The backups continue to play like starters for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They need to.
Pittsburgh suffered yet another major injury Sunday as Ben Roethlisberger sprained his left foot in the fourth quarter of a 38-35 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
In the 32-year-old Williams, the Steelers have felt all along they had a capable backup to Bell, the 2014 AFC rushing leader.
He had already subbed for Bell in the first two games of this season when the third-year running back was serving a suspension. And the results were good, as Williams had 204 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
Sunday, he was even better, carrying the ball 27 times for 170 yards and two scores while also catching two passes for 55 yards.
“I don’t think we can hide him anymore,” said guard Ramon Foster. “He’s come in and rushed against some good teams that hadn’t allowed other guys to rush on him. I don’t think he gets enough credit for the way that coach (Mike) Tomlin has challenged him and his conditioning and the way he plays. He’s been A-1 with us and I definitely appreciate the way he’s played for us.”
The same could be said of the oft-criticized Jones.
With Roethlisberger expected to be out next week against Cleveland for sure, much of the team’s postseason hopes now rest once again on the right shoulder of a player many wanted to cut at the end of training camp.
“We’ve just got to rally around Landry,” said defensive end Cameron Heyward. “Landry’s had a couple of starts and couple of plays in. We expect there not to be a dropoff and we’re praying for Ben to get back healthy.”
Jones completed 4 of 6 passes for 79 yards and made the right decision getting the ball to Brown on the final possession of the game. Brown had a 57-yard catch-and-run to set up the Steelers’ game-winning score.
There would be no throwing of hands in the air in this one, as happened the first time Jones entered a game Oct. 18 in a win over Arizona.
The star receiver and backup quarterback were on the same page in this one.
“He just wants the ball. I don’t blame him,” said Jones. “We need to get him the ball.”
With Bell and now Roethlisberger out next week, the Steelers will need more out of the unlikely duo – an aging running back and a player who has resurrected his young career out of the abyss.
Can Williams continue to be a guy who gets 29 touches in a game? After all, he entered this season with 14 career 20-carry games. He now has two such games in three starts for the Steelers.
But he said he’s ready.
“Oh yeah, it feels great,” Williams said of his body after the game. “The ball’s not heavy at all.”
As for Jones, he at least now knows what to expect, not only playing in the NFL, but starting.
“This one was a little easier than when I first went in for the Cardinals,” said Jones. “I wasn’t as emotional as I was for the last time I went in. I was able to control myself a little better and the game seemed a little slower.”
@ Heyward was definitely not happy that the defense, which had been allowing 17.5 points per game at home but gave up twice that many against the Raiders.
“The defense played like crap. We’ve got to get a lot better,” said Heyward. “I’m not going to hide it or shy away from it. We’ve got to get a lot better.”
It did, however, once again come up with some big plays. Pittsburgh forced five fumbles in the game, recovering three. The Steelers also had an interception, a big one by Ross Cockrell in the fourth quarter, and partially blocked a punt.
“They’re putting us in position to make plays, from the front to the back end,” said Cockrell of his interception. “We dropped back into coverage and they ran a route combination that we had seen a lot of and he just let it fly. I was ready to go.
“We have a resilient group, a bounce-back group. And we’re working to be a dominant group. That’s our goal. As long as we’re creating turnovers, we’ll be OK.”
@ Next up for the Steelers will be the Johnny Manziel-led Cleveland Browns.
Landry Jones vs. Johnny Manziel. Sounds like a game lovers of Big 12 action will really like.
@ Remember the angst when the Steelers decided to keep Roosevelt Nix around as a second fullback?
After all, who keeps two fullbacks on their roster in today’s NFL?
Nix showed once again Sunday that he is a football player first, a fullback second, when he blew up kick returner Taiwan Jones inside the 10, forcing a fumble the Steelers recovered.
Right before that play, special teams coordinator Danny Smith could be seen halfway out on the field yelling orders to his coverage unit. The plan was for a popup kick, which placekicker Chris Boswell executed well.
Jones came up and caught the ball, which was booted high into the air, just as Nix came crashing down on him.
“It just kind of happened,” said Nix. “When you’re in the game, you don’t really think about perfect situations. You just have to adapt and make things happen. I was fortunate enough to make something like that happen.”
Good thing, too.
The Steelers scored off of that turnover to go ahead 35-21, but Oakland stormed back to tie it. Every point and every big play was necessary in this one.