'There's a disconnect'

The offense struggled again but the defense did, too.

That wasn't lost on defensive tackle Cam Heyward after Sunday night's 26-15 loss in Buffalo, the Steelers' second consecutive setback following an 11-0 start.

"We played like crap, simple as that," Heyward assessed. "You can sit up here and talk about our defense in the first quarter, but after that it all went to hell.

"We gotta figure out what we're doing. Whoever's in there has to be responsible, and it's up to the older guys to step up, as well, including myself. We can sit up here and say it's a young guy and he's in a new position but as an older guy, we need to alleviate the pressure. Whether it's communicating better, getting more pressure, everybody's gotta be on their Ps and Qs. As a defense, we gotta be as a whole. You don't just single out one guy."

The Steelers' defense was without inside linebackers Devin Bush and his replacement, Robert Spillane (both on the Reserve/Injured list) and Vince Williams (Reserve/Covid 19), and cornerback Joe Haden (concussion).

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree, like Bush, is also done for the season.

Head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged the schematic limitations that accompany such absences .

"Yes, but that's life in our game," he said. "You put together a plan with what you have to work with and you play ball."

The Bills gained 232 of their 334 total net yards in the second half and possessed the ball for 21:30 in the third and fourth quarters.

The Steelers went 1-for-10 converting third downs (10 percent) on the night.

The Bills were 7-for-14 (50 percent), including 5-for-7 in the second half.

"Whatever it takes as a defense," Heyward maintained. "If the offense has a hiccup we can still fight back through it. We've done it before.

"It's about accommodating each other. It's about having each other's backs. Who's to say the offense has to be perfect week in and week out? Who's to say the defense or the special teams? We gotta play together as a team. We gotta make sure if one group gives up points we gotta work together and these past two games we haven't done that. There's a disconnect there."

Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 14 game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium

GAME-CHANGER: The Steelers led, 7-3, with less than a minute left in the second quarter. But on second-and-5 from the Steelers' 47-yard line quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's pass for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was intercepted by cornerback Taron Johnson and returned 51 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bills a 9-7 lead.

"I saw them go into kind of a zone coverage," Roethlisberger explained. "I tried to keep JuJu from going out to the corner to get blown up and so I put it a little bit on his body behind him, and the guy made a good play. It's a bad play on my part. You can't do that at the end of the half, giving them points, not just a turnover, but they get points off it.

"That's 110 percent on me."

Suddenly, the Bills had the lead and the momentum.

They never relinquished either.

"We made a few plays in the first half," Tomlin said. "Defensively, they made a few plays. Their plays were more significant than ours. That pick-six was the significant play."

SMALL STEPS BACK: Wide receiver Diontae Johnson dropped a pass on each of the Steelers' first two possessions and didn't see the field again until the third quarter.

Upon his return, Johnson caught the ball all three times he was targeted in the second half. Those completions resulted in gains of 5, 6 and 17 yards on a touchdown drive that, coupled with a two-point conversion, brought the Steelers back to within 23-15 early in the fourth quarter.

"As a receiver, when someone's down like that and you take them out it sucks," Smith-Schuster said. "We kept him uplifted. He came out in the second half, made a couple plays for us on the drive where we scored. Just stay positive, keep it going."

NOT GOOD ENOUGH: Roethlisberger was asked if there was enough time left in the regular season for the Steelers to sort out their issues on offense.

"I hope so," he said. "If I don't play good enough football, then I need to hang it up. I still feel like I can do enough things to help this team win football games. I'm going to do everything I can to get us back on track.

"We've lost two. We're facing some adversity. We're not hitting the panic button. Offensively, we are not very good. Right now, we are not playing good football, and that starts with me. We all need to look in the mirror, and, like I said, it starts with me, and understand that we all need to be better.

"I think that we will be. I think this is a team that has a lot of resilience and that is resilient and understands what it takes to win football games and understands what time of year it is and that the way we are playing right now is unacceptable."