The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns squared off for the second time this season, and the two teams entered the Monday night affair in completely different scenarios. For the Steelers, their playoff hopes were hanging by a thread, while the Browns’ playoff hopes had already been dashed during Sunday’s results.
If the Steelers had any prayer of making the playoffs, they would need to win their games, and hope for a Jaguars upset over the Colts in Week 18. But that wasn’t what was on everyone’s mind at Heinz Field on Monday Night Football. No, all eyes were on Ben Roethlisberger as he took the home field one last time in his 18-year career. The Browns didn’t have anything to play for, from a postseason perspective, but they certainly could play the role of spoiler for the man who has tormented Cleveland since entering the league in 2004.
The Browns won the opening coin toss, and decided to kick the ball to Pittsburgh to start the game, deferring their possession to the second half. After converting a first down to Chase Claypool, the Steelers’ drive stalled and sent Corliss Waitman on for his first punt of the game.
The Browns would have to settle for nothing more than a field flipping drive on their first offensive possession, and it gave Roethlisberger and the offense the ball right back. After another Waitman punt, the Browns were threatening to put up the first points of the game, but the Baker Mayfield pass on 4th and 7 was batted down at the line of scrimmage for a turnover on downs.
Pittsburgh’s offense put forth it’s best drive of the game, but like the Browns on their previous drive, a 4th down play fell incomplete and turned the ball over just on the outside of Chris Boswell’s field goal range. Thanks to T.J. Watt, with a pass defense and a 3rd down sack, the first quarter ended with the Browns sending their punt unit on the field.
With their best field position of the game, Pittsburgh’s offense woke up and started making plays. Primarily behind Najee Harris, the Steelers were able to get in Chris Boswell’s field goal range. When it looked like the drive had stalled, Browns defender Jadaveon Clowney was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after throwing Chase Claypool’s shoe down the field. This gave the Steelers new life, and it took just three plays for Ben Roethlisberger to find Diontae Johnson for the first touchdown of the game.
Chris Boswell’s point after was good, making the score 7-0 Steelers with 10:39 left in the first half.
T.J. Watt continued to be a force along the Steelers’ defensive front, and he was a major reason why the Pittsburgh defense got their first three-and-out coming off that Johnson touchdown.
Pittsburgh’s offense was unable to muster a first down on the ensuing drive, Waitman punting the ball back to Cleveland after a three-and-out. Baker Mayfield’s pass on first down was intercepted by Akhello Witherspoon, his third interception of the season.
Ben Roethlisberger and Najee Harris continued to move the ball on the Cleveland defense, and put themselves in position to add to their point total after the first turnover of the game. Once in the red-zone the Steelers got away from the run, and they had to settle for a Boswell field goal to make the score 10-0 with 3:02 left in the second quarter.
Baker Mayfield and company were able to move the football in their no-huddle offense, but another Watt sack on 3rd down forced a punt. The Steelers took over with 34 seconds remaining in the half, and two timeouts. The drive didn’t equate in points, and the players would head into halftime with the Steelers up 10-0.
The Browns received the ball to start the second half, but the Steelers’ defense continued to stymie the Cleveland offense on third downs. On the opening drive of the second half it was Cam Heyward who sacked Mayfield to force a punt.
Pittsburgh’s offense continued to show a punch they didn’t have during their previous slump. It was punishing Najee Harris runs, and stiff arms, which moved the offense into field goal range, but, again, the Steelers had to settle for a Chris Boswell chip shot. The field goal made the score 13-0 with 8:20 left in the third quarter.
A Steelers three-and-out gave the Browns their best starting field position of the game, and a Donovan People-Jones catch and run set the Browns up in the red-zone for the first time in the game. After two Nick Chubb runs, Baker Mayfield found David Njoku for the touchdown to make the score 13-7 with 56 seconds left in the third quarter.
A three-and-out, their second in a row, gave the ball right back to the Browns at the end of the third quarter. Mayfield continued to be harassed by the Steelers’ pass rush, and it equated in a shanked Dustin Colquitt punt giving the Pittsburgh offense prime field position.
Starting at their own 43-yard line, Najee Harris continued to run the ball right down the Browns’ throats. On the cusp of field goal range, the Steelers’ offensive drive stalled, like it had most of the evening, and the drive settled for another Boswell field goal, this one from 50-yards. The kick made the score 16-7, and made the game a two-score game with 9:45 left in regulation.
The Steelers’ defense forced a three-and-out, and when Colquitt had to punt out of the back of the end zone it gave the Pittsburgh offense tremendous field position at the Cleveland 42. The drive was short, but gained enough yardage to get Boswell his fourth field goal of the game, this from 48-yards, to make the score 19-7 with 5:48 left in regulation.
Pittsburgh’s sack party continued with T.J. Watt getting his 4th sack of the game, and Alex Highsmith getting his second on consecutive plays. It resulted in a 4th and 19 where Joe Haden was flagged for defensive pass interference, continuing the Cleveland drive. The driving didn’t just continue, but it resulted in another pass interference call on Cam Sutton setting the Browns up at the 1-yard line. Baker Mayfield hit Harrison Bryant for the touchdown. The extra point made the score 19-14 with 1:10 left in the 4th quarter.
The Steelers recovered the onside kick attempt, and it was two straight Najee Harris runs which set up a 3rd and 1 with the Browns out of timeouts. Harris broke the play wide open for the game sealing touchdown run.
The Boswell extra point was good, making the final score 26-14 Pittsburgh.
The Steelers win moves their record to 8-7-1 with their playoff hopes still barely alive, as they prepare for a Week 18 game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the regular season.