“You can’t start games 0-5 on third down and think that you’re going to have the type of day that you desire,” Tomlin said. “You got to win the weighty downs, and it’s just more than just identifying that component, man. It was a failure on our part, in all areas. We got to coach better, we got to play better.
“… We got kicked in the teeth today in a lot of ways.”
The 49ers (1-0) converted on 6 of 13 third downs while the Steelers (0-1) only converted on 5 of 15. Less than two minutes remained in the first half before the Steelers even gained a first down. The Steelers lost the fight for time of possession 37:23 to 22:37, as the offense struggled to get going and develop a ground game due to a lack of plays, particularly in the first half.
“We just didn’t execute, honestly,” quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “I think it was more us than them. I felt comfortable what I was seeing, what they were doing. We just didn’t execute.”
This underperformance was fairly unexpected given that the Steelers’ starting offense scored touchdowns on each of their first five preseason drives. The Steelers had one net yard, no first downs, four punts, and an interception through the first five drives they had against the 49ers.
H”I think San Fran’s starting defense is a little bit better than some teams in the preseason we played,” the second-year quarterback said, explaining the offensive discrepancy from the preseason to regular season. “They’re a good team, but at the end of the day we didn’t execute anywhere near at the level that we need to, that we want to.”
Just before halftime, Pickett, who completed 31 of 46 passes for 232 yards, displayed his best two-minute offense play when he directed a 95-yard drive that resulted in a Pat Freiermuth touchdown grab from three yards out.
But Pickett threw two interceptions after showing solid judgment and accuracy during the preseason and training camp. He was fired five times as well. Not only were some of Pickett’s passes off target, but he also frequently failed to communicate effectively with his receivers.
Pickett and Freiermuth miscommunicated on a fourth-down throw to the end zone in the second half, ending a potential drive despite all the preseason discussion about offensive togetherness.
“That happens,” Pickett said. “Pat saw one way. I saw it the other way. It needs to be a fix, but obviously you put a lot of time in, but we will get it right. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about us staying together, playing balanced football, being able to do what we put a lot of time in to do.”
In anticipation of Monday night’s matchup against division foe Cleveland, running back Najee Harris, who finished with 31 yards on six attempts, had the same optimism as his quarterback about the team’s potential to bounce back from this setback.
“We got 16 games left,” Harris said. “We’re not blinking. It’s part of the sport. You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. All that matters is how you’re going to come back the next week and win that one. So we’re here, and we’re still excited for this year.”