Pittsburgh Defensive back Joe Haden (Photo Credit :Vince Butts-UMT Sports)

              Steelers Suffer 1st Loss of season to Washington, 23-17

[Pittsburgh,Pa] In 1972, the Miami Dolphins became the first NFL team (during the Super Bowl Era) to finish the season undefeated (14-0) after winning Super Bowl 7. The 2007 New England Patriots were the closest team to duplicate that feat as they finished the regular season 16-0, only to fall to the NY Giants in Super Bowl 42. There were other teams that tried (’84 SF 49ers, ’85 Chicago Bears, ’90 Buffalo Bills & NY Giants, ’99 Denver Broncos, ’09 New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, ’15 Carolina Panthers to name a few) but there was that one team that came between them and a perfect record.

 

Such was the case with the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers as they carried their franchise-best 11-0 record to Heinz Field to face the 4-7 Washington Football team. Many media experts said that this could be an ‘upset’ waiting to happen with them having 10 days off, a Top-10 defense and a true comeback story in QB Alex Smith, and it turned out that they were correct as they upset the Steelers 23-17, giving them their first loss of the season.

“I’ll start by tipping my cap to Coach Rivera and the Washington Football Team.” Said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin “Man, they made the significant plays tonight and we didn’t, particularly in the second half. I thought that was the difference in the game. Particularly the weighted downs. We did not win enough possession down football tonight. The examples of it were littered throughout.”

After taking a 14-0 first half lead, Washington slowly clawed their way back and scored 20 points in the second half (6 thanks to 2 FGs by K Dustin Hopkins in the final minutes) and a crushing interception by former Steelers LB Jon Bostic off QB Ben Roethlisberger (off a tipped pass by DE Chase Young) to give them the ball back with 1:53 left to seal the game.

The Steelers showed strong poise and control in the first half as they shut down Smith and Washington while taking the 14-0 lead with 2 TD passes by Roethlisberger (1 to WR Diontae Johnson and to WR James Washington) but the offense struggled in the second half and were only able to score 3 points off the foot of K Matthew Wright, who filled in for K Chris Boswell who was injured (hip)

“We were down in the red area twice, and we went for it on fourth down. Didn’t convert either.” Said Tomlin “So possession down ball was heavy in this football game. We paid the consequences of it, failure in it. Such is life in our game.”

 


In addition to a lack of execution, the offense suffered greatly because of the lack of a running game. They were able to win several games despite their running struggles in week’s past, but it cost them in this game. Starter James Conner was inactive despite being activated off the Covid- 19 list and Benny Snell was not effective at all as he was only able to run for 5 yards and was unable to score on 3 tries at the goal-line early in the first half. His backup, rookie Anthony McFarland was only able to add 15 yards and dropped a key 4th down pass late in the 4th quarter.

When asked about the struggles in the running game, Tomlin replied “I’m just worried about us fluidly moving the football, whether it’s run or pass. We move it how we choose to move it. The way that we chose to move it tonight wasn’t fluid enough for us to have victory, particularly in the moments that you mentioned.”

Roethlisberger threw the ball 55 times and finished passing for 305 yards, the 2 TDs and the interception. Washington led the Steelers with 80 yards, but on only 2 receptions. Johnson finished with 71 yards on 8 receptions, but also had a couple of drops, as did TE Eric Ebron (7 rec, 68 yards)

 

In the first half, the Steelers were able to get to Smith as they sacked him 3 times (1 by LB Robert Spillaine, DE Stephon Tuitt and LB TJ Watt) but were not able to touch him in the second half as he finished with passing for 296 yards and a TD which was to TD Logan Thomas (9 rec, 98 yards) RB Peyton Barber scored Washington’s other TD.

“I thought that touchdown drive to start the second half when we had them third and 14, they hit a perimeter screen for a significant gain to move the chains kind of started the ball rolling in the wrong way, if you will.”-Said Tomlin.

As a result, the Steelers are now 11-1, tied with the KC Chiefs, but still have the #1 seed based on a better AFC record. They also remain in first place in the AFC North Division, 2 games ahead of 9-3 Cleveland (but also have the tiebreaker over them since they beat them earlier in the season) The Steelers have also yet to clinch a playoff berth.

The Steelers must now learn from this loss, shake it off and get ready to face AFC East-leading Buffalo in a nationally televised game Sunday night. Despite the loss, Tomlin remains upbeat.

 


“We step into a stadium each week with intentions towards winning.” Said Tomlin “Our intentions will be the same next week. We just live one week at a time. It’s not a collective for us. I’m excited about facing the adversity of losing with this group, man, smiling in the face of it, preparing, getting ready for our next challenge.”

Notes: Steelers suffered 2 more defensive injuries: Spillaine (Knee-being evaluated) and CB Joe Haden (concussion)

Please e-mail Ray at rayporterjr72@gmail.com

Follow him @RP_2872Jr on Twitter