Steelers are looking ahead following letdown vs. Patriots, history hints at Pittsburgh rebounding fast

Cam Heyward offered a simple explanation for how to move forward following his team's 30-point loss to the New England Patriots in the Pittsburgh Steelers' season-opener. 

"Come to work tomorrow," Heyward, Pittsburgh's defensive captain, said while sitting in the visitor's locker room Sunday night, via the team's official website. "It's that simple.  Take it day-by-day, look at our mistakes, get ready for Seattle." 

That's the general mindset the Steelers are carrying with them following Sunday night's 30-point loss to the Patriots on a night that saw Pittsburgh make countless mistakes on both sides of the ball. The 33-3 setback was the Steelers' biggest loss since Week 3 of the 2016 season when the Steelers lost by 31 points on the road in Philadelphia. 

"We had a good game plan, but we didn't execute well," Heyward said. "When you do that versus a Super Bowl winning team, your performance isn't good enough." 

Pittsburgh was out-played in just about every facet by New England, a team that is only expected to get better after officially acquiring Antonio Brown on Monday. While the Steelers never established their running attack, their receivers failed to get open on a consistent basis. And when they did get open, they dropped several pivotal passes that killed several promising drives. Donte Moncrief, who called Sunday night's loss a "wake-up call", was the main culprit with regard to dropping passes that could have helped prevent Sunday's eventual outcome. 

Third downs were one of the biggest contributors to Pittsburgh's blowout loss. While the Steelers converted on just three of their 12 third-down opportunities, the Patriots, led by Tom Brady's 341 yards and three touchdown passes, converted on half of their 14 attempts. 

"We gotta make our plays when we have the ball," Smith-Schuster said after the game, "and when we're in the red zone, we gotta score." 

While the Patriots deserve credit for how well they executed, rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush, Pittsburgh's first-round pick in this year's draft, said that the Steelers also played a major role in Sunday's outcome. 

"I just kinda feel like we beat ourselves," he said. "We shot ourselves in the foot. Third downs and long passes. I think it was more of a communication-execution thing. That's an area that we need to get better at."

Pittsburgh will surely get better as the 2019 season progresses. While New England were without several key pieces from last year's championship team, they had much more continuity on their side of the ball. The Patriots had both starting running backs back from last season along with top receivers Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman

The Patriots' secondary, arguably the best unit in the NFL after being one of the league's worst (at least statistically) two years earlier, has been with each other for several years. Their continuity showed throughout Sunday night's game, as cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty, along with safeties Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, made life tough on Pittsburgh wideouts throughout the contest. 

While Pittsburgh does have some continuity, specifically on the offensive and defensive lines, they also have many new pieces that are still trying to find their way into the puzzle. Rookie wideout Diontae Johnson, who missed a significant amount of time during camp with an injury, is expected to have a much bigger role in the offense as the season progresses. Moncrief, a free agent acquisition, is obviously still getting acclimated to catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger

Running back Benny Snell, a fourth round pick and the University of Kentuck's all-time leading rusher, didn't see the field Sunday night as he is still not 100 percent after sustaining an injury during the preseason. 

The Steelers' defense has several new pieces, too. While Bush started Sunday night's game, teammate Mark Barron, formerly of the Los Angeles Rams, was also playing in his first game with the Black and Gold on Sunday. So was cornerback Steven Nelson, a free agent signing from Kansas City. Kameron Kelly, a former AAF star, started at free safety Sunday night with normal starter Sean Davis still on the mend. While Sunday night's game was not an encouraging start, Pittsburgh's defense will surely improve as they continue to establish a rapport with one another. 

Pittsburgh's coaches also share blame for what happened in Foxboro. While the Patriots' offense was daring and creative, the Steelers' offensive game plan had as much diversity as the diner menu in the hit comedy "My Cousin Vinny". The Steelers' defensive game plan also didn't pressure Brady enough. They were also fooled by offensive play calls that put their defensive players in bad matchups. For example, outside linebacker Bud Dupree being asked on numerous occasions to guard Edelman in the slot. 

The Steelers have a history of rebounding following poor season-openers. Pittsburgh was blown out in Baltimore in Week 1 of the 2011 season before winning 12 of their next 15 games. The 1997 Steelers lost by 30 points to the visiting Cowboys before rallying to make a run to the AFC Championship Game. The 1989 Steelers lost by 51 points to the Browns before coming up a few plays short of making it to the AFC title game. The 2015 Steelers, the last Pittsburgh team to drop their season-opener in Foxboro, rebounded by whipping the 49ers the next week in their home opener, 43-19. Seattle, another AFC West team, will look to avoid a similar fate when they enter Heinz Field this Sunday. 

The 2019 Steelers will look to join the list of past Pittsburgh teams that did not allow their atrocious season-opening effort to define them. 

"It's still a long season," cornerback Mike Hilton told the media from Foxboro, via Steelers.com's Teresa Varley. "We have a lot of adjustments to make. We will be prepared. It's just game one. We haven't brought out everything we are going to use. We just have to prepare for Seattle and be ready for what they are going to bring in here. We will be ready."

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