Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense spent the first quarter being anything but that, as it netted just seven yards on nine plays on its first three series. Then there was the defense that allowed Cleveland’s offense to look pretty decent on multiple first-quarter scoring drives.
Also, there was Stevan Ridley’s fumble early in the third quarter, followed by that ridiculous special teams gaffe on a post-safety free kick later in the period.
Oh yeah, and the Steelers also lost the turnover battle to the Browns, something not unfamiliar to them, as they’re now minus-three on the season in that very vital category.
But a funny thing happened on the way to another lackluster Steelers’ performance at Heinz Field: they were able to overcome their mistakes to the tune of a 33-18 victory.
Despite looking ridiculously awful on its first three series, the Steelers’ offense did more than enough to make up for that over its next eight possessions, netting 402 yards and 33 points on the way to a 33-12 advantage by the two-minute warning.
Sure, the offense had shown such potency pre-bye—the Steelers did come into Sunday averaging 28.5 points per game. However, unlike in previous games when Pittsburgh’s offense finally decided to wake up from its first-quarter slumbers, the team wasn’t down by two or three touchdowns. Instead, the deficit was only six, thanks to a suddenly capable-looking defense that held Baker Mayfield and Co. out of the end zone, while Ben Roethlisberger and Gang were working out the bugs.
Back to Ridley’s fumble, one that thwarted a potential scoring-drive shortly after halftime; it could have shifted momentum, but didn’t, as the Browns were unable to take advantage. What did seem to shift fortunes to the visitors’ side, however, was the failure to know what a free kick was following a safety that gave Pittsburgh a 16-6 lead and all the momentum it should have needed to put the game away.
But despite the Browns quickly turning that gift into a touchdown, Pittsburgh didn’t buckle. No, there would be no repeat of Week 1, when a late fumble by James Conner proved to be the catalyst to Cleveland’s come-from-behind tie. Instead, the Steelers merely waved the Browns’ momentum away like an annoying fly and reestablished control with 17-unanswered points.
Speaking of Conner, who totaled 195 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns against the Browns in Week 1, he bettered that performance by 17 yards on Sunday, while leaving that fumble in the rear-view mirror.
You might say the Steelers got away with their mistakes because of the team they were going up against.
Maybe, but the Steelers can’t control who they play, and that very same team that took advantage of similar mistakes seven weeks earlier, couldn’t on Sunday.
The Steelers aren’t perfect. The Steelers still have some work to do. But the Steelers appear to have turned a corner as the 2018 season approaches its midway point.
The Steelers are 4-2-1, in first place in the AFC North, and they still have yet to play their best football. What’s that all mean? It means the best could still be yet to come for the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers.