Response will be revealing

They never said they were playing to go undefeated in the regular season.

But they don't play to lose, either.

"We step into a stadium each week with the intentions of winning," head coach Mike Tomlin reiterated on Monday night.

Now that they've failed to win for the first time in 2020, Tomlin is looking forward to seeing how his Steelers respond.

"I'm excited about facing the adversity of losing with this group, man, smiling in the face of it, preparing, getting ready for our next challenge," Tomlin offered after the Steelers' 23-17 loss to Washington at Heinz Field. "Different points along the journey you get a chance to learn about yourself, who you are, what you're made of individually and collectively. It takes the journey to reveal that.

"We're faced with a loss now. We'll get an opportunity to smile in the face of it."

The Washington matchup was the second in a stretch of schedule that includes three games in 12 days.

In the wake of all the recent postponements and schedule changes, comings and goings on and off the Reserve/COVID-19 list and the need to rely on injury replacements/practice squad promotions kicker Matthew Wright made his NFL debut on Monday night because Chris Boswell (hip) couldn't go the loss to Washington might provide for the Steelers an important reminder about the importance of staying focused.

"Hope so," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We're getting to that point of the season when you've got to be sharp in all areas, your whole team, both sides of the ball, all that stuff.

"There can be all kinds of distractions, changes of this, that and the other. At the end of the day, we got to go play good football."

DIFFERENCE-MAKERS: It's often said close games, in particular, are decided by a handful of plays.

There were four such candidates Monday night.

In no particular order:

Fourth-and-1, Washington 28-yard line, 4:57 left, fourth quarter, 17-17: Roethlisberger throws incomplete for running back Anthony McFarland Jr., who was being covered by linebacker Jon Bostic and was open but couldn't complete the catch.

"Yeah, you know, it's a good play," Roethlisberger said. "I think the thing that hurt us the most was they were running the guy (Bostic) out there late to cover him. Sometimes you want that guy to be set to see what's going on. I have to deliver a better throw. Ran a great route, gave us the chance. It's on me to deliver the throw."

Second-and-4, Washington 36, 14:16 left, fourth quarter, Steelers leading, 17-10: Outside linebacker T.J. Watt forces a fumble by running back J.D. McKissic, but Watt's attempt at a fumble return for a touchdown winds up as a fumble recovery by Washington tight end Logan Thomas.

"Yeah, trying to scoop and score," Watt said. "Make a play for my team. Just didn't work out, didn't get enough hold on it. The other guy made a good play and recovered it."

Third-and-14, Washington 14, 13:27 left, third quarter, Steelers leading, 14-3: Quarterback Alex Smith hits wide receiver Cam Sims 1-yard behind the line of scrimmage on a flanker screen and Sims turns the play into a 31-yard gain.

And, third-and-4, Washington 44, 3:10 left, fourth quarter, 17-17: Smith hits Sims for a 29-yard gain to the Steelers' 27.

"That screen they had on third-and-14, we just gotta find a way to get him down," cornerback Mike Hilton said. "He also made a deep ball on (cornerback) Cam (Sutton), a one-handed catch. There's not too much you can do about that. We just know we have to play better."

STILL NOT CATCHING ON: Dropped passes were an issue again, as they had been in the Baltimore game.

"We just got to make routine plays routinely," Tomlin said. "I say that often, but there's a lot of truth to it. Got to make routine plays routinely. We're not making them routinely enough right now, so it's affecting our fluidity as a collective group."

Wide receiver James Washington, who had a 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown, suspects the Steelers are focusing too much on the 'run' part of that equation and not enough on the 'catch' prerequisite.

"I don't think there's anything to work on," he said. "We just have to focus. You know, I feel like a lot of us are kind of thinking about the next move instead of just catching the ball first. That starts with the person. I know the group of guys we have will focus in."