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Lolley's 10 Thoughts: Jets

It doesn't matter who Mike Tomlin starts or plays at quarterback if the Steelers' playmakers don't make plays for him.

That's what we saw in Sunday's 24-20 come-from-behind loss to the New York Jets, as the Steelers had four turnovers in the game, three of which were plays on which the team's talented group of pass catchers had their hands on the football but didn't come down with it. And not only did they fail to make the play, three turned into interceptions for the Jets.

Call it misfortunate. Call it unlucky. But the bottom line is that the plays just have to be made.

"I think every turnover was off of a tip, so sometimes it's a little unlucky," said wide receiver Chase Claypool. "That's not on the quarterbacks. That's just how the game goes sometimes."

Claypool was the target on one of those interceptions, coming on the first of quarterback Kenny Pickett's career passes. He was in a one-on-one situation downfield with a defensive back. And he didn't come down with the ball. Worse yet, safety Jordan Whitehead swooped in and caught the pass before it hit the turf.

"We've got to make more plays," Claypool said. "That was to me, and I wish I had caught it. You've got to build that trust within yourself and the quarterback and make plays when you're called upon."

The Steelers have too much talent at the wide receiver and tight end position for that to not happen.

But talent and potential are one thing. Unless they're put forth on the field, however, they wind up being wasted.

Diontae Johnson had a glance off his hands -- after it was tipped at the line of scrimmage -- that turned into an interception. So did Claypool. And tight end Pat Freiermuth. The Steelers' final interception was a desperation heave into the end zone from midfield, but you get the idea.

"A player tipped that at the line. I was able to get my hands on it. I have to make a play on the ball," Johnson said of the interception from Mitch Trubisky in which he was involved.

"We've got to play better. Hold onto the ball. Make those tough catches in tough moments. That's all we can do. Continue to execute. We can say what we can do each and every week, how we can put up big this and that, but you can't talk too much. We've just got to play. Put it on display."

Until that happens, the Steelers just have the potential to have a potent offense. And potential won't cut it on Sundays in the NFL.

• This is not to say the pass catchers were the only ones at fault for the interceptions.

Pickett's pass intended for Freiermuth came with pressure on him. He tried to get the ball outside to his big tight end and get the ball high enough that only Freiermuth could catch it -- or it went out bounds.

"I wanted it higher than that, definitely," Pickett admitted. "Either Pat was going to get it or it as going to be out of bounds. I didn't put it high enough. I cannot throw an interception there in that point of the game. Obviously, we were moving the ball well."

The Steelers were moving the ball well with a 20-16 lead. They had a first down at the New York 31 with under four minutes remaining.

And then disaster struck, as the ball tipped off the hands of Freiermuth and into those of safety Michael Carter.

But with the game on the line, the defense failed to get a stop -- again.

It marked the third consecutive game the defense failed to get a needed stop in the closing moments or allowed the opposing offense to stay on the field.

In this case, the Jets scored the go-ahead touchdown with 16 seconds remaining.

"They won the third downs," said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. "We didn't win them. ... We didn't stop them."

No, they did not.

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 4 game against the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium

No losses are easy to digest. But they're especially bitter when there were plays to be made in what amounted to a one-score game.

The Jets were 6 of 15 on third downs in the game, but they were 3 of 4 in the fourth quarter and converted on fourth down on the one third down they didn't get.

"It came down to third downs in the fourth quarter and we didn't get off the field," said Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward. "You like to think third down, your money down, your attention to detail picks up."

For whatever reason, that doesn't seem to be happening with the Steelers. A month into this season, it's becoming something of a trend.

"It's very frustrating," said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. "It's frustrating to lose to people that you know you're better than, more talented than, especially when you have the team that we have. We're a great team with a lot of talent, a lot of great young players. I think we are way better than what we've been putting on display."

But you've got to show it.

• One player who did put it on display Sunday was rookie wide receiver George Pickens. He and Freiermuth were basically the entire passing game in this one, with Freiermuth catching 7 passes for 85 yards and Pickens hauling in 6 receptions for 102 yards.

Pickens had 4 catches for 71 yards in the second half with Pickett in the game. The two seem to have a real chemistry.

"I would probably say it was mostly play calling," Pickens said of his big game with Pickett. "The defense, the looks they were giving us, it's not like a certain connection. He just took what the defense was giving him."

• So, what will Tomlin do next week against the Bills? Who will start at quarterback?

He's not saying.

"I'm not going to talk extended as we sit here," Tomlin said following this game. "We did what we needed to do to put ourselves in position to win this game. We'll do it again. But I like to keep it where we are in terms of what transpired here today. We'll deal with next week, next week."

For his part, Trubisky, who started the team's first four games, is going to keep his head down and keep working. He's not happy with what transpired, but all he can do is whatever is asked of him.

"Just come in, be a good teammate and try to be a leader for the team," Trubisky said of what's next for him. "I'll go back to work and help any way I can. It's a tough deal. It's definitely not what I wanted, not what I expected, but it's part of it."

• Down moments like this are the true measure of a team to be sure. One thing for certain, the Steelers won't quit.

In the 2013 season, the team started the year 0-4 and was then 2-6 at the midway point of the season. It finished 8-8, barely missing the playoffs -- and would have made it under the current format where seven teams from each conference go.

When things are most bleak, Tomlin often does his best coaching

"It's not broad, sweeping things, but it's never broad, sweeping things in the NFL," Tomlin said of what's needed. "It's a fine line in this business between winning and losing. So, acknowledging that, we have to absorb the negativity with our current position and roll up our sleeves and keep working. We intend to do that."

• One thing that is certain, these players are leaving it all on the field. Terrell Edmunds suffered a concussion in this game breaking up a pass. Heyward suffered ankle and elbow injuries in the game, getting X-rays at the half before coming back. Cornerback Cam Sutton, who was dealing with a groin injury late in the week, was dealing with a hamstring issue late in the game. And Fitzpatrick suffered a knee injury making a tackle on the final drive and had to leave before returning on the next play.

If it were a matter of caring, the Steelers would be 4-0. As it is, they're not.

"I don't worry about what's happened in the past. What's in the future?" Heyward said.

"There's a lot of football to be played. You can't run from it. You've got to grow from it. You've got to continue looking in the mirror. How can we be better? How can I be better? ... What does it take for us to get over the hump? I think all of us have to be concerned with winning the game. Doesn't matter what the stats look like. Doesn't matter who's our quarterback, who's not. We want to win a game as the Pittsburgh Steelers."

• The Steelers weren't happy with a defensive holding call that went against defensive tackle Tyson Alualu on second-and-5 from the 15-yard-line with 50 seconds remaining that gave the Jets a first-and-goal at the 9.

It looked like a tough call against Alualu, who was fighting a double team on the play.

"It's tough. You never want to be in that position," Alualu said. "Usually, you get that call when you're over the center when we're head up. They called it out. It's tough. The only way I saw it was on the replay. The refs call it, they call it."

It's not a call that you see a lot. And you seldom see it called in this situation. But referee Brad Rogers' crew did.

"I'm not trying to make any excuses," Alualu said. "You see it when you're head up over the center and trying to climb (into the backfield). It stinks."

• It wasn't the only call that went against the Steelers late that was questionable. With 1:31 remaining, Corey Davis was credited with a 17-yard catch on second-and-9 from the New York 37.

Replay showed that the ball hit the ground as Davis was trying to secure the catch. But the Jets hustled to the line of scrimmage and ran another play before it could be looked at. And with the clock inside two minutes, any call for a replay would have had to come from the officials booth.

In that situation, the Steelers have no recourse.

"We have to control what we can control, and we didn't do that," outside linebacker Alex Highsmith said when asked about that play. "Toward the end of the game, we all need to look at ourselves in the mirror. We can all be better."

• The Steelers rushed for 119 yards on 31 carries with Najee Harris gaining 74 yards on 18 attempts.

Despite that, Harris got just 2 carries for 7 yards in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers got the ball back with 7:31 remaining after the Jets scored to make it 20-17. And Harris got just one carry, while another attempt by Jaylen Warren wound up in an aborted play after a pitch by Pickett was low and at his feet.

"I thought we were running the ball well," guard James Daniels said.

And he would have liked have kept doing so.

"One-hundred percent, especially with it being a four-minute situation, trying to run the clock a lot," Daniels said. "Obviously, we've just got to do a better job as guys on the field."

• So, the Steelers' next four opponents entered this weekend with three combined losses.

But in the NFL, that means nothing. The bottom line is that the Steelers need to play better no matter who the opponent to have a chance to win.

"It's definitely frustrating. It's definitely not the way you want to start a season," Highsmith said. "To see the true measure of a team, it's how they bounce back from adversity. So, it's going to show a lot about us this week, how we bounce back, because we've got a big week ahead of us."

Can they play better?

"Yes we can," Highsmith said. "There are plenty of ball games left. And we will."

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