Mike Tomlin, when asked to recall the last time he was this upset following a Pittsburgh Steelers victory, could not offer an answer after his team barely eked past a vastly undermanned Baltimore Ravens team on Wednesday, 19-14. A double-digit favorite, the Steelers, who were missing three starters heading into Sunday's game, struggled to defeat a Ravens team that was without a host of their key contributors that included quarterback Lamar Jackson, running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, tight end Mark Andrews, receiver Willie Snead, offensive linemen Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari, defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell, Justin Madubuike, Jihad Ward, and outside linebackers Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson and Matthew Judon.
"To be bluntly honest, I'm really disappointed in our performance tonight," Tomlin said, via Will Graves of the Associated Press. "We did enough to win tonight, that's all."
When asked to specifically answer what aspect of the win disappointed him most, Tomlin spared no position.
"It was in all three phases," said Tomlin, whose team improved to 11-0 on Wednesday night, although you'd never know it by watching his press conference. "We couldn't run the ball effectively when we needed to. We dropped too many significant passes, very capable, makable passes. We didn't make significant plays in the special teams game. Our kickoff coverage unit wasn't good enough. We turned the [expletive] ball over. We gave up big plays in critical moments on defense. Can't have it. They converted a long run on a possession down before the half. Unacceptable. They have a 70-yard late in the game. Unacceptable.
"We're fortunate tonight. It's good to proceed with the victory. I acknowledge that, but not a lot happened tonight to be proud of or be excited about other than that."
As Tomlin alluded to, the Steelers' receivers dropped several passes in crucial moments. Those drops largely contributed to Pittsburgh scoring a touchdown on just one of their four red zone possessions. One of these fruitless end zone trips ended with Ben Roethlisberger throwing an interception to linebacker Tyus Bowser. And while Roethlisberger still completed 71% of his passes, that doesn't appear to bring much comfort to Tomlin, who offered a blunt response when asked what could be attributed to the drops.
"Us sucking," Tomlin said.
Tomlin declined to offer praise when a reporter asked about how the success Pittsburgh's running game had with Benny Snell during the game's final possession, as Snell (along with a clutch third-down catch by James Washington) enabled the Steelers to run out the clock after the Ravens had pulled to within five points.
"It's a positive in terms of the efforts of Benny Snell, to be quite honest of you," said Tomlin, who said that he wasn't worried about his team's pass-happy offensive approach (the Steelers threw 51 times and ran 20 times). "But there was too many unblocked people at the point of attack and things of that nature. It's more reflective of the individual efforts of Benny Snell."
Baltimore's first touchdown was set up by Ray-Ray McCloud's muffed punt. The Ravens' second touchdown was a breakdown in the secondary that allowed backup quarterback Trace McSorley to complete a 70-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown. In between, the Steelers' defense mostly took advantage of the Ravens' outmanned offense. The one exception took place near the end of the first half, when a 39-yard run by Robert Griffin Iii put the Ravens in position to take the lead. Baltimore came up empty, however, when Griffen failed to connect with tight end Luke Willson in the end zone on the last half of the half.
Despite the underwhelming team performance, the Steelers did enjoy several strong individual performances. T.J. Watt racked up two of Pittsburgh's three sacks. Joe Haden's pick-six of Griffen got the Steelers on the board. Snell, playing in relief of James Conner, racked up 93 total yards on 19 touches. J.C Hassenauer, who had just 42 career regular season snaps prior to Wednesday, filled in for Maurkice Pouncey after the eight-time Pro Bowl center was placed on the team's reserve/COVID-19 list hours before kickoff.
While those performances deserve mention, Tomlin knows that his team's overall effort Wednesday night was not up to the level they will need moving forward. The Steelers, after all, are just one game ahead of the defending champion Chiefs for the AFC's No. 1 seed. Pittsburgh may also be forced to further raise their collective efforts if outside linebacker Bud Dupree did tear an ACL during Wednesday's win. The Steelers are 11-0, but, as Tomlin made clear in his postgame presser, there is still plenty of work that needs to be done.
Tomlin doesn't believe that Pittsburgh's issues, in all three phases, is not something that should carry over into Monday's 5 p.m. kickoff against Washington. While they may have overlooked the Ravens, don't expect the Steelers to make the same mistake against a Washington team that will come to Pittsburgh with a two-game winning streak in tow.
"We don't have to reinvent the wheel. It's not some transformational thing that needs to transpire. We've got to coach better and play better when we get inside the bowl. So I expect our team to play better on Monday night."