CLEVELAND – There is no such thing as coming close in the NFL. And though the Steelers seem to be making strides offensively, things aren't coming together quickly enough to add up to victories – at least three weeks into the season.
The team dropped its second consecutive game Thursday night, losing here at FirstEnergy Stadium to the Browns, 29-17 to fall to 1-2.
And though the offense again looked better than it had in last Sunday's 17-14 loss to the Patriots, dropping two games in a span of five days wasn't going to have anyone looking at the bright side of things – nor should it have done so.
"Everyone just has to be on board with what we need to improve on, be brutally honest about the film, and where we are overall," said quarterback Mitch Trubisky. "I am looking forward to getting back to work. It is worth these next couple of days to see where we are going to get better. We can rest and recover but we have to make improvements."
One thing that isn't going to happen is a knee-jerk reaction at quarterback.
Mike Tomlin was asked about his thoughts on making a change at the game's most important position – or with his offensive play caller – and he immediately shut that down.
"I'm not in that mindset. I'm interested in reviewing this tape and looking at the totality of it and figuring out how we collectively get better," Tomlin replied. "I will answer that question definitely no."
Nor should Tomlin be interested in essentially starting things over at this point in time.
Are the Steelers where they need to be offensively? No.
Everyone in that locker room would tell you that. Have they gotten better offensively in each week? Absolutely.
The one thing that is still missing, however, is consistently making plays. And the team's offense and defense haven't necessarily played off each other well.
In the first half of this game, they did that. When the defense did allow a scoring drive, the offense answered in kind, leading to the Steelers taking a 14-13 lead into the locker room.
But when the offense stumbled a bit failing to get a first down on its seventh, eighth and ninth possessions in the game, the defense suddenly found itself unable to get off the field.
While the Steelers were running nine plays over a period from 9:13 of the third quarter to 4:18 of the fourth quarter, the defense suddenly found itself unable to stop the Browns from eating up clock – and scoring.
In that span, a 14-13 lead was turned into a 23-14 deficit.
"They did what they wanted to," said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. "Run the ball, do trick plays, and stuff like that. They did what they wanted to do and we could not stop it."
There's definitely some frustration building because of that. This is a group that expects to win. It expects to play well. It expects both sides of the ball to compliment one another.
And when those things aren't happening, it can be frustrating. Which is why Tomlin wasn't looking for any silver linings.
"I wasn't looking to be encouraged," he said when asked if he thought the offense looked better in the first half. "I was looking to win the game. I would expect us to get better in all phases, so I don't know if I share that perspective."
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 3 game against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium
• A penalty for having too many men on the field by the Browns led from a fourth-and-6 – it was listed as a fourth-and-5 on TV, but fourth-and-6 in stadium – turning into a fourth-and-1 with just under two minutes remaining.
Tomlin, down two scores, opted to take the points then and kick a field goal instead of trying to convert the down.
One way or another, the Steelers needed to score, get and onside kick and score again. They needed at least a field goal and a touchdown. But they also needed to get an onside kick.
It didn't matter in which order they got the field goal and touchdown. But it did matter if they got the onside kick. They did not.
• This game, much like last Sunday's loss to the Patriots, was very winnable.
The Steelers led 14-13 at the half and got the opening kickoff of the third quarter.
Despite taking a 4-yard loss on first-and-10 from the Cleveland 46, on second-and-14, they hit an inside screen pass to running back Jaylen Warren that went for a 35-yard gain to the 15. Only problem was, right tackle Chuks Okorafor was called for being downfield early.
"We had the play," said right guard James Daniels. "I believe Chuks was engaged with the guy. I'm pretty sure when you're engaged with a guy, they shouldn't be able to throw an ineligible man downfield (penalty). It's a tough call. But we still had other times in the game to capitalize and we didn't do that."
Okorafor was engaged briefly with a defensive lineman at the snap of the ball. He then came clean and went out to get linebacker Anthony Walker. Walker went to the ground with a knee injury and Okorafor, not knowing Walker was hurt, jumped on top of him to make sure he couldn't get back up and into the play.
It was unfortunate all the way around.
"I've got to watch the film," Okorafor said of the play. "I can't speak about it yet."
• The offensive line once again continued on its upward trajectory.
The Steelers averaged 4.7 yards per rushing attempt. Trubisky was sacked just once and hit twice.
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett was a non-factor, managing two assisted tackles and one quarterback hit working against second-year left tackle Dan Moore.
Moore had some help on Garrett at times, but when push came to shove, he was the last line of defense against one of the best pass rushers and most disruptive players in the NFL.
Tomlin might not have been looking for silver linings in this game, but the overall play of the offensive line is certainly one.
• Looking for another silver lining? During pre-game warmups, T.J. Watt was running 50-yard sprints and churning his arms as he did so, show no ill effects of the pectoral muscle injury that landed him on the Reserve/Injured List.
Watt still has two more games to sit out while on the Reserve/Injured List before he can potentially be designated for return. But it looks like that return will be sooner rather than later.
• Another positive is that Alex Highsmith seems to really be taking the next step as a player.
Highsmith registered a sack and a half in this game, giving him 4.5 on the season. He also had eight tackles, including two for a loss, and two other quarterback hits.
If he continues on that trajectory, this defense will be fine.
• Missed tackles, particularly on Browns running back Nick Chubb – but on others, as well – were an issue in this game.
There's a reason Chubb might be the best pure running back in the NFL. He's strong, fast and elusive.
"He was running through arm tackles and things of that nature, getting yards after contact," Tomlin said. "It wasn't good enough."
Not against a running back of that ilk. Chubb is the kind of player you have to gang tackle. And while the Steelers did that on occasion, they didn't do enough of it.
• Diontae Johnson largely had his way with Denzel Ward in a one-on-one matchup that saw the Browns cornerback shadowing Johnson all over the field. Johnson finished with 8 catches for 84 yards, though Ward did get a hand in to break up a long pass down the sideline in the third quarter to force a three-and-out by the Steelers.
The Steelers also got some solid plays from rookie George Pickens – his one-handed grab in the first quarter was a highlight reel catch – Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth in the passing game.
But it's those plays the offense missed, such as the long pass to Johnson, and when they occur that hurt.
The miss to Johnson was reminiscent of the missed opportunity last Sunday to the third-and-short play to Najee Harris working against edge rusher Matthew Judon. Sometimes, the other team just makes a play.
Now, the Steelers were 1 for 9 on third downs in this game. That's not good enough to be sure. But they were 0-3 on third downs in the first half and scored 14 points while also having a missed field goal by Chris Boswell from 49 yards.
The key is actually not getting to third down. The Steelers did a good job of that in the first half, winning big on first and second downs. Not so much in the final 30 minutes.
"That's big. If you can get in third-and-manageable or second-and-manageable, where you don't have to have long third downs, it's really good for the offense," said Daniels. "Second half, we kind of got away from some stuff. It's hard in a hostile environment to convert those."
• Going to an up-tempo, no-huddle offense once again proved to be a nice weapon for the Steelers. When they had success on offense early in the game, it was because of the use of that.
They also used Trubisky's mobility more in this game, rolling him out quite a bit and getting him on the move.
"There was success with tempo so I think that just opens doors up in the future to be able to go back to that," Claypool said.
Can that be the bread-and-butter of the offense? Perhaps. But at some point, you also need to line up and simply execute consistently.
And the consistent part of things is where the offense seems to be lacking right now. You see plays here and there. But it doesn't happen on a consistent basis.
"It was just inconsistent and not hitting those plays that we needed," Trubisky said. "We hit some in the first half which is why we scored 14 points. Three points in the second half is not going to do it for us. I would say not putting two halves together would be inconsistent."
• Wins heal all wounds. The Steelers made it through this game relatively healthy, with cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon suffering a hamstring injury that was the team's only issue in this game.
Given the short turnaround from the game against the Patriots, that's a positive.
Things didn't work out quite as well for the Browns, who lost a number of players during the game to injuries.
Now, the Steelers can regroup, put this one in their rearview mirror and try to get back to .500 in 10 days at home against the Jets. Do that, and things will be looked at a little differently – maybe.
"This one is going to be on the pot simmering for a while," said defensive lineman Cam Heyward. "We all have to own it. I am going to wear this and I am going to be better because of it."