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Steelers defense powers MNF win over division-rival Browns as Chubb suffers knee injury
(Last week: 23)
Monday: Beat Cleveland Browns 26-22
Outside linebacker T.J. Watt became Pittsburgh’s all-time sacks leader (81 1/2) on Monday night. “But I thought we were talking scoring?” you say. Well, Watt also scored his first career touchdown against the Browns (on a fumble return), so he counts. In fact, the Steelers’ outside linebackers have scored more touchdowns this season (two) than any other position group. Quarterback Kenny Pickett and company have a lot of work to do.
Up next: at Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET
NFL Power Rankings: Dolphins, Eagles on the rise; offense is back!
(Photo: Philip G. Pavely / USA Today)
It’s eight quarters into the new season, and it’s time to let it go: The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense isn’t going to be much better than it was last year, and it is in no way going to come close to approaching what it did in the preseason.
Those five drives and five touchdowns on 17 plays might as well be a million miles away.
There is no big second-year jump from Kenny Pickett and George Pickens ready to happen. The offensive line isn’t going to be markedly better, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada isn’t going to learn how to come up with a game plan all of a sudden.
At best, this unit will be a click better than it was a year ago, when it was at its best as a run-heavy team down the stretch, as the Steelers won seven of nine games to get within an eyelash of the playoffs.
That would be more than acceptable, in most cases — to have a young offense gradually get better from the first year to the second year. A lot of times, that is how the NFL works. Rarely do you see seismic jumps from year to year. Yet that is what we expected to see from the Steelers this year.
(Last week: 4)
Monday: Lost to Pittsburgh Steelers 26-22
Running back Nick Chubb’s knee injury is devastating first of all in a global sense, but secondly, because Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson still doesn’t look like a player who can be the focal point of a good offense.
Up next: vs. Tennessee Titans, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET
NFL Power Rankings: Dolphins, Eagles on the rise; offense is back!
The Cleveland Browns lost their best offensive player Monday night to what’s expected to be a season-ending knee injury.
In the grand scheme of an all-in season that’s off to a horrendous offensive start, I hesitate to call Nick Chubb the team’s most important player. That’s debatable, as are many things involved with a Browns team that followed a dominant Week 1 win with a bizarre and avoidable 26-22 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Chubb is pretty much irreplaceable, and now the reeling Browns have to figure out how to make the offense go without him. Early in the second quarter, Chubb carried the ball on first-and-goal and was barrelling toward the end zone when he was blasted on his left knee by Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Chubb’s knee buckled, and Steelers defenders near the play immediately signaled to the sideline for assistance. It was clear that Chubb had suffered a significant injury, one that was so bad that he had to be taken to a local hospital as a precaution.
The Browns led Monday night into the fourth quarter, and there’s a lengthy list of alarming reasons why they eventually didn’t win. But in many ways, it felt like they lost the moment the cart came out for Chubb — and that it well could be a lost season, too. Deshaun Watson can freelance and threaten defenses both via the run and pass, but he’s struggling to turn the threat of the pass into anything resembling consistent results. Second-year back Jerome Ford immediately scored after replacing Chubb and later showed that he has some real juice. But he’s not Chubb.
Few are. No one is, really. Chubb’s rare blend of power and explosion makes him hard to tackle and makes Cleveland hard to defend. He’s a respected player in the locker room who rarely says much but always delivers. Always. For an organization now on its third decade of fighting for relevancy and respect across the league, Chubb had earned both. He’s a low-maintenance superstar and high-volume producer.
Jackson: Replacing Nick Chubb won’t be easy, but the Browns ‘have to keep pushing’
(Photo: Philip G. Pavely / USA Today)
After T.J. Watt high-stepped through the end zone to celebrate his decisive scoop-and-score, he jogged to the sideline and presented fellow Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher Alex Highsmith with a gift: the football.
Sure Watt scored. But in Watt’s eyes, it was Highsmith who made the play. He’s the one who beat Cleveland Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. with a quick burst around the edge, swatted the ball from quarterback Deshaun Watson and left it bouncing on the turf.
But when Watt handed the football to Highsmith, he refused.
“No, you take it,” Highsmith said.
In Highsmith’s eyes, it was Watt who deserved to keep the ball. He’s the one who had the awareness to pick it up off the turf and return it 17 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown with 6:58 remaining.
You take it. No, you. You. You. Back and forth they went until, finally, Highsmith accepted.
In a more metaphorical way, if you’re looking to award a game ball after the Steelers’ 26-22 victory over the Browns, good luck picking between Watt and Highsmith. On the night that Watt recorded sack No. 81.5 to overtake James Harrison for the franchise record, his counterpart might have been an even greater game-wrecking force.
Together, they helped will the Steelers to victory on a night when their short-handed defense got even thinner, the offense was largely inept and, by the end of it, a large swath of fans loudly chanted for offensive coordinator Matt Canada to be fired.
“We needed it,” coach Mike Tomlin said of the performances from Watt and Highsmith. “We expect it. And they delivered.”
How T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith willed Steelers past Browns: ‘We needed it. They delivered’
Despite losing yards in the fourth quarter, the Steelers still managed to overcome a 22-19 deficit.
Asked after the game about an apparent injury to his left shoulder, Steelers QB Kenny Pickett told reporters it was "just normal bumps and bruises." Pickett was slow to get up and was seen wincing after he was hit while throwing to George Pickens for a 71-yard touchdown. He did not miss a snap, finishing 15-of-30 for 222 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Pickett also said he did not hear fans chanting for the firing of offensive coordinator Matt Canada during the fourth quarter.
Steelers DB Minkah Fitzpatrick is being evaluated at the hospital for a chest injury, head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters after the game.
Tomlin did not have further details, saying he expects to learn more Tuesday.
The Steelers beat the Browns despite being outgained 408-255 and scoring on just three of their 14 possessions. Through two weeks, Pittsburgh's offense has had 25 possessions, resulting in:
Here are my fantasy takeaways from the Browns-Steelers game.
The Browns fall to 1-23 under head coach Kevin Stefanski in games Cleveland trailed by at least four points in the fourth quarter, per TruMedia.
Since Stefanski’s first season in 2020, the Browns’ .042 win percentage in such games is second worst in the NFL. Only the Panthers (0-31), who also lost such a game tonight against the Saints, have been worse.
The Steelers have now won 21 straight home games on Monday Night Football. Pittsburgh’s last home loss on MNF was on Oct. 14, 1991 against the Giants.
NOTE: The Steelers lost to the Commanders in a Monday home game in 2020 that was delayed from the previous day due to COVID. However, it wasn’t an official MNF game.
Steelers defensive back Elijah Riley missed a chance at a sack on second down, but he made up for it on third-and-8, wrapping up Deshaun Watson as he went to scramble. Then rookie Joey Porter Jr. had tight coverage up the sideline to Donovan Peoples-Jones (perhaps fortunate to avoid a pass interference call), forcing an incompletion and a turnover on downs.
The Steelers hang on to win, 26-22, and join the Browns at 1-1 behind the 2-0 Ravens in the AFC North.
Browns trail the Steelers 26-22 as we reach the two-minute warning. Per TruMedia, Cleveland entered the night 1-22 under head coach Kevin Stefanski in games that it trailed by at least four points in the fourth quarter.
The lone win came against the Bucs in Week 12 of last season (trailed 17-10, won 23-17 in OT).
The Pittsburgh Steelers pride themselves on being tough against the run but that wasn’t the case in Week 1, as San Francisco gained 162 yards on 27 carries against this defense.
The Browns have already topped that mark as Cleveland has racked up 184 rushing yards with less than 6:00 left in the fourth quarter.
To put this two-game streak into perspective, it is only the third time in the Mike Tomlin era that Pittsburgh has allowed 160+ rushing yards in consecutive games. It is also the second time since 2021 that this has happened and it didn’t happen before that until 2013, so it is unfortunately becoming a trend for this defense.
T.J. Watt’s 17-yard fumble return touchdown is the first score of his career.
The Steelers have now scored a pair of defensive touchdowns tonight (also a pick six by Alex Highsmith) – It’s Pittsburgh’s first game with multiple defensive scores since Week 14 of 2010 against the Bengals, per TruMedia.
The Steelers' offense is struggling to score, but the defense is picking up the slack.
Alex Highsmith beat Jedrick Wills around the corner and stripped Deshaun Watson. T.J. Watt scooped up the loose ball and waltzed 17 yards for the touchdown, putting Pittsburgh back in the lead, 26-22 with 6:58 to play. The Steelers' defense has accounted for more than half of the team's points.
Already missing Cam Heyward and now without Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers' defense was lagging a bit, but after a second personal foul penalty on Deshaun Watson backed up the Browns to third-and-26, the unit came up with a big play, with Cole Holcomb forcing a fumble and Damontae Kazee recovering.
But the Steelers' offense failed to convert the takeaway into points for the second time tonight, going three-and-out. Pittsburgh still trails by three with 9:01 remaining.
After moving the ball from their own 1-yard line to the Steelers’ 35, the Browns’ drive unravels following a pair of penalties and a David Njoku fumble.
Cleveland now has seven penalties for 76 yards, its second-most penalty yards in a game over the past two seasons (98 in 2022 Week 14 at Bengals).