Steelers defense saves the day in 26-22 win vs. Browns

Steelers defenders gang tackle QB Deshaun Watson (Credit: Vince Butts/UMT)

By Ray Porter, Jr.

PITTSBURGH, PA–There’s a reason the Pittsburgh Steelers are 80–62–1 overall vs. the Cleveland Browns, which includes 51-22 at home: Because no matter what happens, the Steelers always find a way to beat them.

Such was the case during their Monday Night Matchup as the Steelers had their challenges & and struggles, but they managed to beat the Browns 26-22 in front of 67,576 at Acrisure Stadium and a National Monday Night Football audience.

“Man, 1-0 in the AFC North. We don’t take that for granted. We’re appreciative of the efforts of the men,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “I’m appreciative of the effort of the men. I’m appreciative of their fight. Obviously, it wasn’t easy, but we didn’t expect it to be. That’s kind of a signature of AFC North ball and particularly these two teams.”

The way the Steelers found a way to win Monday Night was through their defense as they scored 14 of the team’s 26 points. LB Alex Highsmith scored the first points as he caught a tipped pass from S Minkah Fitzpatrick (thrown by Browns QB DeShaun Watson) for a 30-yard TD and a 7-0 lead.

“Obviously, the big play, the pick-six, was a nice catalyst. But after that, it took us a while to gain rhythm,” said Tomlin.

But the Browns would not make it easy as Watson would lead them on a drive that resulted in a 43-yard FG by K Dustin Hopkins. They would then take the lead in the 2nd quarter when Watson would find RB Jerome Ford for 9-a 3-yard TD and, with the 2-point conversion, would give them an 11-7 lead. The score came at a cost for the Browns as RB Nick Chubb suffered a gruesome knee injury (in which it turned awkward) after a tackle by LB Cole Holcomb and Fitzpatrick. He was carted off the field, which would unfortunately end his night, and is expected to miss the rest of the season.

“Can’t say enough about Nick Chubb. Sending our best to him. Got a lot of respect for that guy,” remarked Tomlin.

The Steelers’ offense would come alive as QB Kenny Pickett (15-30, 222 yards, TD, INT) would lead them on consecutive scoring drives. The first resulted in a 50-yard FG by K Chris Boswell, and the second on a pass to WR George Pickens (4 rec, 127 yards) that resulted in a 71-yard TD.

It stayed that way until the 3rd quarter when the Browns would take a 22-19 lead on a 1-yard TD run by RB Pierre Strong Jr. and a 2-point conversion. The key to that play was a 69-yard run by Ford that ended at the Steelers 1-yard line.

“They had momentum,” Tomlin said of the Browns. “They were coming off a big win, and so, we didn’t get the type of fluidity we wanted early, but I like the fight…we gave up another big run, and we got some things, obviously, to work on and it’s cool to work on it with a win.

But the Steelers’ defense refused to ‘faint in the hour of adversity’ as they once again produced points for their team. Highsmith hit Watson and stripped him of the ball, which was recovered by fellow LB TJ Watt, who ran 17 yards for the score, which gave the Steelers a 26-22 lead. It was Watt’s first career regular-season TD. As a unit, the Steelers’ defense sacked Watson 6 times, forced 2 fumbles, intercepted Watson once, and scored 14 points.

“Guys made the plays. They did,” said Tomlin. “Can’t say enough about Highsmith. He had a pick 6 and a big sack-fumble. We had contributions from a lot of areas. Larry Ogunjobi played a lot of snaps. Hadn’t practiced a lot. But had to absorb a big-time responsibility because we’re playing without Cam Heyward. There’s a lot of guys to be congratulated for their efforts and playmaking.”

Watt also had a significant milestone as he sacked Watson and improved his career sack total to 81.5, good for the most in Steelers history, passing 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison.

Watson passed for 235 yards, a TD and interception. WR Amari Cooper caught 7 passes for 90 yards. RB Ford (filling in for Chubb) added 106 yards on 16 carries, and Chubb had 64 yards before he left the game due to injury.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it was special,” said Watt. “Just like anything, it hasn’t set in. I don’t know if it will until I have time to really sit down and process what just happened tonight. But there’s so many people along the way that have helped me get to where I am. I can’t stand the individual awards of football because there’s just — Deebo himself helped me so much my rookie year. He didn’t have to. No one asked him to, but he wanted to help me, and I appreciate him for that.”

The Steelers (1-1) must now put their focus on Las Vegas as they prepare to travel there to face the 1-1 Raiders.

We have to assess all those things and put together a plan here on a short week as we head to Vegas.” Said Tomlin “So we’re thankful for the win. But we’ll keep pushing.”

Notes: Tomlin Said Fitzpatrick was being evaluated at a local hospital for a chest injury, WR Gunner Olszewski was being evaluated for a concussion. “Bumps and bruises associated with the field of play,” Tomlin commented.

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