Murphy's recovery gave the Giants the ball at the Steelers' 5-yard line. Brown's field goal came three plays later.
Midway through the second quarter, Jarvis Jones recovered a fumble that set the Steelers on a course that ended with Shaun Suisham's second field goal of the night – this one from 41 yards out – and brought the team to a four-point deficit at 10-6. It was the same score when the Giants got the ball at their own 20-yard line with 1:45 remaining.
David Carr completed some passes, but the Giants had advanced no farther than the Steelers 40-yard line, at which point they had one timeout left and 26 seconds on the clock. Then twice in a span of three plays, Jason Worilds committed major penalties.
The first was a roughing the passer call – looked kind of ticky-tacky, but it was called – that moved the ball to the 24-yard line and stopped the clock. Carr is clearly no Eli Manning, and so the Steelers still had a reasonable chance to get out of this, and Carr's play supported that hope. After an incomplete pass, Carr dumped the ball off to running back David Wilson who gained 5 yards before being tackled in-bounds by rookie linebacker Vince Williams.
Clock running. Perfect. But behind the play, Worilds got caught in an altercation with a Giants player, and the flag came out again. Unnecessary roughness. Half the distance to the 12-yard line. Clock stopped. Brown's 30-yard field goal on the final play of the half restored the Giants' lead to 13-6.
In the second half, David Gilreath first made a poor decision to field a punt inside the 5-yard line, and then later in the quarter he had another punt bounce off his chest and the Giants recovered on the Pittsburgh 28-yard line.
"I do think we did some good things, particularly early on in the run game, winning the line of scrimmage and running the ball consistently and efficiently," said Tomlin. "But just too many mistakes, penalties getting us behind the chains offensively. We gave them 30 yards in free real estate in the two-minute drive prior to the half. That's self-inflicted wounds. Then obviously, we had some poor judgment in the return game. From a kicking standpoint, we had a punt blocked. Can't be a part of winning football."
Those kinds of mistakes – Steelers on Steelers crime – won't be a part of winning football. Not in the preseason. Not anytime.