PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers used defensive touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters to defeat the Cleveland Browns 26-22 Monday night at Acrisure Stadium, leaving the Browns without a victory in Pittsburgh in the regular season since 2003.
But this score was not the most painful defeat for the Browns (1-1), since running back Nick Chubb suffered a significant injury to his left knee in the second quarter and was forced off the field. The Steelers moved to 1-1 with the win.
The Steelers offense couldn’t score, but that didn’t stop their defense from finding the end zone to beat the Browns.
Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith scored nine seconds into the game, returning an interception 30 yards for a score when Minkah Fitzpatrick deflected Deshaun Watson’s first pass of the game. Then, with the Steelers trailing by three in the fourth quarter, Highsmith made another big play by forcing a Watson fumble, which outside linebacker TJ Watt recovered and returned for the game-winning 17-yard touchdown. The touchdowns marked the first time since 2010 that the Steelers had two defensive touchdowns in a game, and the first time the Steelers recorded a fumble return touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown in the same game since 2009. They accumulated six sacks, nine tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and 11 quarterback hits in the victory.
Quarterback breakdown: Kenny Pickett was inconsistent in his second start of the season, but the struggles were partly to do with the play and partly to do with Pickett’s decision-making and mechanics. Pickett, who completed 15 of 30 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown and an interception, threw the pick on the game’s first drive and made a series of other throws in the first half that missed the target. But he calmed down midway through the second quarter when he hit Jaylen Warren in space for a 30-yard gain, then connected with George Pickens down the stretch for the 71-yard score. While there were more encouraging moments from Pickett, he still lacked the consistency the Steelers needed from their second-year quarterback. Like last season, Pickett and the offense struggled to maintain drives.
Disturbing trend: The Steelers spent the offseason proclaiming that the running game would be more complex than it was a year ago. Yet they recorded one rushing yard in the first half against the Browns, the fewest Steelers rushing yards in the first half of a game in the last 45 seasons, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Midway through the third quarter, Najee Harris had gained just four yards on six attempts before breaking off back-to-back early runs of 21 and 17 yards. The runs were a significant boost for Harris, who was booed earlier in the game when he tried to jump the line and fumbled at the goal line on a 2-point conversion. The Steelers finished with 55 yards rushing, with Harris gaining 43 yards on 10 carries while Jaylen Warren added another 20 yards on six carries.
Mind-blowing next-gen stats: Steelers receiver George Pickens gained 56.8 yards after his 71-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, according to Next Gen Stats. Pickens only had to gain 21.4 yards after the catch. The score – the longest touchdown of any Steelers since an 84-yard touchdown run by Chase Claypool in the second week of 2020 – was Pickens’ longest of his career, more than doubling his second-longest of 31 yards, which also happened against the Browns. in week 18 last season. During training camp, Pickens said he wanted to emphasize his speed and prove he was capable of more than just catches, and he did more than that with his touchdown. — Brooke Prior
Next game: at Raiders (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
The Browns lost to the Steelers. They also lost one of their most important players.
All-Pro running back Chubb had to be carted off the field in the second quarter after Fitzpatrick collided with Chubb’s left knee.
The Browns offense struggled for much of the rest of the game. And Watson’s last effort failed. A season that once seemed so promising no longer seems so.
Describe the game in two words: Punch in the gut. Cleveland has had bad luck in Pittsburgh over the years, but Chubb’s injury has to rank among the worst moments in recent Browns history.
Disturbing trend: Watson continues to be a shell of the quarterback who led the NFL in passing in 2020. He committed two costly mask penalties, turned the ball over twice, resulting in Pittsburgh touchdowns and n failed to make any key plays in the fourth quarter. With Chubb’s injury, Cleveland’s season hinges on Watson carrying the offense, and there’s no indication he’ll be capable of that at the moment.
Buy on exceptional performance: Jerome Ford gained more yards (69) on a second-half run that set up the go-ahead TD than his entire career combined (54 yards) before the game. Chubb is irreplaceable, but Ford showed the Browns can still move the ball forward, as he finished with 106 yards on 16 carries. — Jake Trotter
Next game: vs. Titans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)