On a day when the City of Pittsburgh’s collective heart is still broken, when families and the community are in mourning, the Steelers took the field with heavy hearts.
The senseless shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Saturday morning left 11 members of the congregation dead, others injured, including members of the law enforcement community.
But the Steelers knew they still had to play the game, and their goal was to go out and try their best to just help others even for a few hours.
The Steelers defeated the Cleveland Browns, 33-18, holding on to the top spot in the AFC North.
Yes, there was happiness over the win. But at the same time the Steelers had those victims and their families on their mind, and a moment of silence before kickoff set the tone for what would be an emotional afternoon.
“Let me start by representing our organization and saying our hearts go out the victims of yesterday’s shooting, the Squirrel Hill community, and the community of Pittsburgh at large,” said a visibly emotional Coach Mike Tomlin after the game. “I am a member of the Squirrel Hill community personally, and words can not express how we feel as members of this community. We are prayerful.”
Cameron Heyward grew up in Pittsburgh. He has family that lived in the area, and he did community service in the area as a kid. His heart was heavy, his voice a quiet whisper, as he spoke postgame about the tragedy.
“It’s a tightknit community, and a tightknit city,” said Heyward. “When you think about innocent people that have nothing to do with that, it’s horrible. It’s bigger than football. That moment of silence, it took a while to even think about football. There are a lot of families hurting. There are a lot of people caring and showing love. We have to work together and come together as a community.
“I grew up in this city. Innocent people shouldn’t have to suffer for that. I know we play football, but it’s so much bigger than football.”
Football, though, possibly helped even if just for a short time. For just over three hours this afternoon the Steelers played their hearts out for the community, for the city.
James Conner played with passion, with 24 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns, while pulling in five receptions for 66 yards.
Antonio Brown played with passion, with six receptions for 74 yards and two touchdowns.
The entire offense played with passion.
The defense played with passion, holding the Browns ground game to just 74 yards, and the Browns air game to just 180 yards.
And how the played out, was how the city needed it to.
The Browns got the ball to start the game and used that to jump out to an early lead. The Browns moved the ball down to the Steelers 13-yard line, and on third-and-three T.J. Watt and Mike Hilton knocked Duke Johnson for a three-yard loss, forcing the Browns to settle for a Greg Johnson 34-yard field goal and 3-0 lead.
The Steelers offense struggled on their first series, with a quick three-and-out. The defense returned the favor, forcing the Browns to punt on their next series.
Ben Roethlisberger was looking to get the offense going, but on third-and-six he was intercepted by Derrick Kindred at the Browns 44-yard line. After going to the air in their opening drive, the Browns went to the ground after the interception. Nick Chubb had runs of 20 and 11 yards, but the defense tightened up. Anthony Chickillo broke up a Baker Mayfield pass, along getting the interception, and the Browns were again forced to settle for a Johnson field goal and 6-0 lead.
The Browns were looking to extend the lead, but Johnson missed on a 41-yard field goal.
The Steelers offense came to life in the second quarter. On third-and-11, Roethlisberger hit Brown for 15 yards, the first first down the offense converted. Roethlisberger followed that up with a 12-yard pass to Justin Hunter along the sideline. The connection with Brown continued when Roethlisberger hit him for a 43-yard scoring strike, getting the Steelers right back in the game, leading 7-6.
Joe Haden came back to haunt his former team on the next series when he intercepted Mayfield at the Steelers 13-yard line.
The Steelers took advantage of the turnover. Roethlisberger looked strong completing seven-of-seven passes for 54 yards on the drive and converted on two quarterback sneaks. He capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Brown with just seconds to go in the half. The 16-play, 87-yard drive sent the Steelers into halftime with a 14-6 lead.
The Steelers offense came out strong in the second half, moving the ball with a completion to Vance McDonald for 22 yards, and two first down completions to Conner. Roethlisberger hit Stevan Ridley on a four-yard completion, but the ball was stripped and recovered by Denzel Ward. The passion of the defense showed when they forced a three-and-out after the Ridley fumble.
The Steelers offense couldn’t muster anything on their next drive, but Jordan Berry pinned the Browns deep when his punt was downed at the four-yard line. And then things went a little crazy. Browns tackle Damon Harrison was called for a holding penalty in the end zone, giving the Steelers a safety and extending the lead to 16-6.
On the ensuing free kick Roosevelt Nix called for a fair catch, moved away from the ball and Ryan Switzer didn’t cover or pick up the ball. The Browns recovered and took over at the 24-yard line. Mayfield got the Browns in the end zone with a one-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway, cutting the lead to 16-12.
A fired-up offense responded fast. Roethlisberger took them on a five-play, 75-yard drive that took only 2:42 and ended with a 12-yard touchdown run by Conner, who had 60 yards on the drive, that gave the Steelers a 23-12 lead.
Chris Boswell added a 42-yard field goal to extend the lead to 26-12, and the defense kept holding strong.
Conner, who became the first Steelers player to rush for at least 100 yards and two touchdowns in three straight games, iced the win with a 22-yard touchdown run, extending the lead to 33-12.
The Browns added a touchdown in the closing minute, for a 33-18 final.