"I wasn't good enough," said Ben Roethlisberger, who went 27-of-47 for 276 yards and one interception. "I wasn't giving guys balls where they needed to catch them. Put them in front, behind, things like that. So, just -- I wasn't good enough."
The Steelers finished the game with 308 yards, but many of those came in garbage time. At halftime, Pittsburgh had limped to four first downs, one third-down conversion and 87 yards. James Conner and the rushing attack managed 32 yards and and failed to convert several short-yardage situations.
From five-wide sets to zone running plays, nothing the Steelers tried worked, with Roethlisberger missing on three of his four deep-ball attempts.
The Steelers most recently scored three points in a season opener in 2001, losing 21-3 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The message was sent.
"I think it was a wake-up call -- something we needed," said receiver Donte Moncrief, who dropped several contested passes Sunday and finished with three catches for 7 yards despite a team-high 10 targets. "It's something I felt I needed."
Struggling in New England is nothing new for the Steelers. The Patriots have outscored Pittsburgh 152-72 in their past four games at Gillette Stadium.
But the timing of the dud is noteworthy. Bell made his debut with the New York Jets on Sunday and Brown signed with the Patriots over the weekend, though he wasn't eligible to play in Week 1.
Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers weren't ready for prime time, and that has nothing to do with ex-players.
"I'm not specifically worried about anything relevant to Brown. I'm worried about the guys in our locker room and the quality of our execution in what we did and didn't do," Tomlin said. "Antonio has been off our team for a number of months. We moved on from that stuff in March."
JuJu Smith-Schuster understands that storyline but said he believes in his offense.
"People are always going to talk about not having certain players that we had last year," said Smith-Schuster, who led the team with 78 receiving yards. "I think this year, the guys we have here now, we have ultimate guys ... we've got so many guys, we just have to make our plays."