Thoughts: Steelers More Critical Than Joyful of 6-0
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the last remaining unbeaten team in the AFC, but it sure doesn't feel like it. After their 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans, in Nashville, the tone of their postgame Zoom calls felt, well, a bit angry.
"Not a perfect product. We understand that," head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. "But I appreciate their efforts. We are perfect from a record standpoint and so we respect that."
A game hanging in the balance with 30 seconds remaining could've ended in three ways. "Ideally, I was hoping to go into overtime," wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. And he wasn't wrong.
The thought as Stephen Gostkowski lined up for a 45-yard field goal was that the Titans were about to carry momentum into overtime. They answered - or nearly answered - a 24-7 deficit and were about to send the game into an extra quarterback.
He missed, and the Steelers moved to 6-0. They claimed the AFC for the first time this season and have an opportunity to take a two-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North in Week 8.
But they are not happy with how they've gotten here.
"All we can say is we're 6-0," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "But we won the game. Nothing's guaranteed. It's a good win, but there's a lot we got to improve ongoing forward. I know we were able to answer the challenge in some cases, but we got bigger challenges ahead going forward."
The aggravation is understood. At one point, the Steelers accumulated 130 yards to the Titans' one. Their time of possession at the time was 13:39 to 1:21, putting them on the fast-track to a 24-7 halftime lead over the only undefeated team in the conference.
Then, the second half hit, and everything changed. A.J. Brown scorched the secondary for a 73-yard touchdown reception, Derrick Henry found the endzone and Ben Roethlisberger added two interceptions to the one he threw to end the first half.
"It's just football," Tomlin said on the Titans' second-half adjustments. "I don't know that they changed anything that they did. We had a tipped pass that got intercepted and we were penalized, some things that happen when you stop yourself. They were confident, no doubt. But I don't know that they changed anything schematically or anything substantial changed. We just got to play better. We didn't play well enough in the second half for it not to be as tight as it was."
Noah's Thoughts: The Steelers barely escaped the Titans, and really, maybe they shouldn't have.
Tennessee couldn't get enough going even in the second half to say they held the upper hand at any point, but there's a belief momentum would've carried them to victory if this game went into overtime.
The Steelers have every right to be upset with their play in the second half. Derrick Henry was held in check so much that the Titans' gameplan started adapting away from him. Then, he got his feet moving in the right direction, and he somehow finished with 75 yards on 20 rushes. Not good, but good compared to his 27 in the first half.
Is there a belief this team is starting to struggle? No. Is there a belief they started getting too confident? No. Did the Titans come back and play like an undefeated football team in the second half? Yes.
Don't chalk this up to a downhill slide the Steelers will now need to work on. They're as sharp as any group in the NFL right now. They contain as much veteran leadership on one side of the ball as the other. So, when they head into the facility on Wednesday, they're going to begin working on adjustments.
"There's a way that we like to play and there's a lot of meat on that bone as coach likes to say. I'm fine saying that," Heyward said. "I believe in the guys we got, and I'm confident we can do more. I look forward to answering the call next week."
The Ravens are up next. Being 6-0 over 5-1 goes a long way in the confidence level within the locker room and within the fanbase. As Tomlin opened up with, it wasn't perfect, but their record is.
Enjoy it even if they can't.