Jones wasn’t perfect but he rallied the Steelers from a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to take a 21-14 lead, watched the Browns re-tie the game and send it into overtime, fell behind, and then drove the Steelers to the game-winning touchdown with a 26-yard dime to Cobi Hamilton in the end zone.
“This is professional football,” said Jones. “They’ve got good players, too, and they are going to make plays. The thing about this game is that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. We just kept plugging away, plugging away, chipping away at them. Fortunately for us we came out on top.”
Jones finished the day 24-for-37 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He was 6 for 8 for 76 yards on the final drive. Clutch completions to Hamilton on third-and-5 and Demarcus Ayers on fourth-and-2 highlighted the possession before the deep shot to Hamilton.
“He just had a go-ball in single coverage out there, so I put it up and let him make a play on it,” Jones said. “In the end, for a quarterback to do it in overtime, to do it on the last drive and to throw a pass like that, those are the things you dream about.”
- It's difficult to overstate the impact Hamilton has made in Pittsburgh since setting foot in the lineup. Coming into the game, 10 of his 14 catches had gone for first downs, several of the contested variety. He’s been able to add a bit of a big-play spark with Sammie Coates and, previously, Darrius Heyward-Bey sidelined with injuries, grabbing four catches of 20-plus yards this season. Hamilton finished the game with three grabs for 54 yards, including the game-winning touchdown
- It wasn’t just Hamilton stepping up with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell inactive. Eli Rogers led the way with six catches for 61 yards and Ayers chipped in five critical grabs for 44 yards and his first NFL touchdown in the second game of his career.
“Can’t say enough about Demarcus Ayers and the few significant plays he made,” said Mike Tomlin. “Landry Jones stayed in the fight and did a great job leading us down the stretch.”
Heyward-Bey’s return to the lineup was punctuated by a leaping 46-yard grab over Browns cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun to set up Ayers' 11-yard touchdown catch. With the Steelers in need of a deep threat, Heyward-Bey’s return from injury could be a big asset in the postseason.
The veteran receiver also made one of the biggest plays of the game following Boddy-Calhoun’s third-quarter interception by tracking down the Browns corner from across the field to strip the ball just before he crossed the goal line. Jones recovered the fumble and the play resulted in a 14-point swing when the Steelers marched the ensuing possession down the field to tie the game at 14 nearly two minutes into the fourth quarter.
“It was just a bad throw,” said Jones. “The corner made a play on the ball, but then I think that was maybe the play of the game by Hey-Bey chasing that guy down and stripping it from him. It looked like a fumble to me, I don’t know why people weren’t jumping on the ball, so I just jumped on it and fortunate enough for us, it was definitely a fumble.”
- As impressive as the Steelers were offensively, considering the absence of Brown, Bell, Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey, the defense showed some cracks. With James Harrison and Stephon Tuitt watching from the sideline, the rest of the Steelers starting defense surrendered 231 rushing yards on 33 attempts for an average of seven yards per carry for Cleveland. A big chunk came on Isaiah Crowell’s 67-yard run that set up the game-tying touchdown in regulation, which occurred after Ryan Shazier missed a tackle near the line of scrimmage.
“We didn’t tackle well on defense but we produced some turnovers,” said Tomlin. “I liked the fight, but not ideal in terms of the execution. But the fight, the fight is real, the fight has been on display all the way back to Latrobe with this bunch. I respect that element of it. But that can only carry you so far. We have to execute better moving forward.”
- The Steelers defense came up with several big turnovers throughout the game, including two to thwart all-but-certain scoring drives by Cleveland. Staring a potential 21-0 second-quarter deficit in the face, Shazier intercepted Robert Griffin’s red-zone pass at the goal line when the quarterback didn’t see him dropping underneath a seam route. On the next Browns possession, Sean Davis outraced Griffin to recover a high snap at the Cleveland 37 to set up the Steelers' first touchdown drive. Davis continues to have a monster rookie season, leading the team in tackles on Sunday with nine while also recording a sack and the fumble recovery.
- With just over a minute remaining in regulation and the score deadlocked at 21, the Browns had a first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 5, poised to claim the victory. But Jarvis Jones stripped Crowell of the ball and Mike Mitchell recovered to keep the Steelers' hopes alive. So, despite allowing 437 yards of offense and a 53 percent conversion rate on third down, Pittsburgh’s 3-for-6 defensive performance in the red zone was enough to overcome the mistaken-ridden Browns.
- Bud Dupree made good on the promise he’s shown in recent weeks by beating Browns right tackle Cameron Erving for a strip-sack of Griffin that Cleveland recovered. The ultra-athletic second-year outside linebacker now has 4.5 sacks in seven games this season and continues to show promise that he’ll develop into the edge rusher Pittsburgh believed him to be when they drafted him.
“I just worked my hands at the top of the arc really,” said Dupree. “He finally held the ball. He’d been throwing it pretty quick, so when he was holding it, that helped us out a lot.”
- Jones and Dan McCullers added their first sacks of the season to drive Pittsburgh’s season total to 38. It's not exactly to the standard set last season (48), but certainly a marked improvement from the one sack the Steelers had through the first three games this season.