The Steelers lacked big plays the majority of the 2022 season. They got plenty of them Monday night against the Cleveland Browns on both sides of the ball.
Alex Highsmith scored on an interception on Cleveland's first play from scrimmage, then came up with a strip-sack of Deshaun Watson midway through the fourth quarter that was scooped up by T.J. Watt and returned for a 17-yard touchdown as the Steelers won a wild game against the Browns, 26-22.
The win, which evened the Steelers' record at 1-1, extended the team's home winning streak on Monday Night Football to 21 games dating back to 1991.
"I'm appreciative of effort the men. I'm appreciative of their fight," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "Obviously, it wasn't easy, but we didn't expect it to be. That's kind of a signature of AFC North ball and particularly these two teams.
"Obviously, the big play, the pick-six was a nice catalyst. But after that, it took us a while to gain rhythm."
The game also featured Watt setting the team record for career sacks, five combined turnovers and big plays on both sides of the ball by both teams.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't special," said Watt, who now has 81.5 sacks in his career and four already this season. "It hasn't really set in and it probably won't until I have time to sit down and process what really happened tonight."
What happened on this night was the Steelers' stars not allowing them to lose.
Missing defensive lineman Cam Heyward and wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who was placed on injured reserve prior to the game after suffering a hamstring injury in last week's 30-7 opening loss to the 49ers, the Steelers needed all the big plays they could get.
And it started from the opening whistle.
On the first offensive play from scrimmage by either team, Watson's pass intended for tight end Harrison Bryant tipped off his hands and into those of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. But as he tried to haul in the loose ball, Bryant's momentum took him into Fitzpatrick, tipping the ball into the waiting arms of Highsmith.
Highsmith hauled in the loose ball, avoided a tackle attempt and scooted down the sideline for a 30-yard touchdown on the interception for a 7-0 Pittsburgh lead.
Game action photos from the Steelers' Week 2 game against the Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium
The Browns (1-1) responded with a 43-yard field goal from Dustin Hopkins to cut the lead to 7-3.
Pickett was intercepted on third-and-3 from the Pittsburgh 16 on the Steelers' initial possession, but Larry Ogunjobi had a sack on first down, pushing the Browns back to the 26.
That proved critical, as Hopkins missed a second field goal attempt from 43 yards to keep the Steelers' lead at 7-3.
Cleveland's next possession ended with a failed fourth-down attempt on a keeper by Watson that was initially ruled a first down on what would have been the final play of the first quarter.
But Mike Tomlin challenged the result and officials ruled Watson, who was hit by Montravius Adams, had fumbled with Larry Ogunjobi having a clear recovery, turning the ball over to the Steelers at the Pittsburgh 42.
On the Steelers' first play from scrimmage, however, Pickett completed a pass to Gunner Olszewski in the flat. Olszewski was immediately hit by cornerback Denzel Ward, forcing him to fumble. Safety Grant Delpit picked it up and returned it to the Pittsburgh 23 before fumbling the ball forward and out of bounds.
Cleveland would score a touchdown as a result of the play, but it was a costly one. On first-and-goal from the 8, Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb burst up the middle before being hit high by linebacker Cole Holcomb and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Chubb's knee bent at an awkward angle and he was carted off the field, finishing the game with 10 carries for 64 yards.
Watson tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Chubb's replacement, Jerome Ford, on the next play, and Ford scored from the 1 for a 2-point conversion after the Steelers jumped offside on the PAT to give Cleveland an 11-7 lead.
But playing without Chubb clearly affected Cleveland's offense.
The Steelers did not have a first down to that point, having run just seven plays compared to 23 for the Browns. But that disparity would change in the second quarter.
Pickett connected with running back Jaylen Warren for a 30-yard catch-and-run on third-and-3, which resulted in the Steelers' first first down of the game. And though the drive stalled, it flipped the field position.
After forcing a three-and-out by the Browns, the Steelers got the ball back at the Cleveland 39 to set up a 52-yard Chris Boswell field goal to cut Cleveland's lead to 11-10.
The Steelers then scored again following another three-and-out by the Browns, with Warren picking up 11 yards on third-and-10 and Pickett completing a 71-yard catch-and-run on a deep crossing route to George Pickens all by himself in the middle of the field.
Pickens outraced the Cleveland defense the final 45 yards to put the Steelers ahead 16-11 after a failed two-point conversion. The second-year receiver had four receptions for a career-best 137 yards.
Cleveland added a 55-yard field goal just before the half despite Watt sacking Watson to break Harrison's team career record on third down. That field goal, aided by a third-down facemask penalty by nickel corner Chandon Sullivan cut Pittsburgh's lead to 16-14.
The Steelers stretched their lead to 19-14 with a 50-yard field goal by Boswell on the opening possession of the second half, but that advantage was short-lived as Ford took a handoff to the right deep in Cleveland territory and then reversed his field, breaking into the open and racing down the sideline in front of the Pittsburgh bench.
Fitzpatrick chased him down inside the 1, but that proved to be costly and for naught. Fitzpatrick suffered a chest injury diving to make the tackle and Pierre Strong scored from the 1 two plays later. Watson scored on a two-point conversion run to put Cleveland ahead 22-19.
Fitzpatrick did not return to the game and was taken to the hospital following the game for examination.
The score remained there until Highsmith beat left tackle Jedrick Wills around the edge with 6:58 remaining in the game, hitting Watson and forcing a fumble that was scooped up by Watt and returned for the go-ahead score.
The Browns had one last chance to score, but Elijah Riley had a third-down sack at midfield just after the two-minute warning, the sixth of the game for the Steelers, and Watson's fourth-down pass sailed out of bounds to turn the ball over one downs with 1 minute remaining.
"Our defense just kept us in this," said center Mason Cole. "Offensively, we just didn't do much, but our defense played lights out, kept us in it. It was a big win in AFC North ball. That's a good defense, a really good team. It's good to get on the right track."