The Pittsburgh Steelers were uncertain of their future heading into Week 18. They were still alive in the AFC playoff race, but their chances looked slim. They needed to win their game against the Baltimore Ravens, and then needed the 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars to beat the Indianapolis Colts. Both of those results went Pittsburgh’s way on Sunday; with their 16-13 win over Baltimore, the Steelers moved to 9-7-1 and clinched the seventh seed in the AFC. The Week 18 game was likely quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s last regular-season game. Now, the Steelers look onward to their wild-card round matchup against Kansas City next week.
Pittsburgh Steelers Clinch Seventh Seed in AFC with 16-13 Win over Baltimore Ravens
A Slow First Half
The first half did not have a whole lot of action. The score was tied 3-3 at halftime after each team’s kicker made a field goal. The Ravens had two turnovers (one fumble, one interception) while the Steelers had one (an interception). Neither team could get much going on offense; in fact, the longest drive of the half was only 34 yards. Late in the second quarter, Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt sacked Baltimore’s quarterback Tyler Huntley. This was Watt’s 22.5 sack on the year, and he ended with a tie for the most sacks in a single regular season. The record was previously held by Michael Strahan, in the 2001 season.
The Action-Packed Second Half
The second half was a much different story than the first half. Baltimore opened the half with a quick, five-play touchdown drive. The score that put them up 10-3 was a Latavius Murray 46-yard rushing touchdown. Murray finished with 150 yards after several more productive runs. The Steelers would answer with a 50-yard drive, ending in a field goal, to make the score 10-6. Both teams would punt on their next possessions after gaining just two yards of combined offense. The Ravens moved down the field swiftly on their next drive, but it all came to an end when Huntley was picked off in the end zone by Cameron Sutton. Both teams had to punt on their ensuing drives.
However, when the Steelers got the ball back, they went to work and put together a 50-yard touchdown drive. Chase Claypool caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger on a slant route, and he went six yards for the touchdown. It was just his second of the year following an 11 touchdown season last year. This score put the Steelers up 13-10 with just three minutes left. However, that was more than enough time for Huntley; he took the Ravens down the field, and they settled for a 40-yard field goal to tie the game. Each team had another chance on offense, but both had to punt, and the game went into overtime.
The Ravens won the coin toss and took the ball first, but were unable to capitalize on their opportunity. After the punt, the Steelers were pinned all the way back at their own 17-yard line.
Vintage, Clutch Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers, led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, pieced together a 15-play, 65-yard field goal drive to win in overtime. Roethlisberger was clutch in overtime, completing five of seven pass attempts for 47 yards. He converted a third-and-seven, a third-and-nine, and a fourth-and-eight on the drive to keep the game going. He made several clutch throws, and really looked like vintage Ben Roethlisberger. Kicking from the left hash of Baltimore’s 18-yard line, Chris Boswell knocked through a 36-yard field goal to put the Steelers on top 16-13.
Steelers Offense Struggles with Key Injury (But Prevails Late)
Big Ben Gets Going Late
Roethlisberger struggled earlier in the game, mostly because his star running back Najee Harris was hurt. He was able to get back into a rhythm later in the game and led the Steelers on the game-winning drive. Big Ben finished with 244 yards and a touchdown. Later in the game, his throws were on point and looked like some of the best he’s had all season. He has stepped up in his last couple of games, and now goes out with a bang in what was likely the last regular-season game of his career.
Najee Harris Injured but Comes Back Later
Najee Harris had just six yards of offense (two rushing, four receiving) before leaving the game early. On that four-yard reception, Harris seemed to have injured his arm. His arm was wrapped, and he was held out of the game for a while. In fact, Harris did not come back until there were about six minutes left in the third quarter. Pittsburgh’s run offense took a hit with Harris being sidelined. He ended with just 28 yards on 11 carries but added four critical catches for 27 yards.
Chase Claypool Steps up as a Dual Threat
Chase Claypool had an excruciatingly slow regular season, but he did not fail to play well in Week 18. Claypool hauled in five of seven targets for 37 yards and a touchdown. He also had 33 rushing yards, stemming from three jet-sweep runs. He helped move the chains when the regular run-game seemed stagnant.
Johnson, Freiermuth, Gentry, and McCloud Impress
Diontae Johnson, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, and RayRay McCloud all played great games. They were great safety blankets for Roethlisberger, as both he and Tyler Huntley struggled with deep passes in the frigid, rainy weather. Johnson had seven catches for 51 yards, while Pat Freiermuth added six more catches and 53 yards. Tight end Zach Gentry also had a productive game, as he had four catches for 39 yards. McCloud had a phenomenal day as a return-man but also had four catches for 37 yards, including a clutch 10-yard reception on a fourth-and-eight.
Offensive Line Has a So-So Day
The offensive line did not play badly, but they had a tougher time getting the ground game going against a strong defense. They only allowed one sack all game, and the unit allotted Ben Roethlisberger plenty of time to make his clutch throws.
Steelers Defense Shaky but Productive
T.J. Watt Ties (Breaks?) NFL’s Single-Season Sack Record
As mentioned above, T.J. Watt broke the NFL’s single-season sack record with his 22.5 sack in Week 18. Earlier in the game, Tyler Huntley picked up a grounded snap (recorded as an aborted snap-fumble). He was immediately tackled by T.J. Watt behind the line of scrimmage and later fumbled. It originally was thought to have been the record-breaker, but it was later deemed that Huntley was a runner and therefore could not have been a sack. However, the Steelers sent a request that the play be reviewed when the NFL makes its weekly stat corrections, and he could be awarded the sack (and the record) by mid-week.
Cameron Heyward Reaches 10 Sacks
Defensive end Cameron Heyward notched his tenth sack of the year, which ends up being his second-most productive season as a rusher. Heyward had 12 sacks back in 2017, but his impact in the pass-deflecting game this season has solidified him as one of the better players on defense.
Latavius Murray, Tyler Huntley Run Wild
The Steelers defense had a pretty tough time corralling Latavius Murray and Tyler Huntley in Week 18. Murray ran for 150 yards on just 16 carries (9.4 yards per carry), and Tyler Huntley ran for 72 yards on 12 carries. The Steelers, who have the worst run defense (statistically) in all of the NFL, have had a lot of problems containing long runs this season. The task may be a little easier next week when they face the Chiefs, who are known for having a less-utilized rushing attack.
Terrell Edmunds, Cameron Sutton, Minkah Fitzpatrick Make Key Plays
Safety Terrell Edmunds and cornerback Cameron Sutton each had an interception in Week 18. Edmunds’ came on an errant deep pass, while Sutton’s came at a very important time. He picked off Huntley in the back of the Steelers end zone and prevented the Ravens from scoring the potential game-sealing touchdown. Edmunds’ and Sutton’s picks were their second each this season.
Minkah Fitzpatrick also made a clutch play that potentially saved the game. With just 31 seconds left, Huntley took a shot deep to Marquise Brown, who seemingly caught the pass. However, Fitzpatrick came up with a big hit that knocked the ball out of Brown’s hands for an incompletion. The Ravens would have to punt without scoring thanks to Fitzpatrick’s heroic pass break-up.
Special Teams a High Point
Chris Boswell’s Three Field Goal Day, Including Game Winner
Chris Boswell made all three of his field-goal attempts, including the game-winning 36-yarder. He also had field goals from 28 and 40 yards out, and Boswell was responsible for ten of Pittsburgh’s 16 points in Week 18.
📺: CBS pic.twitter.com/37BntIzfj4
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 9, 2022
McCloud a Productive Returner
RayRay McCloud‘s punt and kick returns often go unnoticed, but he really did the Steelers a service in Week 18. He had one kick-off return for 32 yards and had a punt return for 23 yards. That punt return set the Steelers up at midfield and played a pivotal role in their sole touchdown drive. McCloud is one of the main reasons the Steelers won on Sunday, and he should be praised for his efforts.