“We didn’t do enough over the course of the 60 minutes to secure victory,” Coach Mike Tomlin said. “I thought we were closing the distance in the second half. … [But] you’re not going to close distance and finish ballgames giving up chunk plays and turning the ball over.”
None of it sat particularly well with wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who afterward expressed his displeasure about the officiating. He seemed particularly miffed about the Steelers being called for lining up offside on their own field goal attempt in the closing seconds of the first half.
“Refs [were] killing us the whole game,” Johnson said in the locker room. “… But at the end of the day, it’s not on them. We can’t keep complaining about the refs. Like [Tomlin] says, we can’t worry about the refs, whatever. But everybody’s different. I didn’t like the refs today. They must have got paid good today or something. That field goal, that hurt us coming into the half. We needed that.”
The penalty negated a 55-yard field goal by Chris Boswell. He then missed from 61 yards, and the Steelers trailed 9-3 at halftime.
“I didn’t get a lot of dialogue [from the officials],” Tomlin said during his postgame news conference. “I hadn’t seen that call in 17 years of standing on the sidelines — offside, the [offensive] line offside on a guard on the field goal protection. So, you know, it didn’t matter what they said. … I have never seen that.”
Referee Alan Eck told a pool reporter: “The right guard was lined up in the neutral zone. His head was over the back edge of the ball, so by rule that’s an offensive offside foul.” Eck called it “a judgment call” that was “obvious on the field, so we went ahead and called it.”
The Steelers also were called for a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty after a first-quarter hit on the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence. Jacksonville was not penalized for roughing the passer during the second-quarter play on which Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett suffered a rib injury.
“They [were] calling some stupid stuff,” Johnson said. “They should get fined for calling bad, making worse, terrible calls and stuff like that. That’s how pissed I am. They cost us the game. I don’t care what nobody says. They cost us the game.”
The Jaguars won their fifth straight game to improve to 6-2. In Johnson’s view, they had help from the officials.
“They wanted them to win,” Johnson said. “… Everything was in their favor. They were getting every little call. But it is what it is. … I’m moving on from it. I’m ready for Thursday [against Tennessee].”
Other Steelers players were more diplomatic about the calls that went against them.
“As players, all we can do is control what we can control,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “The refs are given a job and a responsibility to call the game the way it’s supposed to be called. That’s the way they saw it. We can’t argue with them. It’s behind us now. We just have to find a way to overcome things like that and not let that be an issue.”
Said star pass rusher T.J. Watt: “I don’t have time to look around and point blame. None of us are playing the way that we should right now.”
The Steelers certainly had their chances even after losing Pickett and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who exited with a hamstring injury. But they could never get their offense functioning smoothly for more than brief spurts.
“The defense played really well again,” said Mitch Trubisky, who replaced Pickett. “We’ve just got to be more consistent on offense and just continue to go out there, execute and make plays. We had one good drive. We went down and scored. It’s got to be more consistent than that. We’ve got to pull together and flush this one and go get one on a short week.”
After Trubisky finished the first half, Pickett warmed up before the start of the second. The Steelers at one point announced that Pickett was expected to return to the game. But they reversed course soon after and announced Pickett had been ruled out. Trubisky took the field for the second half and finished the game.
“Him warming up is not reflective of intentions,” Tomlin said.
Said Trubisky: “Kenny knows his body better than anybody, so he tried to go out there and throw. And if he didn’t feel like he was 100 percent, he shouldn’t put himself in that position. And same with all the trainers and coaches. I feel like they made the right choice by protecting him and him protecting himself. Hopefully he’s okay and we’ll see where he’s at.”
The Jaguars increased their lead to 17-3 in the third quarter on Lawrence’s 56-yard touchdown pass to tailback Travis Etienne and Etienne’s two-point conversion run. The Steelers pulled within 17-10 in the final minute of the quarter on Trubisky’s 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver George Pickens. But Trubisky threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions, the first one on a deep throw over the middle into triple coverage.
“I’ve got to be smarter,” Trubisky said. “I’m out there trying to win the game. I’m not just trying to run the ball or check it down every time. That was a force on my part. But I wanted to come in and try to make plays for this offense. Maybe on that instance, it was doing too much. And that’s where we get in trouble. But I want to push the ball down the field. And that was the wrong thing to do on that play. So I’ve got to learn from it.”
Tomlin said he did not know the severity of Pickett’s injury, leaving open the possibility that Trubisky could start Thursday night’s home game against the Titans.
“We don’t have a lot of time to absorb the result of this,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got a short week. And so we’ll do so quickly. … As unfortunate as the outcome of this game is, man, it is final. And we’d better turn our attention toward the next opportunity on the short week.”
Said Watt: “There’s no time to sit and sulk. We have a game on Thursday. So that’s part of the beauty of the NFL. We have to move past it. At the same time, we also can’t just can it. We have to look at the film and learn from it.”