PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers used defensive touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters to defeat the Cleveland Browns 26-22 on Monday night at Acrisure Stadium, leaving the Browns without a win in Pittsburgh in the regular season since 2003.
But the score was not the most painful loss for the Browns (1-1), because Nick Chubb suffered a major injury to his left knee in the second quarter and was taken from the field. The Steelers moved to 1-1 with the win.
The Steelers offense didn’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 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 got 6 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles and 11 quarterback hits in the win.
Breaking down the quarterback: Kenny Pickett was unchanged in his second start of the season, but the struggles were partially in playcalling and partially in Pickett’s own decision-making and mechanics. Pickett, who completed 15 of 30 passes for 222 yards with one touchdown and one interception, threw a pick on the first drive of the game and had a series of other first-half throws that missed the target. . But he settled down midway through the second quarter when he hit Jaylen Warren in space for a 30-yard gain and then connected with George Pickens on a rush for a 71-yard score. Although there have been more encouraging moments from Pickett, he still lacks the consistency the Steelers need from their second-year quarterback. Just like last season, Pickett and the offense struggled to keep drives going.
Disturbing trends: The Steelers spent the offseason proclaiming that the run game would be more involved than last year. However, they only had one rushing yard in the first half against the Browns, the fewest rushing yards by the Steelers in the opening half of a game in the past 45 seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau . Midway through the third quarter, Najee Harris had gained just 4 yards on six attempts before breaking off back-to-back first-down runs of 21 and 17 yards. The runs were a big boost for Harris, who was booed earlier in the game when he tried to jump the line and fell at the goal line on the 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.
Interesting Next Gen Stat: Steelers wide receiver George Pickens gained 56.8 yards after the catch on his 71-yard touchdown in the second quarter, per Next Gen Stats. Pickens is projected to gain just 21.4 yards after the catch. The score — the longest touchdown play by any Steeler since the 84-yard Chase Claypool touchdown in Week 2 of 2020 — was Pickens’ career high, more than doubling his second-highest of 31 yards, that also came against the Browns in Week 18 last season. During training camp, Pickens said he wanted to emphasize his speed and prove he can do more than highlight-reel catches, and he did more with his touchdown. — Brooke Pryor
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 taken 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 drive was too quick. A time that once looked so promising no longer feels that way.
Describe the game in two words: Punch in the gut. Cleveland has suffered from Pittsburgh’s bad luck over the years, but Chubb’s injury has to rank up there among the worst moments in recent Browns history.
Disturbing trends: Watson continues to be a shell of the quarterback leading the NFL in passing in 2020. He committed two costly facemask penalties, turned the ball over twice, resulting in Pittsburgh touchdowns, and failed to commit on any important plays in the fourth quarter. With Chubb injured, Cleveland’s season hinges on Watson carrying the offense, and there’s no indication he can do that right now.
Buy a breakout performance: Jerome Ford gained more yards (69) on a second-half run that set up a go-ahead TD than his entire career combined (54 yards) coming into the game. Chubb is irreplaceable, but Ford showed the Browns can still run the ball up front, as he finished with 106 yards on 16 carries. — Jake Trotter
Next game: vs. Titans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)