The Pittsburgh Steelers' comeback win over the Browns on Monday night was one for the history books. Along with extending their streak of 21 straight home wins, Pittsburgh's defense put together a performance not seen in the NFL since Week 1 of the 1989 season.
In Pittsburgh's 26-22 victory, the defense became the first in 34 years to record six sacks, four forced fumbles, recover three opponent's fumbles, and have fumble and interception returns for scores in one game since the Browns accomplished that feat in a 51-0 whipping of the Steelers on Sept. 10, 1989, according to OptaSTATS. Cleveland's defense had three touchdowns that day: a fumble return by linebacker Clay Matthews and two pick-sixes by defensive back David Grayson.
Pittsburgh's defense started and ended Monday night's game with touchdowns. Alex Highsmith kicked things off with a 30-yard pick-six of Deshaun Watson on the game's first play. Trailing 22-19 with just under seven minutes left, fellow outside linebacker recorded the game-winning score when he scooped up Highsmith's strip-sack of Watson and ran 16 yards to pay dirt.
Watt and Highsmith were the headliners, but Pittsburgh's defense received several other notable performances. Defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, a former Brown, had a sack and fumble recovery against his former team. Inside linebacker Cole Holecomb's forced fumble of Watson with 10:35 flipped the field position while helping set up Watt's game-winning score. Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr., after playing only sparingly in Week 1, sewed up Pittsburgh's win by deflecting Watson's pass intended for Donovan Peoples-Jones on the Browns' last offensive play.
The night also included Watt breaking James Harrison's franchise sack record after he took down Watson with a minute remaining in the first half.
"I'd be lying to you if I didn't say it was special," Watt said of the record, via Steelers.com. "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 (James Harrison) 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."
The play of Pittsburgh's defense made up for an offense that "gained" minus-7 yards in the fourth quarter on Monday night. That is the fewest yards gained in the fourth quarter by a team that overcame a fourth quarter deficit to win this century, according to TruMediaSports.
For a second straight game, Pittsburgh's offense failed to live up to preseason expectations. Kenny Pickett completed just half of his 30 pass attempts, while the Steelers' rushing attack gained a pedestrian 55 yards on 21 carries. The only positive from Pittsburgh's offense Monday night was Pickett's growing rapport with George Pickens, who scored on a 71-yard catch and run and finished the game with his second career 100-yard receiving performance.
It wasn't perfect, but the Steelers defeated the Browns while evening their record to 1-1. And while Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would surely like a better output from his offense, he wasn't going to let that take away from what Pittsburgh accomplished Monday night.
"We're not going to apologize for winning," said Tomlin, whose team will now try to get to 2-1 with a win over the Raiders in Las Vegas on Sunday night.