Back-to-back losses aren’t rare in the NFL, with the exception of only the most elite franchises in the league each season. Even for a Pittsburgh Steelers team that began the year 11-0 last season, losing streaks weren’t impossible — the team lost three consecutive games after that start, and then another back-to-back pair in Week 17 and the playoff opener.
For some collegians, working through those losing streaks is an adjustment, specifically for some of the best college programs in the country like the Alabama Crimson Tide. So when a player like Najee Harris, Alabama’s all-time leading rusher who experienced three total losses in four seasons there, arrives in the NFL, his new teammates offered some advice on how to deal with the higher frequency of losses he would experience. After Pittsburgh followed up a Week 2 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders with a 24-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, that advice came to the forefront as Pittsburgh began its first losing streak of the season.
“A couple of guys came and said, ‘This isn’t college. Every week, you’re playing somebody good. You’re not gonna win every game, especially in the NFL where you’re playing good teams every week,'” Harris said. “So I’m really just keeping the level-headed and not really like losing focus of the ultimate goal. That’s what they were telling me, to sum it all up. Numerous guys told me that.”
Even for a franchise that has famously not experienced a losing season since 2003, dropping back-to-back games isn’t unusual, even early in the season. Pittsburgh began the 2019 season 0-3, and dropped two of their three games following a Week 1 tie in 2018.
It’s still an adjustment for players like Harris to make, as he and the Steelers try to improve a ground game that has failed through three weeks thus far this season. The Steelers had the fewest rushing yards in the league after two weeks, and are very likely to retain that spot after recording only 45 of them in a 24-10 loss to the Bengals. Harris finished with 40 of them on 14 carries, just short of the 45 he had in Week 1, as the Steelers’ offensive line was out-played by the Bengals’ defensive front.
Harris did accomplish his first 100-yard game against the Bengals, though, one week after scoring his first NFL touchdown. Harris caught a team-high 14 passes for a team-high 102 yards, and in the process set a Steeler franchise record. No back has ever caught as many passes in a game, and Harris now has the third-most catches in a game for any position in team history, in one of the best receiving games ever in the NFL for a running back.
It was another step in the development of a new offense that has needed time to develop and showed it needs additional time to begin leading the team to victories. With that progress will come losses, which Harris was not accustomed to in Tuscaloosa but has received advice on how to deal with at the NFL level.
“It’s obviously not good to lose, especially two games back-to-back, but we’re just still trying to find a rhythm of a team and offensive-wise, too,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that step up. So, you know, just takes time.”
The next challenge for the offense comes next Sunday, in a road game at the Green Bay Packers. For the first time this season the Steelers are not scheduled to play in the early slot, kicking off at 4:25 p.m.