By Mike Longo Jr.
Winning at all levels comes with a cost, unfortunately for the Steelers, the price tag was hefty for the 26-22 Monday Night Football victory over division rival Cleveland Browns.
Veteran team leader and captain, Nose Tackle Cam Heyward suffered a groin injury early in the Sept. 18 contest that required surgery sidelining him for six to eight weeks. Some reports call for that absence to be as many as 10 weeks.
A tremendous loss for a defense that relies on his physical-havoc-reeking defensive play as well as his team leadership on the defensive side of the ball.
Huge shoes to fill by other players who will now split time in the center of that line.
On the upside of this victory in this important early divisional game, TJ Watt became the Steelers All-Time Leader in Sacks with 18.5, passing previous record-holder, former Linebacker, James Harrison, who was in attendance to watch his record fall. Harrison stated, "Couldn't be happier for him, records are meant to be broken." That new record is sure to climb even higher during Watt's Steelers career.
The Steelers avoided their first 0-2 start to a season since 2019 even though the offense continued to sputter, almost completely stalling at times.
Sophomore Quarterback Kenny Pickett completed 15 of 30 passes for 222 yards, with a third of them coming on a 71-yard catch and run touchdown by Wide Receiver George Pickens.
It’s been tabbed as "The touchdown combination of the future", with the long-anticipated big play briefly propelling the Acrisure Stadium crowd into a much-needed frenzy.
Another lackluster offensive output in the first quarter is fast becoming the unfortunate normal appearance. Pittsburgh clung to a narrow 7-3 lead at the quarter’s end with the only touchdown compliments of "D."
The Defense fortunately got out of the gate quickly, actually on the Browns’ first offensive snap of the game.
Outside Linebacker Alex Highsmith began the night by corralling a deflected pass resulting in a 30-yard pick-six touchdown.
Quarter two wasn't much better from an offensive standpoint, mustering only a three-yard touchdown pass from Pickett to Tight End Pat Friermuth, while Kicker Chris Boswell added a field goal. At the intermission, the Steelers held a 16-14 lead with plenty of game left.
Thanks to Boswell's foot, three points were the only ones to hit the Steeler’s side of the scoreboard in the third quarter. Cleveland gathered a touchdown and a 2-point conversion with the quarter ending 22-19 in favor of the Browns.
The offense did next to nothing for a vast majority of the second half, once again leading the fan base to chant for the firing of Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada.
An 0-2 start to the season was unacceptable; however, it seemed the foreseeable future.
Enter the Defense and the "Dynamic Duo" of Highsmith and Watt.
Clinging to a 3-point lead and facing a second and 9 from their own 20-yard line as 7:06 remained in the contest, Watt and Highsmith got down to the business at hand and went to work.
The duo, longtime teammates, got busy as they sensed a play-action pass was coming, so they widened their stance in an effort to get a better angle attacking off of the edge.
Highsmith absolutely blew past the Browns' left tackle and proceeded to chop the ball out of the hands of Quarterback DeShaun Watson as he scrambled to his right side.
It was the fourth and final Cleveland turnover with the ball winding up in the hands of Watt who rambled untouched and high-stepping into the endzone in celebratory fashion.
"Splash," said Watt. "I think that's what we talked about is creating splash as a defense."
Then splash it is TJ, which meant the Browns went "Splat" once again!
Highsmith's rush off of the edge and the swoop, scoop and score by Watt saved the day and the game for Pittsburgh. That end result made this only the second team since 1991 to win a game they trailed in the fourth quarter despite the fact they had negative yardage in the quarter.
This duo of Watt and Highsmith are two of the most unselfish players I have witnessed in my entire media career. Believe me when I say that. And, yes, there have been others.
However, they epitomize the word unselfish.
So much so that after scoring the game-winning touchdown on a play started by Highsmith, Watt promptly tried to present the ball to his teammate during the touchdown celebration. Highsmith promptly returned it.
I have never heard Highsmith answer a reporter's question without starting his response with "All glory to God, God is good."
This night was no different and a true testament to his deep-rooted faith, proper upbringing by his parents and thankfulness for his many blessings in life.
"It's special coming out here and just having the performance that we did", Highsmith said.
"But we are far from perfect. We need to be much better".
On this night, what I'll deem the "Dynamic Duo," their play was near flawless and saved the day for not only the team but an entire "Steeler Nation.”