Citizens of Steelers Nation: It doesn’t get any better than this. In Ben Roethlisberger’s (likely) last game at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh rallied behind their leader as the Steelers defeated the Browns 26-14.
It was an emotional night for Roethlisberger, the City of Pittsburgh, Steelers Nation and the team’s global fan base. In the end it was special, not just because of the win, but because of the way the Steelers secured victory: Hollywood could not have scripted it better.
Roethlisberger Breaks the Template, Again
Ben Roethlisberger built his career at going against the grain. Quarterbacks are supposed to go down easy. Roethlisberger never relented. Defensive contact with a quarterback is supposed to disrupt his passing. Not Roethlisberger, especially early in his career, when he became more accurate after being touched by a defender.
- And so it is at the end.
It’s easy for fans to lose sight of the fact that precious few football players get to leave the game on their own terms. Yes, a finite few like Jerome Bettis go out hoisting the Lombardi. Others pick their own time. But of the few that choose when they leave the game, fewer yet choose how they leave the game.
- As he has throughout his career, Roethlisberger proved he stood apart from most other football players.
Which isn’t to say that Ben Roethlisberger dominated against the Browns. He did not. Yes, he hit Diontae Johnson with laser like precision to get the Steelers their first, first half touchdown in 4 games. Yes, he helped connected with Pat Freiermuth and Ray-Ray McCloud to convert Ahkello Witherspoon interception into a Chris Boswell field goal late in the first half.
But on this night, Ben Roethlisberger’s deep passes were either off target or his receivers just couldn’t hold on to them (see Chase Claypool – although credit Cleveland’s DBs.)
But you know what? I didn’t matter.
Everyone’s Hand in the Pile
When asked about how his horrendously and historically bad run defense shut down Cleveland’s potent rushing attack, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained, “…we played a lot of people and everybody put their hand in the pile and made the necessary plays.”
The key phrase above is “everyone put their hand in the pile.” Everyone did, but the usual suspects struck first.
Cam Heyward helped end two Browns drives by deflecting passes when the score was 0-0. Later, ended the Brown’s first drive of the second half with a sack.
After the Steelers tried and failed to convert on 4th down, T.J. Watt sacked Baker Mayfield for a 10 yard loss on third down (oh, and Watt deflected a pass on the previous play.) Later, when the Browns were sniffing scoring range at the end of the first half, Watt sacked Mayfield on 3rd and 2.
- Chris Boswell knocked in field goals of 30, 50 and 48 yards.
All excellent plays made at critical moments from the players you’d expect to make them. But they got plenty of help.
- Corliss Waitman boomed off punts and staked a claim to pushing Pressley Harvin off the team
- Alex Highsmith came up with 2 sacks and tackled Nick Chubb for a loss on a critical drive
- J.C. Hassenauer stepped in at center and the Steelers saw their best line play since October
- Derek Watt converted a 4th and 1
- Isaiahh Loudermilk batted down a pass
- Forgotten players like Ulysees Gilbert III came off the bench to contain Cleveland’s rushing attack
The rushing attack? Yes, you might remember that. It once provided the foundation for 5 Steelers Super Bowls and formed a potent part of the “Killer Bees.” After making guest appearances in fits and starts during October, the Steelers rushing attack has been AWOL since.
- Najee Harris revived it for Roethlisberger’s send off.
Reestablishing the run was one of Art Rooney II’s chief goals this season, and the Steelers have struggled to comply. But even at its bleakest moments, rookie Najee Harris has shown that, behind a competent offensive line, he can be special.
Najee Harris was special against the Browns, turning would-be losses into gains, and ripping off runs of 13, 14, 30 and 10 yards, and he was only getting warmed up – and this was on a night where he rushed for 188 yards on 28 carries.
And Ending to Treasure
When the Steelers went up 19 to 7 with 5:28 left to play in the 4th quarter, the game seemed to be well in hand. When the Steelers hit Baker Mayfield with back-to-back sacks on 2nd and 3rd down, it seemed to be official.
But then the Browns got a pass interference penalty called against Joe Haden. Another one in the Red Zone brought them to the one. The Browns scored, but Minkah Fitzpatrick collected the on-sides kick.
- The Browns had two time outs, but the Steelers only needed one first down.
Najee Harris ran for 4 yards on 1st and 4 yards on second. Cleveland could not stop the clock and a first down would seal the game for the Steelers. Harris cut to his right, it was clear he would get the two yards. But then he broke out to the second level and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone.
- Ben Roethlisberger’s last play would be a handoff for a touchdown….
…Except it wouldn’t. The Browns got the ball back, only for Baker Mayfield to bounce a pass off of Austin Hooper that Tre Norwood intercepted.
Ten seconds remained on the clock, allowing Ben Roethlisberger to step on to Heinz Field one last time, taking a knee in the Victory Formation.
No, Hollywood could not have scripted it any better.