Mike Tomlin didn't mince words following the worst loss of his 16-year tenure as the Steelers' head coach. Pittsburgh, a historic underdog entering Sunday's game against the Bills, was down 31-3 at halftime and eventually fell 38-3. The Steelers suffered the franchise's worst defeat since Week 1 of the 1989 season, when they fell to Cleveland 51-0.
The '89 Steelers rebounded from that loss to make the playoffs for the final time under Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll. It's going to take something short of a miracle for the '22 Steelers to do the same as they are currently 1-4 with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers coming to Pittsburgh next Sunday.
"Was I satisfied with the effort? We just got smashed," Tomlin said while uttering the word "smashed" for the first time in his near seven-minute press conference. "Like, what are we talking about here guys?"
Tomlin said that he is "absolutely" willing to make more personnel changes after replacing Mitch Trubisky with Kenny Pickett (among other changes) this past week. Changes to the coaching staff are also an option.
"You play like we played today, you've got to be open to doing whatever is required to change the outcome of these games." Tomlin said. "And so that's a given. ... I think everyone understands where we are and what transpired today, and it is not cool. So you can draw whatever conclusions you want to draw from it. That's just the realities of our business at this level."
The Bills beat the Steelers, soundly, in all three phases while taking a 31-3 halftime lead. Buffalo called off the dogs after scoring its fifth touchdown a minute into the fourth quarter. Buffalo racked up over 400 yards in the first half, with Josh Allen throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the game's first 30 minutes.
Conversely, the Steelers' offense failed to score another point after netting a field goal on their opening drive. The running game was non-existent, with Najee Harris gaining just 20 yards on 11 carries. Perhaps the only bright spot on Sunday was the play of rookies Pickett and George Pickens. Pickens caught six passes for 83 yards, a week after he recorded his first 100-yard game. Pickett went for 327 yards with an interception on 34-of-52 passing against the NFL's second-ranked scoring defense.
"I thought he was highly competitive," Tomlin said of Pickett's first start. "But I'm not, you know, dissecting it in this way as I stand here right now. We got smashed. And that's the only perspective that I have. ... Football is the ultimate team game. That's why we all love it so much. That's why we all respect it so much, and we got smashed as a collective today. And so I don't have a lot of individual analysis."
What can the Steelers do to stop the bleeding? Fixing the running game would be a start, as the Steelers continue to struggle to run the ball while putting their quarterback in unenviable positions. Getting more production from Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool would also help. Johnson dropped a fourth-down pass on Sunday, and was unable to keep his feet in bounds on two other plays that were incompletions. Claypool, who has been largely disappointing following a successful rookie season, has just 11 catches through five games.
Defensively, the Steelers clearly aren't the same unit without T.J. Watt, who is expected to miss more time after undergoing knee surgery. Pittsburgh is now 0-8 in games without the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
A lack of execution is among the main reasons for Pittsburgh's 1-4 start. Untimely penalties, missed tackles, missed reads and an inability to win critical possession downs have reared their ugly heads in each of the last four games. While some of that is due to the strength and talent of the opposition, a good portion of those issues are the result of self-inflected wounds.
For all his success, Tomlin has been in similar situations like the one he and the Steelers currently find themselves in. As you can see, the Steelers have dug themselves out of pretty deep holes under Tomlin over the past decade.
Tomlin will take a similar approach to finding answers on how to change the course of his current team.
"We've got to absorb the position that we're in, what transpired today," Tomlin said. "We've got to know that there's gonna be better days, not to provide or to seek comfort. Knowing that there's better days that's going to be born out of our commitment to making sure that they're better days, and that's what I talked to the team about. But where we are today, not good."