The Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory over the Browns on Monday night went down in the history books. In addition to extending its 21-game home winning streak, Pittsburgh’s defense put together a performance not seen in the NFL since Week 1 of the 1989 season.
In Pittsburgh’s 26-22 victory, the defense became the first in 34 years to record six sacks, four forced fumbles, recover three opposing fumbles and complete punt and interception returns for scores in only one game since the Browns accomplished that feat in a 51-0 whipping of the Steelers on September 10, 1989, according to OptaSTATS. Cleveland’s defense had three touchdowns that day: a fumble return from linebacker Clay Matthews and two pick-sixes from defensive back David Grayson.
Pittsburgh’s defense started and ended Monday night’s game with touchdowns. Alex Highsmith got things started with a 30-yard pick-off from Deshaun Watson on the first play of the game. Trailing 22-19 with just under seven minutes to play, his fellow outside linebacker recorded the game-winning score when he recovered Watson’s strip-sack from Highsmith and raced 16 yards to pay dirt.
Watt and Highsmith were the headliners, but Pittsburgh’s defense received several other notable performances. Defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, a Brown alum, recovered a sack and a fumble against his former team. Inside linebacker Cole Holecomb’s forced fumble on Watson at 10:35 reversed field position while helping set up Watt’s game-winning score. Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr., after playing sparingly in Week 1, secured Pittsburgh’s victory by deflecting Watson’s pass intended for Donovan Peoples-Jones on the Browns’ final offensive play.
The night also saw Watt break James Harrison’s franchise sack record after beating Watson with one minute remaining in the first half.
“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say it was special,” Watt said of the record, via Steelers.com. “Like everything, it hasn’t set in. I don’t know if it will set in until I have time to really sit down and process what just happened tonight.
“But there are so many people along my journey who have helped me get to where I am. I can’t stand the individual accolades in football because there’s just… Deebo himself ( James Harrison) helped me so much my first year. He didn’t do it. I didn’t have to. Nobody asked him, but he wanted to help me, and I did. appreciate it for that.
“So many teammates, coaches, mentors, my brothers. My wife’s support. My parents. There are so many people involved in this sport that it’s not me playing the games. I want say, I can’t take all the credit for it.”
The play of Pittsburgh’s defense compensated for an offense that “won” minus-7 yards in the fourth quarter on Monday night. That was the fewest fourth-quarter yards gained by a team that overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to win this century, according to TruMediaSports.
For a second straight game, Pittsburgh’s offense failed to live up to preseason expectations. Kenny Pickett completed only half of his 30 pass attempts, while the Steelers’ rushing attack allowed a pedestrian 55 yards on 21 carries. The only bright spot for Pittsburgh’s offense Monday night was Pickett’s growing relationship with George Pickens, who scored on a 71-yard catch and run and finished the game with his second career 100-yard receiving performance .
It wasn’t perfect, but the Steelers beat the Browns while tying their record at 1-1. And while Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would surely like better performance from his offense, he wasn’t going to let that detract from what Pittsburgh accomplished Monday night.
“We’re not going to apologize for winning,” said Tomlin, whose team will now try to get to 2-1 with a victory against the Raiders in Las Vegas on Sunday night.