Everything is fun and games when you're winning, but when you're mired in a three-game skid like the Steelers, it might be time to cut out the nonsense.
Yes, we're talking about JuJu Smith-Schuster's pregame ritual of doing TikTok dances on the opposing team's midfield logo. Mike Tomlin was asked about the dances on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after Smith-Schuster danced on Cincinnati's logo, then caught three passes for 15 yards and lost a crucial fumble that the Bengals eventually turned into points.
"I am aware of it and I do plan to talk to JuJu," Tomlin said. "But we're professionals. I doubt any of those antics and things of that nature are legitimate motivating factors as you step into professional stadiums. But it's about respect and so we'll have a conversation.
"But I understand it's about the quality of play inside the white lines. I'm not seeking comfort or looking for excuses based on our recent performances on things that occur in pregame or things of that nature that are social media related."
Tomlin is seeking answers for why his team has suddenly encountered rough waters after cruising to an 11-0 start, winning games in a variety of ways. One big issue is the play of Ben Roethlisberger, who has gone from consistently posting a passer rating north of 100 to failing to break 66 in the last two weeks. Pittsburgh's offense has suffered, devolving from an explosive unit to one that struggles mightily to move the ball, especially in key situations.
In their last three losses, the Steelers have found themselves in crucial moments in which they needed an offensive response and found none. Pittsburgh mounted a miniature comeback effort Monday night, cutting a 17-0 deficit to 17-10, but couldn't answer with enough scoring drives to bring the game even, eventually falling 27-17 after turning the ball over on downs and surrendering a late field goal.
The Steelers joined the 1969 Rams as the only teams to lose three straight games after an 11-0 start, and if history proves to be an accurate predictor of things to come, Pittsburgh would join Los Angeles in losing its first playoff game. That potential reality is still three weeks away, and Pittsburgh has a chance to right its ship in Week 16 with a win, which would clinch the AFC North title after leaving the door open for a potential Cleveland comeback in the final weeks.
They'll meet a tough opponent in Indianapolis this weekend, which owns a 10-4 record and is playing quality football of late. The Steelers will need a dose of smelling salts to awaken its offense, which has scored fewer than 20 points in each of its last four games for the first time since Weeks 11-14 of 2004, back when Roethlisberger was a rookie.
The issues extend beyond the quarterback (pass-catchers have become pass-droppers, James Conner hasn't been consistently available, and the offensive line has faltered), but if Roethlisberger can't get himself going, the rest of the problems will become irrelevant.
To that effort, Tomlin said there won't be sweeping changes within the team this week. He'll instead expect every member of his team to look themselves in the mirror with the goal of "being himself, but his best self."
Indianapolis presents quite a challenge, one Tomlin hopes his team will embrace.
"We don't need to run away from the kitchen," Tomlin said. "We need to run to it."
The heat has turned up in said kitchen. We'll see if the Steelers can handle it.