Many happy returns

The most impactful return of 2020 might have occurred in training camp.

That was when wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, who had been signed on Aug. 21, after camp had already begun, took a kickoff in a live-tackling drill and refused to be tackled.

Shortly thereafter, McCloud had a spot on the 53-man roster.

And by season's end the Steelers had a Top 10 punt returner (McCloud finished fourth in the NFL at 10.3 yards per attempt) and a Top 10 kickoff returner (ninth, 23.1).

You don't always have to change the scoreboard to change the game.

Following is a look back at some of the Steelers' memorable returns of 2020:

Nov. 1, at Baltimore: Inside linebacker Robert Spillane's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown

A week after stuffing running back Derrick Henry at the goal line in Tennessee, Spillane stepped in front of a pass from quarterback LaMar Jackson that was intended for wide receiver James Porche on third-and-6 from the Ravens' 29-yard line and sprinted untouched into the end zone. Spillane played zone coverage, read Jackson's eyes and then pounced, turning the first series of the game into a defensive TD for the Steelers on the way to a 28-24 thriller in the first meeting of the season against the Ravens.

Oct. 18, Cleveland: Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown

Already ahead 3-0, the Steelers turned quarterback Baker Mayfield's first pass of the afternoon into a defensive touchdown and, coupled with kicker Chris Boswell's extra point, a 10-0 advantage. Fitzpatrick jumped a route being run by tight end Harrison Bryant and easily outdistanced Mayfield and guard Joel Bitonio to the pylon and the end zone. Fitzpatrick's third career pick-six helped jump-start what became a 38-7 Steelers' victory.

Dec. 2, Baltimore: Cornerback Joe Haden's 14-yard interception return for a touchdown

The defense's third pick-six of the season produced the first touchdown of the game for the Steelers, just as the first two had. The difference was this one occurred on Baltimore's third possession rather than the first, on third-and-4 from the Baltimore 12-yard line. Haden initially had outside coverage on wide receiver Miles Boykin but read quarterback Robert Griffin III's intent to find Proche on a crossing route. Haden jumped the route, cut inside and then beat wide receiver Marquise Brown to the goal line. The extra point was missed but the second pick-six of Haden's career and his first with the Steelers established a 6-0 lead on the way to a 19-14 victory.

Sept. 20, Denver: McCloud's 49-yard kickoff return

In the first home game of the season McCloud showed all the fans who weren't in the stands what all the buzz had been about in the preseason. McCloud took the second-half kickoff 2 yards deep in the end zone and wasn't stopped until he'd reached the Steelers' 47. The Steelers didn't convert the chance to build on their 17-3 lead McCloud's return and the great field position provided but they were eventually able to put Denver away, 26-21.

Oct. 25, at Tennessee: McCloud's 57-yard punt return

The Steelers were leading, 17-7, when the Titans punted from their 15 with 1:51 left in the second quarter. McCloud quickly positioned them to add to their advantage. After accepting punter Brett Kern's 59-yard boot between the numbers and the sideline at the Steelers' 26, McCloud ran through an attempted arm-tackle by cornerback/gunner Dane Cruikshank, ran laterally and then cut inside long-snapper Beau Brinkley, burst between linebackers Will Compton and Daren Bates and was off to the races. McCloud eventually had to slow down a bit to spin Kern and was caught from behind by safety Amani Hooker. The Steelers needed just three plays to cover the remaining 17 yards and put up another touchdown for a 24-7 lead on the way to a 27-24 victory.