This is another in a periodic series recapping some of the memorable moments from the 2014 season.
Today: The defense.
Dec. 21, vs. Kansas City**: The Steelers beat the Chiefs, 20-12, thanks to a defensive performance that brought back memories of Blitzburgh and The Steel Curtain. Kansas City managed just four field goals and was limited to 327 total net yards. The Steelers registered a season-high six sacks (their first six-sacks game since they got six on Dec. 23, 2012 against Cincinnati), held explosive RB Jamaal Charles to 29 yards on nine carries while allowing a season-low 39 yards on the ground overall, and kept the NFL's No. 2 red zone offense from crossing the goal line four times in four red-zone penetrations. The defense also came up with a takeaway midway through the third quarter with the Steelers ahead, 10-6. Rookie DE Stephon Tuitt forced a Charles fumbled that was recovered by LB Vince Williams at the Pittsburgh 25-yard line.
No one woke up the echoes better than James Harrison, who started at right outside linebacker that afternoon and produced seven tackles, two tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and two hits on the quarterback during his 58 defensive snaps.
Oct. 5, at Jacksonville: The Jaguars' Blake Bortles fared the way most all rookie quarterbacks have against a Dick LeBeau defense – not very well. The Steelers allowed a season-low 243 total net yards and Bortles had a passer rating of 52.0, thanks in part to a pair of interceptions. Bortles' rating was the lowest against the Steelers all season, and this game was one of three in 2014 in which the Steelers registered multiple picks.
The second interception was returned 22-yards by CB Brice McCain for the fourth-quarter touchdown that gave the Steelers much-needed breathing room in what became a 17-9 victory. McCain's pick-six was the first for the Steelers since CB Cortez Allen on Dec. 22, 2013 at Green Bay.
Dec. 28, vs. Cincinnati**: Big plays on defense helped the Steelers clinch the AFC North Division championship via a 27-17 triumph. This became the fourth straight defensive effort yielding 21 or fewer points, and it included CB Antwon Blake forcing and recovering WR A.J. Green's fumble at the Pittsburgh 30-yard line with the Steelers ahead, 20-17, and 3:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. Brice McCain already had intercepted QB Andy Dalton twice for the first multi-interception game of his career. Dalton was sacked three times, which matched Cincinnati's three turnovers. Also, ILB Lawrence Timmons went over 10 tackles for the seventh time in 2014 with a game-high 11.
Nov. 2, vs. Baltimore: The Ravens would set franchise records for points and yards during their 2014 season, but they were kept in check in losing to the Steelers, 43-23. In addition to keeping the points manageable – one of Baltimore's two touchdowns occurred via a 108-yard kickoff return – the Steelers sacked QB Joe Flacco four times, which was their most since they had five at Cleveland on Nov. 24, 2013. Flacco ended up being sacked only 19 times all season. The Ravens converted just 3-of-13 on third downs (23 percent) and turned the ball over twice (one fumble, one interception). Harrison finished with two of the four sacks, producing back-to-back multiple-sack games for just the second time in his career (Oct. 4-11, 2009).
Sept. 21, at Carolina: The Steelers yielded just two field goals through three quarters and led, 23-6, entering the fourth quarter of a game they would win, 37-19. Despite losing LBs Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier and CB Ike Taylor to injury, the Steelers held the Panthers to 33 percent on third downs (4-for-12) and 42 yards rushing. Among the Steelers' three sacks were NT Steve McLendon's first since Dec. 30, 2012 against Cleveland, and the first of LB Arthur Moats' Steelers' career.