Steelers prove that an ugly win is better than no win at all
It was a much more home-friendly crowd, as the Steelers took on the hated Browns at Acrisure Stadium on Monday Night Football.
How would Pittsburgh respond eight days after having its breakfast and lunch stolen by the 49ers in the same venue and in front of a more visitor-friendly group?
How about an interception return for a touchdown by outside linebacker Alex Highsmith after a tipped pass by Deshaun Watson on the first play from scrimmage?
Many Steelers converged on Highsmith in the end zone; Highsmith and his mates immediately started hugging the fans cheering and screaming in the stands behind the end zone.
It was going to be a different night, baby!
Only, it wasn’t so different. At least it wasn’t that much different than many Steelers games we’ve seen lately, outside of Highsmith’s play, along with another one orchestrated by the former Charlotte walk-on midway through the fourth quarter when he stripped Watson of the football while sacking him; T.J. Watt scooped up the fumble and rumbled home 16 yards for the winning touchdown.
That’s right, the Steelers prevailed, 26-22, in their Week 2 affair with Cleveland on Monday night before a national audience and a more favorable crowd.
But in addition to that crowd being more home-friendly, it was also more vocal and restless than the folks who were in the stands eight days prior.
Maybe that’s because the offense was still a work in progress, which is to say it again showed no signs of actual progress. Quarterback Kenny Pickett completed 15 of 30 passes for 222 yards, one touchdown and one interception on Monday. Seventy-one of Pickett’s passing yards came on a single throw to George Pickens for a 71-yard touchdown that put Pittsburgh up by a score of 16-11 with 6:05 left in the first half. The Steelers wanted to match Cleveland’s successful two-point try from earlier in the half, but running back Najee Harris fumbled that away after being completely stoned at the line of scrimmage.
Completely stoned. Maybe that’s a good way to describe the Steelers’ offensive line on Monday night. That would explain why Pittsburgh only managed 55 rushing yards on 21 carries–including 43 by Harris on 10 totes. Much like eight days earlier against San Francisco’s defense, Harris’s 4.3 yards per carry were quite deceptive, considering 21 of his 43 yards came on one run.
Speaking of stoned, Pickett’s third pass of the day was picked off when he tried to hit Pickens on a quick slant.
The miscue set the Browns up at the Pittsburgh 16-yard line. Fortunately, Cleveland looked that gift horse right in the mouth and turned the fortune into zero points, thanks to a miss on a 43-yard field goal attempt by kicker Dustin Hopkins.
The Browns were able to stay in the game in the first half thanks to a second turnover by the offense. While PIckett’s pick didn’t lead to anything for the Browns, receiver Gunner Olszewski, who has never met a Steelers Week 2 home game he hasn’t tried to ruin, fumbled one play after Watson fumbled the ball away while trying to sneak for a first down on fourth and one from the Steelers’ 43.
Gunner’s gaffe, coming after a short pass from Pickett, actually gave the Browns better field position when Delpit picked it up and returned it to the 23.
The Browns parlayed the re-gift into a touchdown and a successful two-point try to take an 11-7 lead early in the second period.
But there was that aforementioned 71-yard touchdown by Pickens, along with a 52-yard field goal from kicker Chris Boswell, and Pittsburgh enjoyed a 16-14 lead at halftime.
The Steelers, who won the toss and actually decided to defer to the second half this time, added to their lead when Boswell connected from 50 yards to go up 19-14 early in the second half.
Sadly, the Browns and running back Jerome Ford, filling in for an injured Nick Chubb, pulled a 49ers and Christian McCaffrey from Week 1 when Ford galloped 69 yards on Cleveland’s third play of the third quarter.
Unlike McCaffrey, Ford was stopped at the one, but the Browns soon turned that run into eight points on a one-yard touchdown by running back Pierre Strong, followed by another successful two-point try on a run by Watson.
Just like that, the Browns had a 22-19 lead.
The Steelers offense could do nothing but turn things over to its punter–Pressley Harvin III– on its next four drives.
Fortunately, Highsmith and Watt play for the Steelers and earn lots of money, because if it wasn’t for them, Pittsburgh would likely be 0-2 today.
The Steelers offense got to line up in the victory formation on its final series, and it’s a good thing, too, because it did such a bang-up job for most of the game that chants of “Fire Canada” could be heard late in the fourth quarter. (I suppose that’s a lot better than “Let’s Go, 9ers!”)
I also suppose it’s a good thing Pickett, despite another “rookie” performance by the second-year man from Pitt, wasn’t the worst quarterback on the field on Monday night. That distinction goes to Watson. In addition to his two fumbles (one that was returned for a touchdown) and his pick-six, Watson somehow managed to get called for two facemask penalties in the second half.
I guess that’s worth $250 million guaranteed.
While the Steelers defense was splash-capable on Monday, it mostly proved to be incapable of stopping the run for the second straight week. The Browns gained 198 rushing yards on 35 attempts and may have actually won the game if they relied on that aspect of their offense and not on their big-money quarterback.
A win is a win, as they say, and 1-1 is certainly better than 0-2–especially if the 0-2 start occurs at home.
It’s now onto Las Vegas for a date with the Raiders. You know what they say? Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. If that’s the case, let’s hope the Steelers leave their current style of play in Sin City because it would be a miracle if they won that way ever again.