In the days after the worst loss in the Pittsburgh Steelers tenure of head coach Mike Tomlin, the message throughout the team, and throughout the organization has been clear: own the defeat, and turn around and respond. How you respond to the adversity of such a defeat says more about your makeup than the defeat itself.
This was the message that the Steelers’ defensive captains, cornerback William Gay and defensive end Cameron Heyward, sent across the locker room as soon as they dragged themselves back in their on Sunday evening, and it’s the message that Tomlin himself transcribed for the media during today’s press conference.
It’s the message that he used to open his comments, in fact, acknowledging, as though there were any alternative, that, in his words, “we got our butts kicked”. “We kicked our butts as well”, he added, however, and it was a fair assessment, which is usually the cases “when the game unfolds in the manner in which that did”.
“Particularly at this stage in the journey”, he continued, “I think that when you have a performance like that, how you respond to it is very important, and I thought we had a really good day yesterday in terms of analyzing elements of that performance of why it unfolded in the manner which it did”.
There are some sour tastes that you can only cleanse from your palate by tasting something sweet, and after such a defeat, nothing would be as sweet as a victory of any kind on Sunday. But in order to get there, they have to figure out what went wrong, and how to correct it, before Sunday. That is the process they are in now.
“I think that’s the first step in terms of responding to that performance”, he said about yesterday’s successful analysis and practice. “How we perform this week in preparation, the things that we do, the attention to detail is going to be critical. We’ve got to acknowledge that we’re still very much in the growth and development stage, as it every team at this juncture”.
“We took a significant step back”, he added, saying that “we’ve all got to take responsibility for that, starting with me”. He blamed himself and his coaching staff for the team’s performance, saying that “it wasn’t a good game plan because it wasn’t executed well”, insinuating that he needs to put his team in a better position to execute.
It was only five years ago when the Steelers lost their season opener by a score of 35-7 to the Ravens, but then followed it up with a 24-0 shutout at the expense of the Seahawks. Steeler Nation was in crisis mode leading up to the second game, wondering how the season could be salvaged if they could do so poorly in the opening game, but Pittsburgh went on to a 12-4 record that year. Because it’s all in how you respond to the adversity of a major defeat.