Pittsburgh Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward leveled a blistering critique of his team as he watched from the sideline as they lost their second straight game Sunday.
Heyward, who missed the first two games of his football career with a hamstring injury, was irked that New England halfback LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and two touchdowns one week after Miami’s Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers.
Yet what really troubled the veteran defensive end was how the defense responded in the fourth quarter after a Steelers field goal cut the Patriots lead to 20-16. It took New England just six plays — five of them on first downs — to move 75 yards for a touchdown that nailed the final score at 27-16.
“We had momentum going in,” Heyward said. “It was 20-16, and we let them get that. And it was like we just quit. I don’t mean to say that lightly, but I just felt like we had so many opportunities out there.”
Heyward said that when the Steelers cut the lead to four, it was time for the defense to step up and stop New England.
“I felt like our offense just had a great drive and I think we only got three points out of it, but I was like, ‘Let’s get off quick because their defense is tired.’“
Well, the Steelers defense did get off the field quickly, but not the way it was intended. Instead, Tom Brady led the Patriots to a six-play touchdown drive. The big play came on his 37-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski that carried to the Steelers five and set up Blount’s 5-yard touchdown run.
“That (play by Gronk), I know he’s a great player but that can’t be the end of it,” Heyward said. “I felt like after that, it was almost like the wind was pushed out of us.”
Linebacker Ryan Shazier said on Sunday the Steelers’ run defense played like “garbage.”
“He’s being kind,” Heyward said. "I would have used a different word. We can’t play like that as a defense. I think we’re close to 400 yards in rushing (actually 362 the past two games). That’s never been allowed here in two weeks. That’s just ... poor technique. You have to have some pride when you’re out there.”
Do the Steelers lack pride?
“It’s not that I saw it from one person,” Heyward said. “I just thought we should have made more (of a) stance by the defense. And we let them run the ball. There’s too many times when he’s falling forward and that’s not what we’re accustomed to.”
The Steelers have been missing starters such as Heyward with his injury and Shazier, who missed the previous two games and played just 56 percent of the snaps Sunday upon his return.
Heyward said it’s no excuse.
“I know we have a lot of guys (hurt), but guys have to step up, whoever’s out there. There can’t be a letdown when another guy goes down.”
Heyward said the Steelers can use their off week to fix what ails them.
“We just have to really buckle down and have a good defense and be technique sound. I would say in the beginning of the year besides the Philadelphia game, we were playing pretty good. You see these past two games and you’re like, ‘Whoa, 200 yards for a running back and another 120’. At least we should have responded better and not given up that.”