ORCHARD PARK, NY — With his uniform still on, Najee Harris sat at his locker in the visitors’ locker room at Highmark Stadium more than 30 minutes after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 38-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Beside him, coach Mike Tomlin sat at an empty locker, talking quietly to his sophomore running back as Harris ducked his head.
Earlier, cornerback Arthur Maulet was roaming the locker room, loudly challenging his teammates, loudly asking no one in particular if they really loved the game.
Across the aisle, defensive captain Cameron Heyward stood in front of a podium and called the loss a “dark day.”
After losing their fourth straight game (they’re locked out a point after not winning), the Steelers’ locker room was left untethered and unstuck after the worst loss in franchise history since a 51-0 opening week loss to the Cleveland Browns in 1989.
“You can’t kick your own butt,” Heyward said. “And that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Sunday was supposed to be about Kenny Pickett making his first career start, but instead it was overshadowed as a showcase for all the flaws that had simmered beneath the surface in the first four weeks of the season. season.
Josh Allen and his offensive weapons exploited the cracks, twisting a knife into the seam to fracture it further.
For all the promise Pickett holds for the future, not even his spark can fix everything that ails this team. She is someone with an attitude and swagger to cheer, but even that might not be enough to save this season.
The frustration the Steelers felt in the visitors’ locker room at Highmark Stadium on Sunday followed them to UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday.
Responding to a question about quieting the noise, wide receiver Diontae Johnson laughed wryly and suggested fans could come out and play if they could help the team. And he took issue with former Steeler and ESPN analyst Ryan Clark, who denounced the Steelers’ effort in the 38-3 loss.
“They have a lot to say,” Johnson said. “Everyone can say what they want, but they don’t know what it’s like to come to work with us every day. Put your blood, sweat and tears and none of that we do. So everyone can say what they want, but the real fans who really know what we do, and I appreciate them.”
Ryan Clark expresses his disappointment in the Steelers after their big loss to the Bills.
Cornerback Cam Sutton, normally upbeat and insightfully expansive in his responses, was quiet and brief when approached for an interview at his locker.
“It’s not about what we say,” Sutton said. “I know it’s not about me. You guys are asking me a lot of questions, and what I think we should do. It’s about us playing f—ing football. Excuse my language. But that’s just it.
Perhaps inadvertently, Johnson diagnosed the source of the Steelers’ problems after the Week 4 loss to the NY Jets.
“Obviously, it’s a rebuilding year,” Johnson told reporters in the locker room after the loss. “We can’t use that as an excuse. It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is or whatever position. It’s our job to do it and win games. That’s what we have to do: win.”
But the Steelers aren’t in the rebuilding business. They just don’t.
For nearly two decades with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, the Steelers were the picture of consistency, always in the postseason conversation. For a fan base that lived through or heard stories of the dominance of the 1970s and Roethlisberger’s early years, anything short of a Super Bowl was a dud.
The Steelers aren’t supposed to rebuild. They are supposed to reload and keep winning. But the dominoes of recent years changed that.
Adam Schefter discusses TJ Watt’s delay in returning to the Steelers due to injury.
For many solid moves the Steelers made, like drafting TJ Watt and Pat Freiermuth and trading a first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, there were more moves, both intentional and unexpected, that undermined the once-strong franchise.
Roethlisberger kept the organization in limbo with a prolonged retirement he flirted with for years, and the Steelers waited until he was done to draft their next quarterback. Tomlin moved up, and stayed with, Matt Canada after a brief stint as the Steelers’ quarterbacks coach and a disappointing first season as NFL coordinator. Inside linebacker Devin Bush, whom the Steelers traded for the draft in 2019, has yet to reach his potential as Ryan Shazier’s replacement after tearing his ACL in 2020. Defensive end Stephon Tuitt suddenly retired after missing a entire season following his brother’s injury. tragic death Versatile defensive back Mike Hilton entered free agency. The old guard of offensive linemen has retired or moved in the span of two years, and the replacements the Steelers recruited and signed haven’t had the same success as the stalwart units that protected Roethlisberger for most of his career. .
As a result, the Steelers are here, 1-4 to start the season for the second time in four seasons and just one year after they started 1-3. There are pieces of a good team: a current NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Watt, a stalwart defensive lineman in Heyward, a promising young quarterback in Pickett. But there are also numerous holes and a serious lack of depth on defense, a depletion of talent on the offensive line and an offensive coordinator who isn’t putting the Steelers’ offensive players, their deepest and best assets, in the best position. . to break the explosive plays that make the difference.
“We have to know that there will be better days, not to provide or seek comfort, but knowing that there will be better days will be a result of our commitment to making sure there are better days,” Tomlin said Sunday. . “That’s what I talked to the team about. But where we are today, it’s not good. We understand it as professionals. We own it. It is what it is, man.
Whether they want to admit it or not, the Steelers are rebuilding, and it could get even worse before it gets better with Tampa Bay, Miami and Philadelphia on the schedule before the Week 9 bye.
“Obviously it’s adversity,” Sutton said. “Just a situation where we have control to get a better result. It is not a scenario that we [saw] we ourselves are inside or want to be inside. But we’re not going to sit here and think about it, either. Just one week at a time. There is a lot of ball ahead, but we have to fasten our belts and get things done”.
It’s well known that Tomlin has never had a losing season as head coach since he took over the franchise in 2007, but that streak is seriously in jeopardy and it may be too late to make the changes this team needs.
“You play like we played today, you have to be open to doing whatever it takes to change the outcome of these games,” Tomlin said Sunday. “That’s a fact. I don’t think anyone would be surprised by our willingness to move any stone to change the results of games like the one that happened today. That’s just appropriate.