CLEVELAND - It was throwback game for the Steelers in Cleveland on Sunday, much the way it is seemingly every year when Pittsburgh makes its annual trek up the turnpike.
A running game that had struggled producing for the better part of the past month finally found some traction against the Browns, as Le'Veon Bell gained a season-high 146 yards on 28 carries in the Steelers' 24-9 win.
But that wasn’t the biggest revelation to come out of this game.
Suddenly, despite playing without star defensive end Cameron Heyward, the Steelers found a pass rush.
Pittsburgh, which entered this game tied with Oakland for the fewest sacks in the NFL with 13, picked up eight sacks Sunday, including one that gave James Harrison a record 77½ for his Steelers career in the third quarter.
Harrison teared up when addressing his teammates about the milestone after the game, not because the Steelers had found a way to break a four-game losing streak, or because the record came just up the road from his hometown of Akron, but because of who wasn’t there to see it.
“I was thinking about my father and how he’s not here for it,” said Harrison, who lost his father, James Sr., earlier this year.
Harrison’s father might not have been there to see the record. But if he had, he might have thought he had been transported back to 2008, when his son was taking down quarterbacks regularly as part of a shutdown defense. Stephon Tuitt had 2½ sacks. Arthur Moats had 1½. Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Javon Hargrave all chipped in one each.
Without Heyward, everyone else picked up his game, particularly Tuitt, who was moved around by defensive coordinator Keith Butler like a chess piece.
“I just wanted to be better than what I was,” said Tuitt. “I was playing a position that I normally don’t play, or moving around more than I usually do.
“When I play football games, I just play it. But I think I did move around a lot more than I usually do. I did whatever it took for our team to win.”
That was the mantra to a man for this game. The Steelers were tired of losing and knew they needed a win. As Timmons said, “I felt like our backs were against the wall.”
So a lot of conventional wisdom went out the window. Such as:
-- Bell getting 28 carries and catching eight passes on his way to gaining 201 yards from scrimmage. That’s a heavy workload for a running back, especially since the Steelers play again Thursday in Indianapolis. But it was necessary because of weather conditions.
“I looked up and saw that I had 28 carries and I hadn't realized I had carried the ball so much,” said Bell.
-- The 38-year-old Harrison was inserted into the lineup earlier in the week, because, as Mike Tomlin said, “What are we saving him for?”
-- And Tomlin rolled the dice on untimed downs twice at the end of the first half to score a touchdown, which Bell eventually did from the 1.
It was that kind of game.
“Everybody just took responsibility to do their jobs, what I call unselfish,” said Harrison. “You know, do your job and let your teammates do their job. If you do your job and everybody else does their job, then everything goes the way you need it to.”
The Steelers will need more of those types of efforts in their final six games.
@ Hargrave’s sack was the first of his career. So, too, was his touchdown in the fourth quarter after recovering a Josh McCown fumble in the end zone following a Shazier sack.
“I never get to score that many touchdowns,” Hargrave said. “To get to do that today is a blessing.”
Hargrave had a 61-yard scoop-and-score touchdown in college and said he scored several in high school as a guy who played all over the field, but his first in the NFL was special, though he didn’t keep the ball.
“I don’t even know what I did with it,” he said. “I was just in the moment.”
So which was better, the first sack or the first touchdown?
“I don’t know. I’m still trying to, I still can’t believe that TD. I’ll take that TD any day,” Hargrave said.
@ Tomlin was a tad livid about the officiating in this game. Particular in his sights was an unnecessary roughness call on Timmons, which replay showed that Timmons flew over rookie quarterback Cody Kessler, barely grazing him. Tomlin was also upset that a pass interference penalty wasn’t called late in game against Joe Haden vs. Antonio Brown.
Kessler suffered a concussion on the Timmons play, but that likely happened because he was dragged to the ground from behind by Shazier. The play resulted in a first down that kept Cleveland’s lone touchdown drive of the game alive.
“I completely missed him. I completely whiffed,” Timmons said. “The referees usually do a good job, but they missed that one. I’m pretty sure when they review it, they’ll make the correction.”
Brown, meanwhile, had his jersey clearly grabbed from behind before his feet tangled with Haden’s as both went to the ground on a third-down play just before Hargrave’s touchdown.
“We were on the field more than we needed to be,” said Tomlin. “I thought the officiating was questionable at times. Maybe that had something to do with it. I just thought it was questionable. I thought there were some bad calls, or no calls.”
@ Th Steelers needed a win badly to get out of its four-game losing streak.
Or, as Tuitt said, “A win always feels good. Everybody is going to have a smile on their face going into this week, so that’s good.”