Admit it You have been very critical of Pittsburgh Steelers backup QB Landry Jones the last couple years. After all, he’s really done nothing to ease the pain after starting QB Ben Roethlisberger would exit the game due to injury. Jones was drafted in 2013 (4th round) and had served as the Steelers #3 QB until last season when he replaced and unseated #2 backup Mike Vick after an impressive win vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Although he was horrible on 2 drives in the Wild Card win vs. the Bengals, Jones was given the #2 backup job basically by default, since QB Rob Gratkowski missed his second consecutive injury due to injury.
Big Ben would get injured for a game this season, leaving Jones to face the New England Patriots and he wasn’t too bad. He didn’t lose the game for the Steelers, but he’s one of the reasons why they didn’t win. While we were grateful that Big Ben returned and eventually led the Steelers to 6-straight wins and the AFC North Division title, we knew that we would see Jones again in the meaningless regular-season finale vs. the Cleveland Browns, who had just won their first game vs. the San Diego Chargers a week ago,
Head Coach Mike Tomlin chose to rest Big Ben and his other offensive stars, which meant all Landry, all the time. Although a loss to the Browns didn’t mean anything with the playoffs looming, we Steelers fans know that it’s always important to beat the Browns, one of the Steelers oldest rivalries. I grew know with the fact that the Browns never beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh, first at 3 Rivers Stadium (although they finally did in 1986) and Heinz Field (their only win there was in 2003) so it’s a pride thing for me to see the Steelers get it done, especially to a 1-14 team.
Apparently, Jones caught that ‘vision’ as he led the Steelers to a dramatic 27-24 victory over the Browns, allowing the Steelers to finish the Steelers at 11-5 with 7-straight wins. Jones would pass for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns, easy the best game of his career.
But it wasn’t easy to watch because Jones wasn’t easy to watch in the first quarter as he led the Steelers to nothing after 3 drives, 2 of them ending with in a sack. Meanwhile the Browns chose to punch the Steelers in the mouth early as QB Robert Griffin III engineered 2 impressive drives that ended in 2 scores and a 14-0 lead, Pittsburgh defense looked lost and confused, while the offense also looked well, lost and confused as if they were saying “I can’t believe the Browns are beating us.”
Then the Browns cooled off, the Steelers defense got hot as they could force 2 turnovers in the second half. LB Ryan Shazier intercepted a Griffin pass near the end zone and S Sean Davis recovered a Griffin fumble. Jones and the Steelers would capitalize on that fumble and get their first TD of the game when Jones would find RB DeAngelo Williams for an 11-yard TD, closing the Brown’s lead to 14-7 heading into halftime.
I’m figuring Tomlin gave the Steelers defense some ‘advice’, because they didn’t give up an entire 3rd quarter, but the offense came close as Jones passed for an interception that was returned for what looked like a TD, but the ball was stripped out of their hands by Steelers WR Darius Heyward-Bey, causing the ball to roll into the end zone for a touchback. Tough break for the Browns, a huge break for the Steelers.
Meanwhile Jones and the offense would then score 14 unanswered points in the 4th quarter to give them a 21-14 lead. Williams would score his 2nd TD on a 1-yard run, and then Jones would find rookie WR DeMarcus Ayers for an 11-yard TD for the Steelers first lead of the game. Unfortunately, you can’t relax with a Steelers lead, because of their struggles on defense, which was clearly proven when Browns RB Isaiah Crowell ran through the Steelers D for a gain of over 60 yards. Then the Browns would tie the game on a George Atkinson III 5-yard TD. The Steelers would go nowhere on their next drive giving the Browns the ball with over a minute left to play.
I think at that point, I was feeling that the Steelers may have met their Waterloo in this game. The defense had a chance to seal the game, but they could not, and then Jones and the offense went back to being the unit that did nothing in the first quarter.
The Browns would then drive the ball deep into Steelers territory when Griffin would find WR Terrelle Pryor for a 43-yard gain. Pryor who’s from Pittsburgh, shook the jersey off Steelers rookie CB Artie Burns. But then the one thing happened to the Browns, because they are the Browns, they blew it.
All the Browns needed to do was kill clock and set up for the winning FG, but they had to get greedy and get more yards and when Griffin handed the ball to Crowell, he fumbled and it was recovered by Steelers S Mike Mitchell. Jones would eventually let the clock run out, sending the game into overtime.
I was hoping the Steelers would get the coin toss, drive the ball down the Browns throat and win the game, but of course the Browns would get the ball first and drive the ball down the Steelers throats and were at the Steelers 2-yard line, ready to win the game, and once again, they blew it.
A penalty and a sack pushed the Browns back and they settled for a 34-yard Cody Parkey FG, giving the Browns a 24-21 lead. In the old days, that would’ve ended the game as it was still sudden-death OT, but not these days as it gave the Steelers a chance to either tie the game with a FG of their own, or a TD to win it.
Which meant it was up to Jones.
And Jones looked like Big Ben as he orchestrated an impressive 9-play 75-yard drive, which included converting a 4th and 5 and then delivering the final blow as his 26-yard pass fell into the hands of rookie WR Cobi Hamilton for the 27-24 victory. As critical as I was of Jones, he made me a bit of a believer on that drive because he was calm cool and collected, not making mistakes and second-guessing himself. He probably also got the attention of a lot of NFL teams who’re desperate for a QB as he will become a free agent in the off season.
I was hoping to see some of Zach Mettenberger, who has more NFL experience than Jones after starts with Tennessee and San Diego, but it was clear that this was Jones time to shine, and he finally did.
Who didn’t shine however, was the Steelers defense who had another unimpressive game as they missed tackles and gave up 152 yards to Crowell, something they desperately need to fix as they’re about to face a Dolphins team who ran for over 219 yards on them in the 30-15 upset. That was embarrassing. I’m sure the Steelers are looking for redemption when they face them in the Wild Card Game next week.
Of course Big Ben, RB Le’Veon Bell and WR Antonio Brown will be back for the Wild Card Game, which will give them the best chance for a possible Super Bowl run, but it’s also good to see the backups getting the win, despite how hard it took vs. a 1-14 team. A win’s a win and Jones led them to it.
Notes: Steelers DE Ricardo Matthews and rookie DT Justin Hargrave left the game with injuries. Hargrave is in the Concussion Protocol.
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