PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't just the drops by Donte Moncrief that hurt his team in New England, it was the timing of them.
Moncrief, in his first game with the Steelers, dropped two fourth-down passes, another one in the end zone, and another early in the fourth quarter. He also looked over the wrong shoulder on a perfectly placed third-down fade pass by Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone that resulted in the field goal from the 1.
There's bad, pretty bad, very bad, and ...
"Sickening," said Moncrief. "After we watched film, there was a feeling in my stomach. It hurt. I went home and went straight to sleep. I put that away. Now, it's a new week. It's time to go."
At the start of this new week, Moncrief was lifted by Roethlisberger, who came out of Moncrief's injury-plagued training camp thinking very highly of the Steelers' most expensive free agent acquisition.
"Still do," said Roethlisberger. "Nothing's changed with that."
What does Roethlisberger see in him?
"I think he's a smart receiver," he said. "He's a guy that's going to give you everything he's got. He's a veteran guy who's been around. He can run. He can run different routes. He's not just a deep-ball guy. And I really just like the personality that he has. He's a guy who's easy to talk to and will communicate back with you. So, I'm excited for him this week. I think we'll see some really good things."
Early in training camp, Moncrief dislocated his middle finger trying to catch a high, hot pass. He didn't play much in preseason, but did drop a pass. He caught three others for only seven yards.
Is the finger still bothering him?
"Just a little bit," Moncrief said. "But you've got to go with it. Even if it's hurting or not, you've got to still play. You've just got to not think about it and just go. You've got to go out there and make plays. He's depending on me and I've got to make plays for him, hurt finger or not."
Can he wrap it?
"There's nothing you can do with a dislocated finger," Moncrief said. "You've got to tough out the pain and go."
JuJu Smith-Schuster may have to do the same. The Steelers' other starting wide receiver was limited in Wednesday's practice with the ankle he injured Sunday night. Sean Davis also was limited with an injured ankle and Maurkice Pouncey missed practice with an injured knee.
GET THE STINK OFF
Jerome Bettis was NOT in the locker room Wednesday to audition for the fullback job left open by the injured Rosie Nix. Bettis is doing work for NFL Network. The former Steelers great also had some advice for dealing with embarrassing losses.
"In terms of being embarrassed, you have to say to yourself, to a man, 'I've got to make a difference. I've got to play better,'" said Bettis. "So if each man takes that and it becomes a collective thought, it should lead to a better outcome.
"And then you have to take it to the practice field. As long as everybody's getting after it at practice, and you understand the significance of practice, and you take that level up, then I think they'll be fine."
Roethlisberger accomplished the first step. He told reporters early in the day that the team will improve if he does.
"I'm only going to focus on the quarterback play because that's what I control," he said. "The quarterback's got to get better."
Part Two of the Bettis formula was accomplished during a nasty, hot practice that turned salty when veterans -- Ramon Foster in particular -- demanded better and more detailed work from everyone.
"Of course he was shouting. We needed that," David DeCastro said of his linemate. "He's a leader. Obviously, everyone's sore and feeling sorry for themselves. At the same time you've got to fight through that -- at least be on the details. That was what he was trying to say."
"You've got to recognize what's in front of you, that's all," said Foster. "You've got to shake everything that's happened, and Wednesday's usually the day for that. And, it's fitting that it's super hot and we're in full pads today, so everything piles on, but in a good way. Thursday will be a whole lot better."
DeCastro called the practice "sloppy, salty, a little bit of both."
Said Foster: "You want everything to be perfect the next time around. That's what you practice for. You practice to clean up mistakes. You practice to be better. I just got frustrated. I'm not about wasting time. I'm all about maximizing everything. I want to get this stink off worse than anybody, and as quickly as possible."
No one knew anything about anyone on defense working at fullback, as Mike Tomlin had suggested at his Tuesday press conference.
In fact, the player most surprised was the player Tomlin was asked about, Tyler Matakevich.
"Nobody here has told me that," said the disbelieving Matakevich. "The first time I heard that was from you guys."
But, it does make sense, doesn't it?
"A little bit, yeah," said the 235-pound inside linebacker. "I mean, shoot, I can. Yeah, I can do that. I was a tailback back in the day. Fullback's the same thing. I had to block. But, nah, nobody's said anything like that to me."
What about Javon Hargrave?
The nose tackle who's nicknamed "Wobble" played both tailback and fullback in high school. At 6-1 he's an inch taller than Matakevich, and 75 pounds heavier.
"If I can get some carries I'll play it," Hargrave said. "I can do it, of course, but I don't know. I haven't heard anything."
"Hmmmm," said DeCastro as he pondered Hargrave at fullback. "Good leverage I would think. Now you've got me looking forward to tomorrow's tryout."