Now, that’s how you win a football game.
OK, maybe the Steelers didn’t want an 18-point lead early in the fourth quarter to ultimately come down to a goal-line stand at the end, which was exactly what happened on Sunday in a more-thrilling-than-expected 27-19 victory over the Broncos at Heinz Field. But I’m sure they’ll be happy if the style, execution and results become more of a habit moving forward.
When you’re talking about an enjoyable style, the first thing that comes to mind is the 10.1 yards quarterback Ben Roethlisberger averaged per passing attempt. The second thing that comes to mind is the 25 passes he threw the entire game.
Roethlisberger completed just 15 of his passes, but he was mostly sharp and on point with just about every single one. Not only that but there were fewer short passes and more long ones—including a 50-yard touchdown to Diontae Johnson to open the game for the second week in a row. Roethlisberger seemed more decisive and confident on Sunday. Maybe that’s because the offensive line continued to improve after what was actually its best performance a week earlier in a 27-17 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field.
I’m not saying the line was perfect. Roethlisberger still had to hurry some of his throws, and he was hit a bit too much for a 39-year old. Also, the one time he was sacked resulted in yet another lost fumble in enemy territory by the veteran quarterback.
But unlike previous weeks, the defense, one that just can’t seem to shake the injury bug and still appears to be missing the nasty bite it had over the first six quarters of the season, held Denver to a field goal.
Obviously, the story of Sunday’s game was rookie running back Najee Harris and the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career (122, to be exact). Harris didn’t just gain tough yards when none were there, which had been his calling card over the first four games. He also gained chunks of yards thanks to the holes his linemen were opening for him all afternoon. The Steelers rushed for 147 yards on 35 carries against Denver. You put those 147 yards on the ground together with Roethlisberger’s 253 through the air and, again, that would be the kind of efficiency and style this offense should be able to win with over the final 12 games.
As for the defense, it was mostly stout if not dominant. True, Denver did rally late to turn a 24-6 laugher into a 27-19 thriller, but that’s going to happen from time to time in the NFL. The defense bent all throughout the fourth quarter and kept on bending until it had about six more feet to defend. That’s when James Pierre stepped up and made what, in my opinion, was the most important defensive play so far in 2021 when he intercepted quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on fourth and goal with mere seconds left.
Speaking of bridges and water, perhaps Sunday’s victory, one that improved the Steelers record to 2-3, can be a bridge that gets the team over what has been some pretty murky water so far in 2021.
At the very least, the win is one the Steelers can hopefully build on.