It was a season of spectacular and impactful plays, and anyone paying close attention from Aug. 9 in Canton through Jan. 17 in Denver no doubt had their favorites.
Following are mine, a personal snapshot of the Top 10 Snaps of 2015:
Oct. 12, Steelers at Chargers: The Steelers trailed, 20-17, and were looking at a first-and-goal from the Chargers 1-yard line with five seconds left in regulation. Rather than kick a field goal and force overtime, Mike Tomlin went for the win. The Steelers’ head coach risked losing in the process but refused to live in his fears. RB Le’Veon Bell justified the decision by accepting a direct snap from the Wildcat formation and running for a touchdown that gave the Steelers sudden victory at 24-20.
Jan. 9, Steelers at Bengals: The Bengals had just taken a 16-15 lead with 1:56 left in the fourth quarter but the Steelers kept alive the possibility of winning on a field goal by stuffing Cincinnati’s two-point conversion attempt. LB Ryan Shazier blitzed the A-gap and read a lateral pass to RB Jeremy Hill and wound up blowing the play up in the right flat, along with CB William Gay. The two points the Bengals didn’t get there proved fatal in what became an 18-16 postseason victory for the Steelers.
Covering as much ground as he had as quickly as he did was a classic representation of how Shazier’s grasp of the defense and how opponents intend to attack it is beginning to catch up with his athleticism. That should make for a dangerous combination in 2016.
Dec. 13, Steelers at Bengals: The Bengals had just burned the Steelers for 24 yards on a screen pass but two plays later, on second-and-goal from the Steelers 4-yard line, DE Stephon Tuitt read a similar attempt and came up with an interception at the Steelers 7. Like Shazier, Tuitt is starting to get it. And like Shazier, Tuitt is starting to make game-changing plays, as he did in what ended up becoming a 33-20 Steelers victory.
Nov. 8, Raiders at Steelers: On a day when WR Antonio Brown would finish with 17 catches for 284 yards and two rushes for 22 more yards, he saved his best for last. Moments after the Steelers had blown a 35-21 fourth-quarter lead Brown turned a short pass from QB Landry Jones on third-and-2 from the Steelers 28 into a 57-yard gain that positioned the Steelers for the winning field goal in what became a 38-35 survival. What can Brown do for you? Whatever’s necessary, or so it seems.
Oct. 1, Ravens at Steelers: The turnover of the season, perhaps, during a season that saw the defense commit to generating takeaways by any means necessary. The one the Steelers came up with on first-and-15 from the Ravens 15 early in the third quarter was a collective effort on both ends. DE Cam Heyward flushed QB Joe Flacco, chased him down and forced a fumble. CB Ross Cockrell recovered by channeling his inner-wide receiver and extending for the bouncing ball while somehow managing to keep two feet down in bounds. The Ravens ended up winning the game in overtime, 23-20, but the play resonates.
Dec. 6, Colts at Steelers: The Steelers fumbled the opening kickoff and the Colts were in business at the Steelers 11. But on third-and-9 from the 10 the threat was squelched when LB Jarvis Jones intercepted QB Matt Hasselbeck at the Steelers 1. The Steelers went on to win, 45-10, but Jones’ effort helped turn the momentum early. It was also an example of why Jones should be judged as an outside linebacker on much more than just his sacks total.
Jan. 17, Steelers at Broncos: Martavis Bryant’s 40-yard gallop on a wide receiver sweep on first-and-10 from the Steelers 44 positioned the Steelers for the TD that gave them a 7-6 lead late in the first quarter. It was another example of Bryant finding ways to impact games beyond running under deep balls on go-routes, something the Steelers need Bryant to do and something Bryant has the capability of doing repeatedly. Although the Steelers lost, 23-16, the game was another significant step forward in Bryant’s development.
Jan. 3, Steelers at Browns: A 17-yard TD pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger to Brown on second-and-10 from the Browns 17 late in the second quarter is made possible, in part, by RB Fitz Toussaint knocking down LB Karlos Dansby on a blitz pick-up. Toussaint, who had just replaced injured RB DeAngelo Williams, did what was required at the time in what became a 28-12 Steelers’ win. Toussaint also carried out his running, receiving and blocking assignments in the playoff win at Cincinnati. I can’t wait to see what he does in Backs-on-’Backers this summer at St. Vincent College.
Nov. 15, Browns at Steelers: On third-and-15 from the Steelers 15 midway through the first quarter Roethlisberger hit Brown for 16 yards. It was the third attempt and first completion for Roethlisberger on a day that saw him come off the bench and replace Jones after two series and one on which Roethlisberger would set an NFL record for passing yards by a non-starter at QB (379). Talk about your next man up.
Sept. 20, 49ers at Steelers: RB DeAngelo Williams scored his first touchdown with the Steelers on first-and-goal from the 49ers 2 in the second quarter. It turned out to be the first of 11 rushing touchdowns Williams would score with the Steelers and it was celebrated with his trademark bow in the end zone. Williams earned more than his share of bows in 2015.