Making plays: The Steelers pulled out a huge AFC North win over the Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football, defeating them 26-22 at Acrisure Stadium.
The game was bookended by defensive touchdowns, with linebacker Alex Highsmith getting the Steelers on the board first with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
"Guys made the plays. They did," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "Can't say enough about Highsmith. He had a pick 6 and a big sack-fumble. We had contributions from a lot of areas. Larry Ogunjobi played a lot of snaps. Hadn't practiced a lot. But had to absorb a big-time responsibility because we're playing without Cam (Heyward). There's a lot of guys to be congratulated for their efforts and playmaking."
Fellow linebacker T.J. Watt's touchdown helped to secure the win, thanks to Highsmith coming through again. Highsmith sacked Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, forcing a fumble that Watt picked up and took 16 yards into the endzone for the game-winning score.
"Man, 1-0 in the AFC North, we don't take that for granted," said coach Mike Tomlin. "We're appreciative. I'm appreciative of the effort of the men. I'm appreciative of their fight, their no-blink approach.
"It wasn't easy tonight. We didn't expect it to be. It's kind of a signature of AFC North ball and particularly these two teams. We didn't get the type of fluidity we wanted early, but I like the fight."
After Highsmith's touchdown the Steelers weren't able to get anything going on offense until quarterback Kenny Pickett connected with receiver George Pickens who took off for a 71-yard touchdown reception.
"The pick-6 was a big catalyst, but after that it took us a while to gain rhythm," said Tomlin. "We have some things to work on. It's cool to work on it with a win."
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick left the game with a chest injury, taken to a hospital for evaluation per Tomlin. It was the latest in a slew of injuries the Steelers have had to face, with receiver Diontae Johnson placed on the Reserve/Injured List pregame.
"We were short coming into the game," said Tomlin. "Can't say enough about some of those guys, Calvin Austin and others. That's what teams do. They support one another, they step up. I'm appreciative of the efforts. They'll be plenty of opportunity to display that over the course of the journey because it's just a component of our game."
The Steelers weren't the only ones to suffer injuries. Browns running back Nick Chubb suffered what Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski categorized as 'season-ending.'
"Can't say enough about Nick Chubb," said Tomlin. "Sending our best to him. Have a lot of respect for that guy."
Watt a night: Linebacker T.J. Watt etched his name in the Steelers record book after he set the team's all-time sack record when he took down Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Watt, who now has 81.5 career sacks, broke the record set by former linebacker James Harrison, who was in attendance at the game.
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say it was special," said Watt. "Just like anything, it hasn't set in. I don't know if it will until I have time to really sit down and process what just happened tonight.
"But there's so many people along the way that have helped me get to where I am. I can't stand the individual awards of football because there's just -- Deebo himself helped me so much my rookie year. He didn't have to. No one asked him to, but he wanted to help me, and I appreciate him for that.
"So many teammates, coaches, mentors, my brothers. My wife's support. My parents. There's so many people that go into it that it's not myself out there making the plays. I mean, I can't take all the credit."
Watt had another dominant night on a night the team needed it from multiple players. He recovered a fumble after a strip-sack by Alex Highsmith and returned it 16 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
"It will be a fun play to watch on film," said Watt. "We both got wide. Alex just had a phenomenal rush. I was coming off a chip, so I had a little bit of room to see the play process.
"I just saw the ball come out and thankfully I didn't dive on it and I was able to scoop it and score it, and the place went bananas like it did all night. Steelers Nation was absolutely incredible."
Watt hopes it's a sign of things to come from him and Highsmith, who make an incredible one-two punch for the defense.
"Hopefully there's many more to come," said Watt. "I'm just so happy to be able to play with a guy that loves the game so much. And that's not taking anything away from any other guys I played with. Everybody loves the game.
"But it's so cool to see his progression and his hunger. And the guy has so many phenomenal pass-rush moves, and he can defend the run well, that we just feed well off each other.
"We're just happy when the other person makes a play. It's never a slight -- I'm never upset when he makes the sack. I tried to give him the football for the sack fumble because how I saw it I was just in the right place at the right time and scooped it up.
"Alex played phenomenal tonight. I just want to continue to do this with him and this defense."
Watt had four tackles, two for a loss, and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
Watt said there was one thing that helped lead to the win, and he provided his share of it.
"Splash. I mean, I think that's what we talk about is creating splash as a defense," said Watt. "Alex Highsmith played his absolute tail off tonight. Guys inside got incredible pressure. Larry O(gunjobi) had a great game.
"I just think we really fed off the crowd. And I still think we can do a better job of executing in those moments when the crowd is going absolutely bananas like they were tonight. It wasn't pretty. But a win is a win."
Staying at it: Kenny Pickett was admittedly as happy as anyone to see outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith wreck the game at Acrisure Stadium, but the Steelers' quarterback also acknowledged the responsibility he feels for the offense to do more than it did on Monday night.
"It's awesome," Pickett gushed after Watt and Highsmith both scored defensive touchdowns in Monday night's 26-22 victory over the Browns. "You got a defense like that, they make plays and put points up on the board and get those turnovers, it's unreal as an offense to have that.
"We want to return that favor, though. I felt we left those guys out there way too long. There's things we have to do a lot better offensively to help those guys out. Staying on the field, third downs, putting points up, very A, B, C, vanilla stuff, playing better offensively, period."
The defense opened the scoring with a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by Highsmith on the first snap of the game.
And it provided the margin of victory when Highsmith forced a fumble by quarterback Deshaun Watson and Watt returned it 16 yards for the TD that wiped out a 22-19 Cleveland lead with 6:58 left in the fourth quarter.
"Hats off to our defense, played unbelievable," Pickett continued. "We know we've got the best player in the world in my opinion in No. 90 and No. 56 is close behind, he's unbelievable.
"Those guys did a hell of a job and happy that they're on our side."
The Steelers' offense accounted 12 points, produced nine first downs, gained 255 total net yards (55 rushing), converted four of 14 attempts on third down (28.6 percent) and held the ball for 24:32.
"You've got to stay at it," Pickett insisted. "They're a really tough team. They got a lot of pressure. They brought some different things that we saw on tape, some we didn't. So hats off to them, great defense.
"I like the way we adjusted on the sideline. Guys are communicating well. There's definitely positives to take from it, as much as there are negatives, there are positives. We gotta continue to put our best foot forward and get ready to go Sunday night (at Las Vegas)."
Pickett finished 15-for-30 passing, for 222 yards, with an interception he regretted and a 71-yard, catch-and-run touchdown to wide receiver George Pickens in the second quarter, the only time the offense got the ball over the goal line.
The Steelers also scored one offensive touchdown in their season-opening, 30-7 loss to San Francisco on Sept. 10 at Acrisure.
The common thread preventing more possession and more production has been "the one play that gets us behind the chains," Pickett said. "It seems like we're moving the football, we're having plays. We're getting explosive plays and then we have that one negative that sets us behind the chains and we don't execute after that.
"So we've got to eliminate those plays, continue to move the ball forward, stay ahead of the chains and put us in third-and-manageable instead of third-and-11-plus or third-and-10-plus. That's going to be key moving forward."
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