"We have to execute," said middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, one of the Birds who seemed to take the loss hardest. "There's nothing about Mendenhall being back or none of that. It's us executing as a defense. I don't care who gets the ball. It's about us executing."
It's hard to fault a defense that allowed one touchdown and 16 points on the road, against one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, but the Eagles did not sack Ben Roethlisberger and they did not come up with a turnover; a couple of Roethlisberger throws went through defenders' hands, and the Steelers recovered all three of their own fumbles.
"Other teams are finding ways to get turnovers, we're not, we've got to find a way to get those turnovers," Ryans said.
Two weeks ago, the Eagles cut punter Chas Henry and brought back Mat McBriar, citing a lack of consistency. So far, the move hasn't really paid off.
McBriar, the two-time Dallas Pro Bowler, averaged a net 37.3 yards on four punts Sunday. His first punt of the day traveled just 25 yards; McBriar dropped it inside the 20, as he wanted, but not very far inside, the Steelers getting it at the 18. In the second quarter, from his own 44-yard line, McBriar booted the ball into the end zone, unable to drop it inside the 20. He had a 39-yard punt from his own 40, allowing Pittsburgh to start at its 21.
Overall, Pittsburgh's average starting field position off McBriar's punts was the 24.25-yard line.
McBriar's net average through two games with the Eagles is 37.8 yards. Henry's net average through three games was 38.3.
The big issue with special teams going into Sunday was kickoff returns, after the Eagles let the Giants average 36.2 on a half-dozen returns last week, a performance that got Brian Rolle cut and presumably led to rookie Chris Polk being deactivated for the first time Sunday.
Kicker Alex Henery had one touchback on three kickoffs. The only problem came in the third quarter, as Chris Rainey brought the ball from 4 yards deep out to the Steelers' 40 immediately following the Eagles' first points of the game.
Special-teams ace Colt Anderson, back this week from a knee injury, made a nice kickoff coverage play, bringing down Rainey at the 8-yard line to start the second half.
Henery did not attempt a field goal for just the second time in his 2-year career. It was the Eagles' first game without a field goal since Dec. 1, against the Seahawks.
Asked if the Steelers' late third-and-12 conversion was the kind of play the Eagles need to make to be a great defense, defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said: "I think we have made it before. We just didn't make it today" . . . Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks left briefly with an ankle sprain but returned . . . Ditto running back Bryce Brown, with a stinger . . . Running back Dion Lewis was active for the first time this season and seemed to really struggle in blitz pickup, the few snaps he got . . .
Both Andy Reid and Michael Vick emphasized that the Eagles did some things well Sunday; maybe in the long run, those things will be important, but it's really hard to see past a frittered-away victory that would have really put the Eagles on the 2012 map . . . Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown lost a shoe on a second-half play and safety Kurt Coleman threw it to the Steelers' sideline. Brown actually lined up for a play wearing one cleat. "I didn't want it," Coleman said, when asked to explain. "I'm not going to hold onto it and hand it to him. He's going to have to go get it."
Daily News sports writer Frank Seravalli contributed to this report.
Contact Les Bowen at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen.