The Steelers Why: A tumultuous opening week will test Pittsburgh's confidence

Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

Welcome to a new column series here on Still Curtain: The Steelers' Why. Football is an emotional game. As the season ebbs and flows, those emotions unravel the story written by the team. The triumph of victory or the sour taste of defeat, each contest makes its own impact on the team, determining why the Steelers are where they are, why the Steelers are playing as they are, and why there should be hope, or panic, on the horizon for the Black and Gold's fanbase.

August feels like a dream. Sunday felt like a nightmare. The Pittsburgh Steelers, in the face of so much excitement and momentum, were gobsmacked by the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon.

Every bit of anticipation that Kenny Pickett was ready to take the league by storm, George Pickens would flood X with highlight catches and that Matt Canada had finally found his way to sound playcalling came to a screeching halt.

The ineptitude of the Steelers' offense bled into the defense. Brock Purdy looked as though he had been the only first-round pick at quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft rather than the quarterback he opposed.

Many within this fanbase are hitting the panic switch, and it's hard to really blame them. The preseason had us all looking through rose-colored glasses, which proved to mute the red flags that still carried over for this team from last year.

Matt Canada is still the play-caller. The Steelers' defense still relinquishes too much space to opposing wide receivers. A list continues at a depressing length for what this team has to fix in Week 2 and beyond.

On top of it all, Cam Heyward is headed to injured reserve with a groin injury, with surgery a possibility to end his season. Diontae Johnson has a hamstring injury, which always proves to be cumbersome throughout a season.

How do those fans turn their attention away from the panic switch? Finding comfort in Mike Tomlin's winning season streak would be disingenuous. Resting on the fact that San Francisco might just be the most complete team in the NFL sounds too much like an excuse.

Why should they turn away from the panic switch? Potential? Potential got its butt kicked at Acrisure Stadium 30-7. Potential mustered a pathetic 41 yards on the ground. Potential sat on the sidelines in the laps of Broderick Jones and Joey Porter Jr.

There aren't comforting words for Steeler Nation. Flat and simple, Sunday sucked. Eight more performances like that and this fanbase will become feral.

But that's how fans look at it. We are fickle creatures that are easily swayed almost entirely by immediate results. We stew on Sunday with no plausible action to assist the team we're passionate about.

The Pittsburgh Steelers go back to work to prepare for the Cleveland Browns.

Every week in the NFL is cliche as hell, but a brand new week it is. A chance to prove Week 1 was a fluke.

The Steelers faced early adversity and crumbled Sunday. But that last drive of the first half still happened. In 2022, the Steelers started 2-6. But winning seven of their last nine still happened.

There's little reason to believe the Steelers will quit. It doesn't seem consistent with their DNA. Getting punched in the mouth seems to be routine these days, but getting back up and coming back with a different edge also seems to follow in due time.

Quitting isn't in the Steelers DNA, but confidence is.

Last year the Steelers were trounced by two of the league's best teams, the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. The Steelers won each of the games following those losses. There's reason for confidence to remain.

The touchdown drive to close the half showed that the Steelers could look an awful situation in the face and fight. Two drives that resulted in a turnover on downs in the red zone showed the same thing, even if they didn't end in points. There's reason for confidence to remain.

TJ Watt did what he does every week. He gave the Steelers as much of a chance as he could with a monstrous performance. The Steelers largely contained George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, two premiere talents. The defense isn't broken completely. There's reason for confidence to remain.


Next week the Steelers play a team that should have plenty of confidence itself. The Cleveland Browns beat up on the Cincinnati Bengals in a fashion the NFL isn't prepared to see these days. The Browns have similarly dynamic weapons as the 49ers at the top of the roster.

The Steelers can lick its wounds after an ugly non-conference loss at home, taking solace in it being Week 1 against a superior team. But when the Browns play the Steelers on that same battlefield Monday night, it has long-term ramifications that can't be undone.

Plainly as possible, the Steelers' game plan and gameplay have to match a presumably unshaken confidence at a much higher level than in the Week 1 display. Pittsburgh can't risk anything less.

AFC North standings entering Week 2. AFC North standings entering Week 2. dark. Next