San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula's demeanor after Sunday's 43-18 loss to the Steelers wasn't much different than six days prior, after his team thumped the Minnesota Vikings to start the regular season.
"We’re not going to overreact when there’s a W, and we’re not going to overreact when there’s a loss," Tomsula said Sunday.
It was the first loss of Tomsula's head coaching career in the NFL, after coming into the game 2-0, winning his two home games, including the season finale in 2010 when he relieved the fired Mike Singletary.
Now the 49ers move forward and face their first divisional opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, on the road the next Sunday. Arizona won in Chicago Sunday, 48-23.
"They made big plays that we didn’t make," Tomsula said, frankly, after his defense allowed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 369 yards and three touchdowns. Receiver Antonio Brown caught nine passes on 11 targets for 195 yards with a touchdown.
Pittsburgh's big-play offense had no problems taking shots downfield, particularly on third down. Five of Roethlisberger's longest six passes came on third down, including a 59-yarder to Brown.
Roethlisberger had throws of 59, 56, 48, 41, 35 and 28 yards. Darrius Heyward-Bey's 35-yard touchdown grab was Pittsburgh's only play of 20-plus yards that didn't come on third down.
New defensive coordinator Eric Mangini was unable to dial up pressures on Roethlisberger like he did against the Vikings and second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Steelers' two-time Super Bowl winning QB wasn't sacked and seemed prepared to make San Francisco pay for blitzing and leaving his speedy receivers in single coverage.
"There was max protections. They were maxing up and getting the ball down the field," said Tomsula.
After leading the defense with eight tackles in the opener, linebacker NaVorro Bowman made four tackles in Pittsburgh, with most of the plays being made over his head.
"My thing is, I want to see how we respond to this," Bowman said. "It’s the NFL. We’ve taken losses before. It’s how you respond. Taking a loss like this, we’re a young team. That will be the great challenge for us. We have an important game coming up in Arizona. It’s my job and vet’s job on this team to get the young guys ready and prepared moving on from this one."
One of those young players was second-year cornerback Kenneth Acker, making the second start of his NFL career after missing his entire rookie season with a stress fracture in his foot.
Acker found himself lined up against Brown, last season's NFL leader in receptions and yardage, for much of the first half.
"I felt like I won some battles, I lost some battles," Acker said. "I learned. That's the best thing about it."
Asked how he, and the rest of the defense, can build off Sunday's big loss, Acker said: "Really just feeling that feeling. Nobody likes that feeling we really haven't had. (It's) our second game. The first game we won. Come back to this game and you lose, and you just remember what that bitter taste feels like to lose."
The Steelers reeled off a 21-0 run in the second quarter that ultimately put the game out of reach for the 49ers. Roethlisberger finished the first half with 252 yards passing with two touchdowns, with running back DeAngelo Williams scoring two touchdowns before adding a third early in the fourth quarter.
"At halftime, my whole point is, put your head down, don’t look up, just keep grinding," Tomsula said. "Don’t keep looking at the score, just keep playing the next play…I felt like they did that. Our team did that, our coaches did that.
"I said it last week and I’ll say it this week, we’ve got a lot of work to do."
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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