39-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is nearing the end of his 18th season. He has spent his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has won two Super Bowls with them. He has been a tremendous and memorable quarterback for years and will truly be missed once he retires. Earlier this week, before the Steelers Week 17 game, Roethlisberger made a statement to the public. He said that “all signs are pointing to this being it.” There were rumors earlier in the season that he was going to retire, but his statement makes it way more likely now. Despite the rumors, the Steelers were able to pull off a dominant 26-14 win against the Cleveland Browns in what was likely Roethlisberger’s last home game.
Steelers Week 17 Win Caps off Ben Roethlisberger’s Last Home Game
One Last Rodeo at Heinz Field
As mentioned above, this Week 17 game at Heinz Field was likely Roethlisberger’s last home game with the Steelers. He was met with tens of thousands of supportive but emotional fans. Many were holding signs and posters that displayed their gratitude for Roethlisberger and what he has done in his 18 seasons. Roethlisberger was visibly emotional throughout the game, so it became even more clear that this game was likely it. The Steelers made the assumption that this would be it for their quarterback, so they came out firing in Pittsburgh’s Monday Night win.
How the Offense Looked in the 26-14 Win
Big Ben a Little Rough, But Still Got the Job Done
The Steelers had a very pass-heavy game plan in Week 17, as Roethlisberger threw the ball a whopping 46 times. He completed 24 of those passes for just 123 yards, and he added one touchdown and an interception. However, he, Baker Mayfield, and both teams’ receivers have excuses for their lackluster games; it was around 20 degrees the entire game, and it was incredibly difficult for both teams to make plays. Big Ben likely ended his career at Heinz field with a win in his final game despite being rough around the edges.
Najee Harris Had a Career Game
The rookie running back out of Alabama rushed for 188 yards on 28 carries. Harris averaged 6.7 yards per carry and even added a late 37-yard touchdown. His 188-yard performance put him over 1,000 yards in a single season, and it also put him above Steelers legend Franco Harris for the most rushing yards by a rookie in franchise history. Harris is currently second in the NFL in carries and fourth in yards, despite playing behind a poor offensive line.
The Steelers Receivers’ Limited Games
Because of the cold weather, both teams’ receivers had fairly rough games. The Steelers’ leading receiver was Ray-Ray McCloud, who had four catches for 35 yards. However, Pittsburgh’s reception leader was Diontae Johnson. Johnson hauled in eight of his 15 targets for 31 yards and a touchdown. His score came from a five-yard slant from Roethlisberger early in the second quarter.
Offensive Line Came Together (Under New Direction)
The offensive line, without a doubt, played their best game of the season. They blocked really well against a strong Browns defensive line, led by perennial DPOY candidate Myles Garrett. They were able to open up holes for Najee Harris all night long, and then Harris was able to do the rest with his downhill-runner physicality. It is worth noting that the offensive line is under new leadership; Chris Morgan, who took over for Adrian Klemm, seemed to have created a big difference. In fact, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin gave a ton of credit to Morgan, saying that “he had a tremendous impact” and “made critical decisions” that improved the offensive line.
The Defense Played Their Hearts Out
T.J. Watt’s Four Sacks and the Sack Record
Pittsburgh’s edge-rusher T.J. Watt, who is the favorite to win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award, added to his case with a strong four-sack showing. He entered Monday Night’s contest against Cleveland with 17.5 sacks on the season, and he now sits with 21.5. Watt is just one sack away from tying Michael Strahan for the most sacks in a single season (22.5). He has a legitimate chance to break this record next week against the Baltimore Ravens, but he’ll have to face off against ex-Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Watt also batted two passes down at the line and had a total of five quarterback hits on Baker Mayfield.
The Defense Made Baker Mayfield Uncomfortable All Game
The Steelers defense tallied nine sacks in Week 17 against a usually-good Browns offensive line. In addition to T.J. Watt having four sacks, Alex Highsmith added two more and now has six on the season. Also, Cameron Heyward, Derrek Tuszka, and Henry Mondeaux each had one sack. The Steelers had 11 hits on Mayfield and batted down five of his passes at the line of scrimmage; Heyward had two pass deflections and now has nine total on the season. They were putting pressure on Mayfield all game and made him really uncomfortable. They put so much pressure on Mayfield that he threw two interceptions and had 22 incompletions (just 16 completions) on 38 attempts.
Secondary Did Well to Force Incompletions, Interceptions
Overall, the Steelers had 11 pass deflections/break-ups in the game, five of which were batted down by the line. Joe Haden, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Tre Norwood each had one pass that they defended, while Ahkello Witherspoon had three. Also, Witherspoon and Norwood each had an interception off of Baker Mayfield. Norwood has played impressively in his limited playing time as a rookie, while Witherspoon has stepped up after being acquired from the Seattle Seahawks. Witherspoon has surprisingly been one of the best defenders for Pittsburgh all year, and giving him an extension should be a priority this off-season.
Special Teams Was on Point
Chris Boswell’s 14-Point Night
Chris Boswell was able to knock all four of his field-goal attempts through the uprights on Monday Night. Boswell made field goals from 22, 30, 50, and 48 yards out. He also converted both of his extra-point attempts. Boswell is now 33-37 on the season and has been one of the bright spots for Pittsburgh’s offense.
Corliss Waitman’s Impressive Game
Corliss Waitman, whom the Steelers signed and elevated to the active roster following Pressley Harvin’s personal leave, has played impressively in his first two games. Harvin’s father passed away on Christmas morning after being terminally ill for some time. Harvin struggled in several games this year, but you have to give him a break: he is a rookie and was also dealing with personal struggles. Waitman had an average of 48.8 yards per punt on a frigid night, and he even landed one punt inside the 20.
Big Ben’s Storybook Ending
One Last Play
After Najee Harris’ 37-yard rushing touchdown with 51 seconds left, it seemed that Ben Roethlisberger would not get to step on the field again that game. However, on Cleveland’s next possession, one of Baker Mayfield’s passes was tipped by Minkah Fitzpatrick, and it was then intercepted by Tre Norwood. This gave Big Ben one last play to go on the field and take it all in. Roethlisberger lined up in victory formation, took a knee, and was immediately met with hugs, praise, and support from his teammates, coaches, and the Pittsburgh faithful.
Ben’s Victory Lap
He emotionally took one last lap around Heinz field, giving out high-fives to many Steelers’ fans, before walking into the tunnel with his family. It was a beautiful, emotional moment for the Steelers and their fans, and it will surely be remembered by all who shared in the moment.
Steelers Playoff Chances/Scenarios after Week 17
With the Steelers Week 17 win, they now sit at 8-7-1 on the season. They are currently the 9th seed in the AFC but still have a chance to make the playoffs. The Steelers would first need to win their game next Sunday in Week 18. Pittsburgh travels to Baltimore to take on the Ravens, whom the Steelers beat earlier this season 20-19. If the Steelers win, they remain alive at 9-7-1 but will need some outside help from other teams.
The Steelers would first need the Indianapolis Colts (9-6) to lose their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The odds don’t look too promising, however. Jacksonville is a measly 2-14 this season and is a 15.5 point underdog for the game. It would take a miracle for the Jaguars to win, but as we have seen this season, anything can happen. It is worth noting that Indianapolis has not won in Jacksonville since 2014, so they will be looking to break a streak to make it to the playoffs.
The final thing the Steelers would need, should each of the two previously mentioned results pan out, is the Las Vegas Raiders vs. Los Angeles Chargers to not end in a tie. Pittsburgh lost to both Los Angeles and Las Vegas earlier this season, so they would not make it should all three teams have the same record. There has only been one tie this season (Steelers + Detroit Lions), so it is unlikely that it would happen. Still, the Steelers still need a miracle to make the playoffs, but it is not over yet.
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