I have to hand it to the Browns today. They had the game in their mitts and wouldn’t let go. Literally.
The Browns held every Steelers player in their vicinity today, whether on offense or defense and “held on” for a 2 point win over a Steelers team arguably more interested in seeing how much leg their emergency kicker had and more interested in getting onto the plane healthy.
The Steelers were mostly successful in their goals, suffering only a couple of minor bumps and bruises, while seeing that their kicker looked like he would have been good from 50+, and getting some reps for their seldom-used and seldom successful backup quarterbacks. They got a potential tying TD but failed to get a tying 2-point conversion when Chase Claypool was (shockingly) held, but were probably okay with the fact that this meaningless game didn’t have a chance to go to a meaningless overtime.
The oft-ridiculed Mason Rudolph acquitted himself very well in most respects and put up a career-best 315 passing yards. He lost his poise a little on a 2nd-half interception that more or less was the difference in the game, panicking under pressure and blindly throwing late to the sideline. He also maddeningly missed a few throws, including a deep seam route to Claypool that floated outside and to the right… but he also hit on several deep throws and quality throws to the sticks which gave his team a chance to win. I’d like to see the killer instinct––after you make a big play down the field, you have to finish it off with 6––but too often in this game, a big play downfield was followed by some safe playcalling and throw choices, which resulted in too many FGs and not enough extra points. Between the 20s, though, this was as good as Rudolph has ever looked in his career.
So, there were positives in the loss, just as there were negatives in some earlier wins. If you needed Mason to sub for Ben next week, it wouldn’t seem impossible for Rudolph to at least give his team a chance against Cleveland next week. The defensive backups largely held the Browns down, despite the Browns playing all their starters and needing a win to make the playoffs. All in all, this is major progress from where we were before this game, and we can head into the postseason with the equivalent of a good performance in a preseason game under our belts.
Aside from starting 11-0 and anything they might accomplish in the postseason, this Steelers’ season will long be remembered for its outstanding draft class. Alex Highsmith might not have the elite athleticism of most top EDGE rushers, but, man, did he push Browns stud 1st round LT Jedrick Wills to the limit and beyond. A couple of times, Highsmith beat Wills so cleanly that all Wills could do was stand and watch his QB get terrorized. Alex seemed to take on the challenge of being the #1 EDGE and facing the #1 pass protector. I have a feeling Jedrick will be falling asleep every night thinking about what transpired Sunday. If he is able to sleep.
Kevin Dotson looks like he isn’t coming out of the lineup… not just next week but for somewhere in the neighborhood of the next 15 seasons. The rest of the league is often desperate for offensive linemen, yet none of them requested Dotson be invited to the NFL combine and they let this future 100-game starter fall all the way to the 135th pick. Their loss, our gain.
And Jiminy Christmas: is Chase Claypool good, or what? Even after scaring the bejeezus out of us by getting injured on a deep reception, he came back in the game and continued to torture Browns’ substitute starting CB, Robert Jackson. Claypool ran by, leaped over, faked out, plowed through, and generally ground Jackson into dust. With 5 catches for 101 yards and a TD on Sunday, the Steelers latest Rookie of the Year awardee became #1 for Steelers rookies in receptions, #3 in receiving yards, tied for 1st in receiving TDs, and his 10 total TDs finished third behind only Louis Lipps and some guy named Franco Harris. Not bad for some kid from Canada.
Unfortunately, the Steelers are going to need another draft class that good later this year, should they want to remain competitive… but that will be the future’s problem, not ours.
In the meantime, these two teams will change venues and meet again next weekend, this time with do-or-die on the line. The Steelers will likely put a bit more talent on the field then and the Browns won’t carry over any of this week’s points… but they will start anew next week with the season on the line. What happens then has yet to be written.
But it will likely be written with guys like Terrell Edmunds and T.J. Watt and Ben Roethlisberger instead of Sean Davis, Ola Adeniyi, & Mason Rudolph… and that’s while we all hold our collective breath wondering what COVID testing randomness awaits us all.
So, hold your horses. Hang on a minute. Cling to whatever hopes you might have after this week. I’m going to have to put the clamps on any predictions, but I feel that historical form will hold and the Steelers will once again play well vs. a division opponent––in a playoff rematch of the famous 2002 Steelers comeback win with Tommy Maddox. If the officials call some holding and DPI on Cleveland, maybe the Steelers won’t need to stage a furious comeback. Please win comfortably, guys. My cardiologist and I thank you.