The 7-win Steelers' back-to-back home losses to 2-10 teams set off a stench in Pittsburgh.
In what was supposed to be the easy stretch of their schedule before the end-of-season ramp-up, Mike Tomlin's club wilted like a daisy in the cold. Thursday night's 21-18 loss was a group effort of ineptness, from an offense that couldn't get out of its own way under Mitch Trubisky to a defense lit up by Bailey Zappe in the first half.
Veteran safety Minkah Fitzpatrick pointed to the lack of mental fortitude and willingness to put in the work as the reason the Steelers flopped against 2-win opponents.
"In order to see the fruit, you've gotta toil for it," he said, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN. "I think too many people don't want to toil for it. They just want to walk out here and think that they're going to make plays and think that they're going to perform at a high level. I think we need to have more people who want to work for it, not expect it to be handed to them.
"This is the NFL. Nothing's handed to you. You got to earn everything. I think that dudes just think that because they're wearing the black and gold, that they're going to win games, and I think we need to check that mentality and make people realize that they got to earn that mentality, and they got to earn every single blade of grass, every single splash play and every single rep that they get out there. They got to earn it."
The loss dropped the Steelers from the No. 5 slot in the AFC to the No. 8 spot ahead of this weekend's games, plummeting their playoff chances before games against the Colts, Bengals, Seahawks and Ravens -- all clubs scrapping for playoff position.
Thursday, the offense got off to a rickety start, going three-and-out on three of its first five possessions. Trubisky missed so many passes the Pittsburgh faithful began chanting for backup Mason Rudolph in the first half.
"I have to play better," Trubisky said. "I feel like I let the guys down. It's disappointing. I didn't play good enough to win."
Likewise, the Steelers' defense got ripped up by Zappe in the first half, allowing three touchdown passes before the game reached the midway point of the second half. The defense has propped up a dilapidated offense all season, but in the last two weeks, even the D faltered.
"You can't give up 21 points like that, I don't care who it is," veteran defensive lineman Cam Heyward said after the loss. "…There were mistakes out there all around… Spotting 21 points and having to dig yourself out of that hole is not something you're usually accustomed to in the NFL."
Now, the Steelers will have to dig themselves out of a two-game losing skid to get back to the postseason.
"Obviously, this stings, but we'll be back," Tomlin said after the loss.
Why is he confident his club can turn it around after the product they put out the past two weeks?
"This is what we do," he said. "This is who we are."
Pittsburgh has four games left to show who they are in 2023.