There may not have been a bigger upset during Week 1 of the 2021 NFL regular season than what happened inside Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., and while Coach Mike Tomlin again said he appreciated the efforts of the players in crafting that 23-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills he didn't waste any time reminding them of what lies ahead.
"Much like we talked about after the game (in Buffalo), we weren't highly interested in style points," said Tomlin in reviewing the Steelers' opening week win on Tuesday during his weekly news conference. "We knew it would be tough sledding. We knew it'd be tough sledding for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, the Buffalo Bills are a quality outfit. They have quality players who are well-coached. They've got continuity now. Buffalo's core group has been together for a number of years, and so we knew that would be challenging. We also knew the environment itself, playing in front of a packed stadium and the energy associated with Week 1 would create some challenges. And lastly, we knew that we have a lot of new pieces, new to us but in some instances new to the National Football League."
Typically the face of continuity, the Steelers started six rookies against the Bills last Sunday, including two on an offensive line that almost was completely rebuilt over the course of the 2021 offseason.
Included in the group of six rookie starters were left tackle Dan Moore Jr., center Kendrick Green, tight end Pat Freiermuth, running back Najee Harris, nickel back Tre Norwood, and punter Pressley Harvin III.
"We were coiled for action in terms of dealing with some adjusting in the early phases of the game, settling in, if you will," said Tomlin. "I liked the overall spirit and the can-do approach in a collective group as we dealt with that. We were able to settle down and make some plays and make enough plays to get victory, and for that we're thankful, but we have a lot to work on.
"We have a lot of details to improve, we need to continue to gain experience and cohesion, individually and collectively. And so, we get back to work with this week's challenges, and it's going to be a significant one playing the Las Vegas Raiders, who are coming off a big win."
The Raiders' big win came in overtime against the Baltimore Ravens, in which Las Vegas twice came back in the fourth quarter to erase seven-point deficits before using a 55-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. A 31-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Zay Jones gave the Raiders the victory.
During his news conference, Tomlin acknowledged a Las Vegas offense led by the receiving of Darrin Waller, who finished with 10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown; and a defense that posted three sacks of Lamar Jackson, with two by Maxx Crosby and the other by Carl Nassib. But as Tomlin often prefers to do at this early stage of a season, he turned his focus inward to the players on his team and what they need to do to get better.
"But more importantly than that, it's just a growth process that needs to occur this stage of the journey," said Tomlin about this week's to-do list. "We walk into this parking lot each and every day, and we're either going to get better or we're not, and we better get better.
"We better get better as professionals. We better find our rhythm in terms of how we work. We better gain skills relative to the positions that we hold. We better gain insight about the game situations that allow plays to happen for us. There's a lot of teaching and learning that just needs to continue to happen. But you know that's not exclusive to us as the Pittsburgh Steelers. I'm sure everybody has that sentiment rolling into Week 2 of the regular season."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Thankfully, it doesn't appear that we have a lot of injury damage coming out of the game. There are some bumps and bruises associated with play, maybe a veteran guy or two who I'll minimizing at the early portions of the week. But you know we never spent a lot of time worrying about that. One man's misfortune or the taking care of a veteran player is a growth opportunity for young guys. If we get into some of that, if I minimize Ben some on Wednesday, it's a great day for Mason Rudolph, it's a great day for Dwayne Haskins to get elevated and get snaps and grow as professionals so that they can prepare themselves to deliver when called upon. I just think that's the essence of team. I thought it'd be appropriate to make that point when I talk about practice participation as we get into the rhythm of this thing. Robert Spillane will continue to be evaluated. He may be limited somewhat at the early portions of the week, but we expect him to be available to us, barring any setbacks from a shin standpoint and so that's a good thing."