The Pittsburgh Steelers entered Week 18 with their playoff hopes still intact. While they needed help, they needed to beat the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium for any other scenario to come to fruition. Outside of playoff hopes, the Steelers were also playing to avoid a losing season. With a win, it would keep Mike Tomlin’s non-losing season streak in tact, but the Browns were in Pittsburgh to play the role of spoiler.
The Steelers won the opening coin toss, and elected to defer their opening possession to the second half. It put Deshaun Watson on the field for the first time as a member of the Browns vs. their bitter AFC North rivals.
The Browns’ drive was able to achieve one first down before they had to punt the ball to the Steelers. Starting at their own 32, Kenny Pickett and the offense took the field and did what they’ve been doing in the second half of the season. A time-consuming drive which saw the Steelers running the ball on the porous Cleveland run defense. When Diontae Johnson’s reception got them to the 2-yard line, the Steelers tried to run it in three straight plays, on the third Najee Harris fumbled and it was recovered by Cleveland on the 5-yard line.
Cleveland again was only able to get one first down before punting the ball back to the Steelers offense. On the first play of the drive, a pass from Pickett to Diontae Johnson was fumbled, but it was ruled that he never had possession and the Steelers retained the ball. The drive stalled at midfield and Pressley Harvin III was called into action for the first time.
The Browns punted the ball back to the Steelers to start the second quarter, but a three-and-out gave the ball right back to Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland offense.
Watson and the offense finally put together a drive, not just getting a first down for the first time, but getting into Pittsburgh territory for the first time of the game. The drive was capped off by a Watson pass to David Njoku for the first score of the game. After the extra point, the score was 7-0 Browns with 6:27 left in the first half.
Needing an answer, the Steelers put together their best drive since their opening drive of the season. Pickett passes to Zach Gentry and Jaylen Warren moved the ball into Cleveland territory. Coming out of the two-minute warning, facing a 3rd and 15, Pickett hit George Pickens for a beautiful touchdown pass.
The Chris Boswell extra point was good, making the score 7-7 with 1:47 left in the second quarter.
On the Browns’ second play of the ensuing drive, Watson’s pass was intercepted by Levi Wallace.
The Steelers, with 1:11 left in the half and all three timeouts remaining, started at their own 46-yard line.
Pittsburgh was able to turn the takeaway into points, but it would be a Chris Boswell field goal. After a big pass to George Pickens, the Steelers got into field goal range, and the veteran was good from the 49 to make the score 10-7 with 38 seconds left in the half. That score would hold heading into halftime.
The Steelers received the football to start the third quarter, and the offense picked up right where they left off. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren sparked the offense on the ground, but, as it has been far too common this season, when the offense reached the red zone the drive stalled. Chris Boswell was called on again for another field goal, this one from 34 yards, to make the score 13-7 with 9:04 left in the third quarter.
Cleveland, thanks to some nifty scrambling by Watson, looked to be moving the ball until Damontae Kazee stepped in front of a 3rd down pass and intercepted it.
It set up the offense with tremendous field position, and the following drive was all Najee Harris. The second year back put the unit on his back, and moved them into the red-zone where he capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Chris Boswell’s extra point was good, making the score 20-7 with 3:14 left in the third quarter.
The Steelers had the football to start the fourth quarter, but could not add to their total points. On the ensuing Cleveland drive, several big plays, none bigger than a 36-yard pass to Amari Cooper, moved the Browns into field goal range. When it looked like the Steelers had stopped the Browns on third down, Cam Heyward was called for roughing the passer. It gave Cleveland new life, and two plays later Watson hit Chubb for their second touchdown of the game. The extra point made the score 20-14 with 10:11 left in regulation.
Pittsburgh’s next drive might have been their best drive of the game. Huge third down conversions to George Pickens and Connor Heyward moved the team into the red zone. When they got into a first and goal situation, it was Derek Watt who capped off the drive with a touchdown. The drive was 13 plays and 73 yards. The Steelers went for the two-point conversion, and it was good for Diontae Johnson who made the score 28-14 with 4:37 left in the fourth quarter.
The Browns moved the ball on their final drive, but it all meant nothing as the final score read 28-14, in favor of the home team.
The win moves the Steelers record to 9-8 on the season, but the Steelers’ playoff hopes were dashed by the Miami Dolphins beating the New York Jets 11-6 in Week 18. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the offseason.