"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."
As an offense, the Steelers (0-1) converted on just 5 of 15 third downs, while the 49ers (1-0) converted on 6 of 13. The Steelers didn't even pick up a first down until less than two minutes remained in the first half. The Steelers lost the time of possession battle 37:23 to 22:37, and the lack of plays especially in the first half kept the offense from establishing any sort or rhythm or ground game.
"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."
That lack of execution was somewhat surprising after the Steelers' starting offense scored touchdowns on all five drives during the preseason. Through the first five drives against the 49ers, the Steelers had one net yard, no first downs, four punts and an interception.
"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."
Pickett, who completed 31 of 46 attempts for 232 yards, played his best in the two-minute offense just before halftime when he orchestrated a 95-yard drive capped by a 3-yard Pat Freiermuth touchdown grab.
But after a preseason and training camp where he displayed good decision-making and accuracy, Pickett threw two interceptions. He was also sacked five times. It wasn't just that some of Pickett's passes were off the mark, it's that he wasn't always on the same page with his receivers. After talking about offensive cohesion throughout the preseason, Pickett and Freiermuth had a miscommunication on a fourth-down throw to the end zone in the second half, resulting in a promising drive coming up empty.
"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."
Like his quarterback, running back Najee Harris, who had 31 yards on six carries, was optimistic about the team's ability to rebound from this loss ahead of Monday night's showdown against division rival Cleveland.
"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."