Coach Mike Tomlin talked on Wednesday about how the loss to the Browns in the Wild Card Round still stings.
On Thursday, Minkah Fitzpatrick had that same feeling when he spoke via Zoom about the emotion right now at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
"It's very down. I don't think anybody in the building was expecting to not still be playing around this time of year," said Fitzpatrick. "We had very high expectations for this team simply because we held ourselves to a high standard the whole year. To go out like we did, not finish for the older guys who don't have many years left, or this may have been their last one, is very disappointing.
"Me personally, I try not to get too emotional about it, or too low about it, because it is part of the game. A loss like that is very hard to deal with. You hang low for a little bit, but you still have to learn from it."
Fitzpatrick is well aware that the team that left the field on Sunday night is not the same team that will be back in 2021. Changes always happen. It's normal. It's expected. There are 19 unrestricted free agents for the Steelers, including Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton who had a big impact on the secondary this season. Fitzpatrick knows he has no control over what happens via free agency this offseason, but also knows it's never easy if he does lose teammates to free agency.
"I am not really worried about the number, because it's a business," said Fitzpatrick. "The only thing I know I am going to miss is the relationships, going out there and playing with those guys. We put in a lot of effort in the offseason and during the season. That is the thing you will miss the most. It is what it is. It's part of the job. I have been on three different teams and every single team is extremely different looking after the season."
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Immediately following the Steelers loss to the Browns, both T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward pointed to execution as an issue on defense in the game. Fitzpatrick didn't argue, saying it was definitely more of a mental breakdown than anything physical.
"It's almost 100 percent mental," said Fitzpatrick. "I don't think there were too many times where we just lost one on one coverage. I think it was more leaving somebody wide open, which we don't normally do or the times we do we lose games for a reason. Or whether it be not getting in your gap, or not fitting the run the right way. I don't think any of it was being out physicaled. I think maybe we could have done a better job tackling, but when the running back is 10 yards down the field, it's kind of hard to tackle him. Besides that, I think it was overall execution.
"It was a combination of different things, even in the games before we lost. We had people down, people that were hurt, people that really didn't have a lot of experience that were out there which, attributes to the overall effect. I can't explain why it all happened, or what we can stop from making it happen. We just have to go out there next year and make sure the execution not just on the front end, but the back end of the season is going to be an emphasis for sure."
The back end is where the focus is for so many. The Steelers opened the season with a team record 11-0 start, before finishing the season 12-4 and losing in the playoffs. Fitzpatrick said the turning point was losing to the Washington Football Team.
"I think we lacked execution overall," said Fitzpatrick of the back end of the season. "We lacked execution in the pass game, in the run game. We kind of got away from what we are used to doing and that is pretty much being simple and executing the game plan. That is it for real. I think it is very simple why we lost football games. It wasn't like we were getting outplayed or outsmarted or outhustled. It was lack of execution on our part as players. There were a lot of things I could have done differently to make sure that didn't happen."