STEELERS 27, REDSKINS 12
Steelers' record: 4-3
One year ago: 5-2
Series record (including playoffs): Redskins lead, 43-33-4
There are two requirements for any team planning on contending for a playoff spot: avoid losing streaks, and then find a way to win more than one in a row. Coming into the matchup against the Redskins, the Steelers had succeeded three times in avoiding a losing streak by following a loss with a win. But they also had failed three times to win more than one in a row. This became their fourth chance to fashion a winning streak.
Maybe it wasn't so much a turning point as a setting of the tone. Facing a Redskins offense that was ranked fifth in the NFL in scoring, the Steelers had to understand this wasn't going to be a field goal game. On fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Coach Mike Tomlin left his offense on the field, and Ben Roethlisberger completed the 12-play 76-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Pope.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
With four minutes left in the game, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin II had completed 16-of-34 for 177 yards, but conservative estimates put the number of drops by his receivers at seven.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* The Steelers' second play of the game looked to be one of those quick screens to a wide receiver with Heath Miller blocking. But this time, Ben Roethlisberger pumped to get the Redskins to bite on the play as Miller then broke downfield. The pass then went to Miller for a 25-yard gain.
- Ziggy Hood blocked the extra point attempt by Kai Forbath following Washington's first touchdown. So instead of 10-7, it was 10-6.
- With a 7-yard catch of a bullet along the back of the end zone midway through the second quarter, Heath Miller tied Elbie Nickel on the team's all-time list for career touchdown receptions by a tight end. With that score, Miller and Nickel both have 37 touchdown catches.
- The Steelers defensive backs had an active first half, and that's meant in a good way. Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Clark and Will Allen all broke up passes either with hits or by getting a hand on the ball.
- On a 39-yard punt with 32 seconds left in the second quarter – Drew Butler's only attempt of the first half – Curtis Brown got down the field and caught the ball on the fly to down it at the Washington 1-yard line.
- Through the first half, the Steelers defense did a nice job containing Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who had 3 yards rushing and 58 yards passing after completing five of his 13 attempts.
- On an attempted throwback screen to tight end Logan Paulsen, Brett Keisel diagnosed the play and dropped Paulsen for a 7-yard loss that set up a third-and-17 from the Steelers 24-yard line with about five minutes left in the game. Two incomplete passes later, the Steelers took over on downs with their 27-12 lead intact.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* Why? Why? Why? One play after Jonathan Dwyer ripped off a 34-yard run to the Washington 38-yard line, the Steelers went with an attempted reverse pass by Emmanuel Sanders that lost 7 yards. Behind the chains, the Steelers ultimately faced a fourth-and-2 from the Washington 30-yard line and settled for a 48-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham and a 10-0 lead.
- On a running play by Alfred Morris with 13:23 left in the third quarter that lost 2 yards, Ryan Clark was hit in the head and taken off the field. He subsequently was diagnosed with a concussion and was out for the game. Clark will be subject to the league's concussion protocol now before being cleared to practice and/or play.
- It was too good to be true. After getting through a first half in which the Steelers executed four kick returns – two on punts and two on kickoffs – without being penalized, but that streak ended early in the second half. On what could have been a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown by Antonio Brown, Curtis Brown was flagged for an illegal block in the back. This marked the second time Brown has had a punt return for a touchdown erased by a penalty.
- It was a third-and-6 with about 10 minutes left in a game the Steelers led at the time, 27-12. Ben Roethlisberger spotted Emmanuel Sanders crossing the middle of the field and put the ball right in his hands. Sanders dropped the ball, and the Steelers missed an opportunity to maintain possession and continue to milk time off the clock.
TOMLIN MAKES GOOD ON HIS THREAT
Five days before the Redskins game, Coach Mike Tomlin said "We believe we have some dynamic return men. Penalties negated that effort. What is going on in our return game from a penalty standpoint is disturbing … To be quite honest with you, the multiple offenders and egregious offenders are going to be watching as opposed to playing as soon as we get some options as to who plays and who doesn't."
True to his word, Tomlin signed Damon Cromartie-Smith from the practice squad and gave him a heavy special teams load against the Redskins. That move was possible because Maurkice Pouncey, who had missed the previous game with a knee injury, was able to return and participate fully in practice all week leading up to the game against the Redskins.
With Pouncey able to practice all week and then start the game, Tomlin was comfortable waiving C/G John Malecki, who had been signed from the practice squad the previous week to give the team another center in case of an injury to Doug Legursky.
DeMarcus Van Dyke, a cornerback who had been flagged for multiple holding penalties on returns since being signed about a month ago, was inactive last Sunday.